When senior Kaileigh Ammons arrived freshman year for Wheaton Warrenville South girls volleyball tryouts from Hubble Middle School, she soon met Sarah Burau and Annika Barron from Edison Middle School.
They became known as “The Three Musketeers.”
“We came up with it freshman year so it has a reason to be lame,” a laughing Burau said.
They have faced many challenges as four-year varsity starters, but the tri-captains and the Tigers lived to fight another day by beating Downers Grove North 25-15, 25-13 Wednesday in the Class 4A Glenbard West sectional final in Glen Ellyn.
After winning just the second sectional title in program history, the top-seeded Tigers (31-8) must beat Huntley (34-5) at 6 p.m. Friday at Streamwood to reach the state semifinals.
Juniors Zayna Meyer and Lizzie Chiesa each had 7 kills and Burau 18 assists. The Tigers have won seven straight, the last five in straight sets.
Downers North (22-17), which had only three seniors from last year’s state runner-up roster, was led by sophomore Gwendolyn Wolkow’s 7 kills and senior setter Grace Malone’s 12 assists. The Trojans were making their third straight sectional final appearance.
The Tigers’ only other sectional championship was their Class AA fourth-place state finish in 2002 — Bill Schreier’s second season as coach.
“It’s fun. You never, ever look past any of this stuff,” Schreier said. “It’s actually been refreshing because it has been a lot less fundamentals and a lot more game (strategy) and what do we have to do. The nice thing is I get back to the drawing board and I have 48 hours to come up with something to do on Friday.”
Friday also will be a challenge for the “musketeers,” especially Ammons, in charge of team themes. For Wednesday the Tigers wore bathrobes around school to promote their match.
“I wore a green bathrobe and Christmas tree pajama pants so I got a lot of weird looks. But definitely a ton of people asked me about it so it was a great way to get people to come out,” Barron said.
Downers Grove North’s Grace Malone blocks during Wheaton Warrenville South’s two-set victory in sectional title girls volleyball action at Fred L. Biester Gymnasium on the campus of Glenbard West High School Wednesday night.
– Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer
What they saw was similar to Monday’s sectional semifinals. The Tigers started strong behind great serving.
Sophomore libero Darby Harris’ back-to-back aces and another from senior Bridget Feely contributed to an 8-1 lead. Downers North closed to 14-12, but Feely served the Tigers to a 17-12 lead and Meyer added back-to-back aces and 4 straight points to lead 22-13.
Chiesa had 5 kills in the second set, two while Meyer served 7 straight points with her third ace to open a 12-3 advantage.
“Once we’ve gone on this run it’s been, someone’s going to step up and take advantage of what (the opponent) is giving us, and it was Lizzie’s night tonight. I thought she did great,” Schreier said.
The Tigers collected 7 aces with 2 errors and scored 28 points while serving.
“They just served us off the court,” Downers North coach Mark Wasik said. “They had a lot of motion on the ball, just really aggressive. Just very crafty, very experienced ball-control players so that set us back because we have to be able to pass because we’re not a huge offensive team.”
The Trojans also had a heroic season, first overcoming starting setter Beth Dunlap being struck and killed by a car near the school in February.
When Malone missed 17 matches with a sprained knee, the Trojans were playing four sophomores.
“I’m actually really happy with the season. Despite the tragedy of Beth’s death, we really came together as a team,” Malone said.
“We didn’t think we’d get this far. No one really did. It’s so much more than volleyball with the Downers North program. We’re so close and there’s a bond that comes with it.”
Downers Grove North’s Jacki Lucas, left, and Gwendolyn Wolkow play the ball during Wheaton Warrenville South’s two-set victory in sectional title girls volleyball action at Fred L. Biester Gymnasium on the campus of Glenbard West High School Wednesday night.
– Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer
The musketeers’ team was 14-23 as freshmen. Along their journey they have added three-year starter Meyer and two-year starter Harris.
“It is so much fun, especially the fact that we’re such good friends off the court as well. People call us a cult because we’re so close,” Ammons said.
“We all had a talk in the beginning of the season and we’re like, ‘This is our time to shine, to make it as far as we can.’ I really think through practice we’ve been working, the hardest honestly I think we’ve worked all of the seasons I’ve been here.”