Highland Park (HP) has already topped last year's win total and is improving, but the Giants aren't quite where they can be yet.
The Giants, who were shorthanded a few players due to injuries and illnesses, lost at Glenbrook North (GBN) 25-15, 25-18 in a Central Suburban League North match Monday night in Northbrook.
HP coach Beth Peterson hopes her team can play smarter and find the missing pieces needed to string some wins together.
“We’ve had some bumps, but I think we have a lot of potential,” Peterson said. “We have some young players and I just think we’re a few steps away from really making a difference in the season.”
It was a tough match to be shorthanded. The Spartans have now won eight matches in a row.
GBN coach Chris Cooper acknowledged that his Spartans are playing better than they did at the beginning of the year, but hasn’t sorted out why there has been such an improvement.
“I really don’t know,” Cooper said. “I think we’ve been playing more of the same kids and they’ve been getting a little bit more comfortable.
“We’ve gotten into the part of our schedule where there’s a lot of matches that our girls believe that they can and should win,” he said.
The Spartans (11-5 overall, 3-0 conference) are also producing a balanced attack. Middle hitter Sarah Winter led the way against the Giants (4-14, 1-2) with seven kills and a pair of blocks, but sophomores Kate Kamin (five kills), Lauren Emmert (four kills) and junior Patricia Hare (three kills, two aces) also contributed.
GBN jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the first game behind three kills from Winter. The Giants couldn’t get closer than 3 points and then an 8-1 run that featured two more kills and a block from Winter sealed the game at 25-15 to the Spartans.
“I was especially excited about it being a conference match,” Winter said of why she had such a big match. “I know everyone on the team was pumping each other up to play well against Highland Park.”
Highland Park hung tough in game two behind strong play from freshman Stela Kukoc and junior Maxi Mottlowitz, but the Spartans broke a 15 all tie with a 7-0 run.
“[Kukoc] is very athletic and she wants to play the ball,” Peterson said. “She gets in there and she competes. She has a solid serve and she’s acclimated pretty well to the varsity level.
“We just need to find a way to get her some more sets at the net because she can dominate at the net it just didn’t work that way tonight so much,” the coach said.
Peterson said junior outside hitter Grace Sullivan has also played well and will be key to the team going forward.
The Giants plays host to Vernon Hills for an out-of-conference game Tuesday, but returns to CSL North play Thursday against Maine East.