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Lockport powers way into sectional final

“Don’t stop believing.”

The Lockport Township boys volleyball team certainly hasn’t.

The Porters came out blazing in the third set and defeated SouthWest Suburban Conference rival Lincoln-Way West, 25-21, 23-25, 25-13, on Saturday afternoon in the Minooka Sectional semifinal. Making its second Sweet 16 appearance in school history (1999), Lockport (21-3) will face Edwardsville at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the sectional championship match at Minooka.

The Warriors (19-5), who had won 10 in a row since a 25-23, 25-16 loss May 11 at Lockport, lost in the sectional semifinal for the second straight season.

“People don’t believe in Lockport volleyball,” Porters senior outside hitter Matt Arens said. “But we do.”

The Porters, who have won 11 in a row, certainly believed in the third set. Arens, who was solid throughout with a match-high 21 kills, had two of those as Lockport scored the first four points to open the third set. The lead grew to 7-1 and 9-2.

“Overall, we didn’t play well the first two sets,” Arens said. “That brought us back to reality, and we just said to play the way we can. We just all came together and made sure everyone was on the same page.”

Ahead 10-5, senior outside hitter Carter Steffgen (5 kills, 15 digs) had a kill and a block in a 7-1 run for a 17-6 lead. Lincoln-Way West never got closer than eight points after that. The Porter middle hitters, senior Josh Beaumont (2 blocks) and Braeden Goebbert (5 kills, 2 blocks), did a nice job at the net. Beaumont had the match-winning block.

“That felt great,” Beaumont said of his match-winner. “That was one of my friends [who he blocked], Brian Lynch. We play club ball together at UNO, and it’s nice to get a good block on someone you know.

“This just means we keep making history.”

Sophomore outside hitter Connor Studer led Lincoln-Way West with eight kills. Lynch, a junior outside hitter added six. Ryan McDonald (5 kills) at the right side and Ricky Castillo (20 digs) at libero are two of only four seniors on the Warriors roster.

“That’s men’s volleyball for you,” Lincoln-Way West coach Jodi Frigo said of the point runs. “Lockport did a nice job of adding up those points. They have a very nice team and have nice blocking.

“We’ve won three straight regional titles and shared the SWSC title [with Lincoln-Way East and Lockport] for the second straight season. We just want to continue to play well and put ourselves in these positions.”

The Warriors led 10-7 in the opening set. Lockport, however, answered with a 5-0 run, as freshman setter Evan Dziadkowiec (33 assists, 2 aces block) had back-to-back aces, and took the lead for good. The Porters pulled away, 23-16, before giving up five straight points to make it interesting.

It was almost a one-point game, but Lincoln-Way West was whistled for a net violation, nullifying a block. Arens annihilated a kill to end it.

In the second set, the Warriors raced out to a 14-9 lead. Lockport tied it at 16, 17 and 18 but made six service errors in the set, including two after the ties. Ahead, 21-20, Studer had a kill to trigger a 3-1 run. But a kill from senior opposite side hitter Owen Knezevich (5 kills) drew the Porters within 24-23 before Lynch hit the set winner down the left line.

But the Porters regrouped for the final set.

“I just reminded them that they’ve been in this position before,” said Lockport coach Nick Mraz, whose team now is 4-1 in 3-set matches. “Neither team was playing clean in the first two sets, so I told them to settle down and play the way we can.”

It also helps to have Arens on your side.

“Matt made some errors to start, but I told him you’re the best player on the floor, Mraz said of the SWSC MVP. “I told him to just go out and be you. He carried us, and he’s a big reason that we’re here.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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