MUNDELEIN — The Carmel girls volleyball team performs one drill almost every day in practice.
In the drill, each player is asked to fire three serves as precisely as possible. The serves have to be hard drives into a corner or a specific spot on the court. Nothing down the middle. Any player who produces an imperfect serve has to run.
“The competitive atmosphere is the best thing that could happen to us,” senior outside hitter Grace Schofield said said. “No one has a safe position.”
A season ago, the Corsairs had high expectations. A loss to Stevenson in a Class 4A sectional semifinal was both devastating and revealing. By the end of the season, complacency had replaced assertiveness among the Corsairs.
“We knew who the starters were. Practices were easy,” Schofield said.
Coach Dave Pazely made an effort to foster a more competitive team environment, beginning with August tryouts.
Carmel’s varsity roster of 15 is deeper than it was in 2013. Almost all of the Corsairs play club volleyball. Players know that they might see action during any match. Practices are hard, and time on the court is earned.
“Every player pushes each other really well,” senior libero Sierra Kepski said. “We are able to run more game-like situations.”
Carmel hosted Lake Zurich on Tuesday. Sectional champs a year ago, the Bears are much younger this season. But they are a consistent local power.
The Corsairs were without senior setter Morgan Meade. Pazely shuffled his rotation, subbing in Stephanie Hannon and Mamie Kenar. Junior hitter Allie Wayman moved to the right side to provide more blocking.
Carmel dominated, winning 25-14, 25-19. The statistics served as proof of the program’s depth. Schofield finished with 13 kills. Sophomore Grace Butler had 12 assists. Kepski was credited with 12 digs.
“We’ve only had one game with all of our starters together,” Pazely said. “I haven’t had to worry about [lineup changes]. It just happened.”
If Pazely has a concern, it’s the Corsairs’ blocking. Junior middles Kate Halverson and Taylor Luhr are inexperienced. But they are improving quickly, their technical skills boosted by varsity matches and regular practice time.
“We’ve been doing a lot of drills,” Schofield said. “Kate and Taylor are working on getting up with a big hand, spreading out their fingers and covering as much space as possible.”
Well before the fall season began, Carmel won its summer league championship. It defeated 2013 Class 4A state tournament participant Crystal Lake South in the title match.
Afterward, Pazely was told about a brief exchange between a Carmel player and one of the Gators.
“One of their players told one of our players ‘You better go downstate.’ This is coming from a girl who did it herself,” Pazely said. “We aren’t only ones who believe we can make this happen.”