Broadway music suddenly erupted from the gymnasium speakers at Grayslake North midway through the opener against Lake Forest on Tuesday.
If the music was trying to take center stage, Lake Forest maestro Mackenzie Pitera stole the show.
The 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter had nine kills while contributing all-court to lead the Scouts to a 25-15, 25-22 non-conference win.
“It felt good to play very solidly as a team in two games in a row,” Pitera said. “We haven’t done that too much so far this season, but we are improving.”
Lake Forest coach Tia Rebecca wasn’t surprised the Scouts (3-6) performed better than at the Jacobs Invitational this weekend.
“We played five games over those two days, and it became a chore for us,” Rebecca said. “It was good to focus on our one game (against Grayslake North) and use our energy to play better volleyball.”
Pitera, a rookie from Lafayette, showed his versatile skills in the opener with several key assists and five kills. Several of his hits at net were off-speed shots over the Grayslake North block.
“Mackenzie is such a smart player,” Rebecca said. “She knows she just doesn’t need to get the ball past the blockers to be successful. She’s a do-it-all leader, and we lean on her in the big situations.
Pitera knows she can be more successful at net if she takes a quick look at the opposition as she prepares to kill.
“I try to figure it all out, especially where defense and blocking play out,” she said.
Pitera has been honing her craft since she started playing competitive volleyball in seventh grade. She also works hard in the offseason to get stronger and improve her jumping ability.
“It’s a sport where you can always improve, and I try to do that in every practice and game,” she said. “Being more selective with my strikes is something I’ve been working on for some time.”
Pitera also showed his serving prowess with six straight points, including an ace, to help Lake Forest rebound from a 13-9 deficit early in Game 2. The Knights (3-9) kept the game close , but a kill from Pitera and an ace from Savvy Smothers sealed the victory for the Scouts.
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As Northern Lake County Conference games loom, Grayslake North received a boost with the return of outside hitter Tess Buckley from injury. She managed a team-high eight eliminations in her second match.
“We’re still trying to put the girls in their place now with Tess back,” Grayslake North coach Jim Sarver said. “We start playing in our conference this week, and since we’re the two-time defending champions, we’ll have the target on our backs. So we have to keep improving. »
Pitera says his team can also make progress to compete in the North Suburban Conference.
“We know we can play better, so it’s up to us to make that happen,” she said. “We have a lot of young players with little college experience, so we know it might take some time to be at our best.”
Could there be show tunes playing in the background during practices?
“No way,” Pitera said with a laugh. “I hate this music.”
Darren Day is a freelance journalist for the News-Sun.