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Volleyball a big hit at Zion

With Wednesday’s 28 26, 25 17 victory over Lake Zurich, the Zee Bees (21 2) are 6 0 in the NSC.

However, Zion Benton still has to play league matches against Vernon Hills, Lake Forest, Lakes, Warren and North Chicago, so the phrase “smooth sailing” doesn’t apply, and the waters will get choppy if the Zee Bees get jerseys

In volleyball, the NSC does not have divisional play because Wauconda and Round Lake do not have teams, so it’s an 11 game, round robin schedule to determine the champ.

Of course, the players probably learned all they needed to learn about choppy water last week Friday when they lost to Von Steuben in a nonconference match.

Warren rallies past Zion Benton for 15th straight softball win Jeff Bonato

After each game, Warren’s softball players and coaches meet in the outfield to review the day’s action.

Tuesday’s gathering, however, was a bit out of the norm. For one, the grins on the faces of the players were a bit bigger than usual.

Tuesday’s gathering, however, was a bit out of the norm. For one, the grins on the faces of the players were a bit bigger than usual. Obviously, this one mattered.

“We have goals that we set at the beginning of the year. Goal No. 1 was to compete for the conference title and right now, our eyes are on that prize,” Zee Bees coach Jacob Carlson said. “After the loss last Friday, we were disappointed but we’re taking a positive from it.

“We have to come to play every night. Hopefully, it wakes us up to come to play every night.”

To be fair, Von Steuben is not what Zion Benton used to be in volleyball a try hard, play tough and lose 25 21 in the third type of team. Carlson knew Von Steuben had a strong team this year.

“It’s by far the best city school we have faced, and I knew coming in that it was a good team,” Carlson said. “That’s why we scheduled them.”

Now, that game has become a learning tool.

Zion’s success this year is not a surprise. In 2012, the Zee Bees had a above average regular season, then caught fire in the playoffs and reached the sectional finals before losing to Barrington.

This year’s team wants the conference title and a regional title, and wants to do it from the position of favorite.

The frontline leader is senior Kyle Fitzgerald, a middle hitter who has committed to Indiana Purdue Fort Worth. He is a four year varsity player, so he was part of the 2012 team’s magical tournament run. He plays in the middle, but winds up playing all positions. He only comes out for one back row rotation, so he’s contributing there as well.

Next to him on one side is senior Dillon Appenzeller, who found a home on the volleyball court that he never found on the football field. Playing in the fall, Appenzeller was the Zee Bees’ starting quarterback as a sophomore, starting wideout as a junior, and starting defensive back as a safety.

“That speaks to Dillon’s athleticism,” Carlson said. “That’s what we’re trying to take advantage of. In volleyball, he’s a right side, but definitely a hitting threat for us.”

The setter is talented Scott Opeka, and the libero is Juan Nino. “He’s (Nino) an outstanding passer and a very good defender,” Carlson said. “When he’s playing well, we’re a very good team.”

Two other outside hitters who play next to Fitzgerald are Eder Villagomez and junior Kevin Curley. And several others also are key contributors.

“We have seven seniors who play a ton of volleyball,” Carlson said. “Kyle’s been with us since freshman year, and that group of freshmen kind of bought in together. They want to accomplish things together.”

That would include a regional title as well as the conference title. And that would get the Zee Bees a shot at the county’s heavy hitters Barrington and Buffalo Grove.

“Three years ago, we were the hunter, and now we’re the hunted,” the coach said. “It makes you come out and play hard every night, regardless of who’s on the other side of the court.”

In Wednesday’s win, Fitzgerald had five kills and four blocks, Appenzeller three kills and two aces, and Opeka 11 assists.

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