Lake Zurich volleyball wants to be postseason ‘nightmare’

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A talented group of youngsters have some big shoes to fill for the Lake Zurich girls’ volleyball team this year.

Off to a 4-4 start through Sunday, the Bears are relying on two sophomore captains, a freshman setter and a returning all-NSC senior to maintain their record of postseason success.

“Seven girls from last year’s team are playing in college,” said coach Matt Aiello, whose team reached a Class 4A supersectional in 2013. “We’ve won between 28 and 31 games the last 10 years. We expect to compete for the championships we usually do.”

Aiello’s confidence is shared by Mickenzie Andrews, the Bears’ lone returning senior who earned all-area and all-conference honors last season. She is working toward that goal with her co-captains, sophomores Hannah Sweetwood and Lexi Gora.

“What they are showing us is phenomenal,” Andrews said. “I let them know it’s OK to mess up.”

She said that is important so that the younger players can relax and reach their potential.

“Never in my career have two sophomores, let alone one, been elected captains,” Aiello added.

The leadership role starts with Andrews.

“I’m blown away with [Andrews’] resilience and her confidence in her teammates,” Aiello said. “I’ve never seen a player who covers the court like her.”

Gora, who played junior varsity last year, is stepping into her leadership role. Andrews is playing a major part in her adjustment.

“She is really being there as our senior captain,” Gora said. “We help each other out so we don’t get down [and] we can do our best on the court.”

In addition to Andrews, Gora and Sweetwood, the starting lineup includes freshman setter Kiley Dykgraaf and juniors Nicole Gaggiano and Rachel Corrigan.

Aiello is finding learning experiences in each of the team’s games whether the Bears win or lose. He has been taking more opportunities to slow things down and talk to the athletes this year.

“I’ll call a timeout so we can regroup or maybe I will just tell them to keep it up,” Aiello said. “I explain the situation and growth we’re having at the moment. These are the times we find out what we’re going to capitalize on.”

Two of those experiences came during close losses to nationally ranked St. Francis Sept. 5 and league rival Lake Forest Sept. 9. The Bears hope to remember those matches when regionals begin.

“We will be every team’s nightmare in the postseason,” Aiello said.

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