Loss doesn’t erase Stevenson’s volleyball success

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LINCOLNSHIRE — Stevenson had, by all accounts, a terrific girls volleyball season. It won 31 matches, including a Class 4A regional championship.

But none of the accomplishments take away the sting of losing, especially when it ends the season. And one thing Stevenson could not do this year was beat Lake Zurich.

On Nov. 7, the Patriots played the Bears for the second time this season. A three-game loss in September decided the North Suburban Conference. This time, a sectional championship was at stake. The match was tightly contested, with the margin never exceeding four points. Several exchanges between teams took a minute or longer, featuring breathless digs, passes, blocks and finishing kills.

Here’s where the match was decided: In both sets, Lake Zurich led 21-20. And both times, it was the Bears who came up with the critical serve or receive to add to their slim advantage.

“We didn’t play our best,” Stevenson coach Tim Crow said. “It wasn’t what they were doing, it was what we were doing.”

Senior hitter Khaila Donaldson added, “When we should have been putting points on the board, when we should have been making plays, we made errors.”

Stevenson’s eight service errors were the most it had all season, coming at the least opportune time. The 25-23, 25-22 loss will sting, but it will not erase the achievements of one of the most accomplished senior classes in recent school history.

Donaldson, Julia Osmond, Kara Maleski, Grace Duffy and Alexa Bykowski, the senior core of the 2013 Patriots, won back-to-back regional championships and had more than 30 wins in consecutive seasons (Stevenson also won more than 30 matches in 2011). Crow said what he will most remember is how the team improved throughout the season.

“They came in with talent and we had a higher ceiling,” Crow said. “It was good to see them progress and not stay content. It was a gradual progression, and they improved tremendously.”

The leader was Donaldson. A unique athlete combining both exceptional ability and an unrelenting competitive drive, Donaldson went down swinging against Lake Zurich, finishing with a match-high 10 kills and four blocks.

Taking her talents to Division I Howard University in Washington, DC, next year, Donaldson said she hopes her four years as a Patriot will have a lasting impact on the team’s returning players.

“I think that they’ll understand that its a big deal to get this far. Everyone elevates their play at this point,” Donaldson said. “I want them to understand we put a lot of time, a lot of work to be as good as we are. I want Stevenson to go to state while they are here.”

That will be a challenge as the Patriots expect to return only three varsity players in 2014: freshman Jori Radtke, sophomore Corissa Kurth and junior Jacqueline Green. They will be in charge of deepening the winning tradition continued by Donaldson and the other seniors.

“This group was really committed to the game of volleyball. It was good to see the impact on the younger kids,” Crow said.

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