Dhru Patel started his Conant boys’ volleyball career on the freshman team with Drewann Pancratz as the head coach.
The Cougars senior passer is now ending his career with Pancratz as head coach of the Cougars varsity team as she returned to the program this season alone.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Patel, who plans to study finance at the University of Illinois. “She’s an amazing and talented coach. My first year I had her as a coach and now I can end my career with her too.”
Patel hopes the end will be the same way the Cougars started the spring: strong.
After Patel collected his 17th assist after Nic Breiter’s fifth kill, the Cougars earned a 25-21, 25-9 non-conference triumph over Larkin on Monday night and extended their record to 15-3.
“We started playing strong in conference (4-1 in Mid-Suburban West) and in tournaments,” Patel said. “Coaches and players are coming together and we’ve managed to build a good record.”
The Cougars offense put on a good game, getting 8 kills from second Michael Recko, 5 from Jacob Pietraszek and 2 each from Nick Gutka and Patel.
Breiter and Dilan Patel each had 9 recoveries.
The Cougars built an 11-5 lead with seven straight service points from Pietraszek, but Larkin (2-8) fought back with an 11-3 run and led 16-14 after a kill by senior Garrett Leaver and a block by classmate Matheu Preuss.
“We had to make a last minute change to our roster and I felt Matheu stepped up for us on serve,” said Larkin’s seventh-year coach Katie Smiley, who, like Pancratz, is graduated from Carthage College. “So I’m really proud of him. And when Josh James-Givens (senior) comes onto the pitch, he has a positive attitude and always keeps his head up and that helps us in every game. Garrett Leaver is always a strong leader and “I’m counting on him for his guidance and his leadership because he’s adapting well to things. He hopes to play in college. He’s a great captain and a great team player.
At 13-13 in set 1, Pancratz called a timeout and the Cougars got back on track to close the set with an 11-5 run.
“We just didn’t start with a lot of energy,” Dhru Patel said. “But once the coach called for a time out, she calmed us down and we came back more energized and smoothed things over.”
The Cougars were rolling in the second set, securing four straight service points from Dhru Patel for an early lead and extending it to 12-1 before a kill from Larkin’s Ricky Jimenez.
A Jayden Dimiceli kill put Larkin within 23-9 before the match ended with a service error and Breiter’s kill.
“We started with a lot of unforced errors and I told the boys we had to be ready to play,” Pancratz said. “We had a good discussion about our seniors showing leadership and putting the ball aside.
“Jacob Pietraszek came on well and we started to use our midfield better. We cleaned things up a bit and Dhru started making good decisions with the ball. His senior leadership showed towards the end of the game. We “We have a good group of boys. We just have to stay focused. We can’t be complacent. We have to keep pushing.
Smiley said the Royals struggled with their roster and commitments this spring, but the team is finally coming together.
“We had four good practices in a row,” she said. “We’re finally getting there. It’s just been a bit tough but I know we can do it. When we took that lead in the first set they said ‘oh man, we can do it’ and I think that they’ve relaxed a bit too much. They (Conant) have started tweaking their mids a lot and that’s where we struggle with some issues. But we’re getting there.