Boys Volleyball is back and let’s celebrate with a volleyball themed Vintage Moments as we look back at the 2018 Neuqua Valley squad. The Wildcats had to scratch and claw their way through the state playoffs including an epic match against the state’s top ranked team, Glenbard West. Justin Cornwell takes us back to that memorable run to the finals, presented by BMO Harris Bank.
Despite being the number one seed in their sectional, the 2018 Neuqua Valley Wildcats boys volleyball team faced a tough challenge in nearly every matchup. After a two set win over West Aurora, Neuqua was shocked in the first set of the regional final against eight seed Naperville North. The Wildcats were able to regroup and win a close second set, before pulling away in the third set to win the regional championship.
It didn’t get any easier in the sectional round as another DVC rival, Metea Valley, fresh of their first ever regional title, also pushed the Wildcats to the brink of defeat. But once again, the Cats clawed out a victory in three sets.
In the sectional championship against Hinsdale Central it was, you guessed it, another three set victory with Neuqua coming through in the clutch to win the tie breaker. That put the Wildcats into state for the first time since the team made three consecutive state trips in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Outside hitter Jeremy Grove just kept swinging as hard as he could on every kill, and players like Mark Borghesi, Jeremy Cardenas and libero Francisco Comas made big play after big play. Junior Kevin Kauling was one of the best setters in the country, racking up over 650 assists on the season, but he was forced to miss several games in the state tournament to train with Team USA Volleyball. Head Coach Erich Mendoza turned to senior setter Andrew Schlegel who filled in valiantly as Neuqua won yet another three set thriller over Lincoln-Way West in the quarterfinals.
The put the Cats against three time defending state champion Glenbard West in the semi finals. The Hilltoppers were the top team in the state once again and had already defeated the boys in blue and gold twice during the season. Despite losing a hard fought opening set 26-24, Neuqua was not deterred and evened things up with a 25-22 second set win to force yet another third set tiebreaker. One set away from program history, the Wildcats dug deep and pulled off a 5th consecutive three set post season win.
It was the first state championship appearance for the team after finishing in third place in 2007 and 2008. Kevin Kauling returned for the state final as Neuqua Valley took the first set over Lincoln-Way East 25-20. But the Cats did not have any magic left in the bag as Lincoln-Way was able to win sets two and three to win the 2018 IHSA boys volleyball championship. A historic run for Neuqua Valley that fell just a few points short, but will never be forgotten.
Reporting for Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Justin Cornwell.