Posted: Tuesday, April 21, 2015 10:58 am | Updated: 11:03 am, Tue Apr 21, 2015.
Six juniors were on the roster when Bolingbrook compiled a 12-20 record during 2014.
Now seniors, and with a year of varsity experience under their belts, the Raiders are certainly playing like a veteran team.
Led by three-year varsity setter Enrique Barajas, the Raiders presently sit at 8-5 overall, and exacted some revenge on Plainfield North, defeating the Tigers 25-18, 20-25, 25-20 early last week after bowing to them in the championship game of the Plainfield North Invite in late March.
“My goal for them is to set the bar in that tournament and to keep improving and keep our track on the upswing,” said Bolingbrook coach Andrea Bercot. “They’re in our sectional (referring to Plainfield North) so it’s a big win for us. I think they (her team) knew that; I told them that and they knew it and they played like it.”
Bercot said more Raiders committed to playing during the off-season, and it’s shown this season.
“They’ve taken that next step a little more seriously,” she said. “ ‘This is my sport; this is what I want to commit to.’ Day one of tryouts that first week you could tell the pace was just a little bit faster than even last year because they’ve been playing the game.”
Barajas, who has verbally committed to play at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa (an NAIA school), said, “We’re really playing a lot smarter defense and really been keying in on the block so that’s been helping our defense play a lot better, too. We’re just more like a team now, so everything we do, we do for each other.”
Statistics show that the Raiders are a well-rounded team, with Barajas not only piling up 23 assists against Plainfield North, but collecting 10 digs. Junior defensive specialist Niro Nazareno paced the team with 11 digs, and senior outside hitter Steven Richmond topped Bolingbrook with eight kills, but also added nine digs.
Bercot noted that Richmond played a different position last season while Nazareno is in his first varsity campaign. Both have been paramount to the Raiders’ winning ways.
“All credit is to them,” she said. “Both of them have worked really hard.”
Bolingbrook also has its own set of twin towers in 6-foot-9 junior Tyler Mitchem and 6-7 senior Devin Oliver. Mitchem finished with five kills vs. the Tigers.
“It helps channel the ball where we want it to go,” Bercot said of utilizing their height to the team’s advantage. “It’s a little more intimidating with the opposite side going up with that big of arms coming at them; it blinds the opposite team’s hitter a little bit more. I think when our big guys are doing what they’re supposed to do and closing the block and pressing, it makes our defense on their end be able to play the ball a little easier.”
The Raiders’ lineup is complemented by senior Anthony Navarro and sophomore Joshua Simpson. Bolingbrook took on undefeated Lincoln-Way West (14-0)—one of the area’s top-ranked teams—in the Southwest Suburban Conference opener April 16, and Simpson was the team’s leader in kills with five as the Raiders lost, 25-20, 25-18.
The Raiders are in the middle of playing a trifecta of Lincoln-Way teams. They traveled to Lincoln-Way North on Monday evening and on Wednesday hosted defending state champion Lincoln-Way East.
“We have all the Lincoln-Ways,” Bercot said. “We had a tournament (at Plainfield North to start the season) and then one game, and a tournament (the Blackhawk Invitational) and one game so now we’re starting to get two games a week, three games a week. So that’s good.”
Barajas, named one of the top 100 players in the area by High School Cube, said the Raiders must continue to play exceptional defense in order to compete with the league’s elite clubs.
“We just have to keep playing the great defense that we have been, and we should be one of the top teams,” he said.