WOODSTOCK – It would've been understandable if the Woodstock North girls volleyball team had allowed the unique circumstances surrounding its Kishwaukee River Conference match against Richmond-Burton to become overwhelming.
Before Wednesday's match, the Thunder held an emotional ceremony honoring Mary Kobler, who was a freshman volleyball player at Woodstock North in November when she had surgery to remove a brain tumor known as a pediatric large cell medulloblastoma.
Kobler sat in the middle of the Woodstock North bench, in uniform – with her parents, Joe and Tricia, and other family members in attendance – as the Thunder earned a spirited 25-19, 25-22 victory.
North's players were not told ahead of time Kobler would be sitting alongside them at the match, which also doubled as a fundraiser to help cover her costly medical expenses. Most fans wore gray in her honor, while others donned white T-shirts with black writing that read: "We Fight Together."
"We knew we were going to be giving Mary gifts and recognizing her strength and courage before the game," Thunder senior Brooke Amann said. "But when we walked onto the court arm-in-arm with her, we had no idea she'd be sitting right next to us the rest of the evening. That was a shock, and it motivated all of us."
It motivated Kobler, too, as she was smiling, giving high-fives and encouraging her teammates whenever she had the chance.
"Tonight meant so much to me," Kobler said. "It's crazy. I love it. This is what team spirit is all about. I can't express how thankful I am right now."
Kobler goes in for a scan later this month to verify whether she's cancer-free.
"I'm done," Kobler said. 'Done with my chemo, done with the proton therapy. I'm gonna beat this."
There were 12 ties or lead changes in the first 15 points of the match, at which point the Thunder held an 8-7 lead. That advantage ballooned to 18-13 before the Rockets scored six of the next seven points to tie it at 19.
But North (4-4, 1-0 KRC) scored the final six points of the opening set, which included Amann's 1,000th career kill. The match briefly was stopped to recognize her milestone.
"It's a huge weight off my shoulders," Amann said. "I thought I hit the milestone last weekend, but didn't. I'm so thankful for my teammates. Without their help, I never could have accomplished this goal. This is something I've wanted for a long time."
The second set was a seesaw battle, as neither team led by more than two until the Thunder took a 14-11 lead. The Rockets (1-8, 1-1) briefly tied the match twice, at 20-20 and 21-21, but it wasn't enough. Amann finished with 11 kills, sophomore teammate Alyssa Wickersheim had four kills, and freshman Kylie Schultz had 18 assists, six digs, four aces and two kills for the Thunder.
R-B was led by Jordan Duncan (six kills), Samantha Duncan (four kills), Isabella Cecchi (five digs) and Jesse Klicker (nine assists).
"Volleyball is a game of momentum," Rockets coach Kaycee Kaywood said. "I'm trying to teach our girls that when things don't go their way, we have to stay focused and keep up our energy. I was proud of our effort tonight, particularly our defense. We just had too many unforced mistakes (19), and that cost us."
STAR OF THE MATCH
Woodstock North, sr., OH
Amann, a South Dakota State commit, notched her 1,000th career kill Wednesday and fittingly tallied the final point of the match with a hefty spike.
Aside from the final point of the opening set, neither team led by more than five points all evening.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
"This was an emotional night," Thunder freshman setter Kylie Schulze said in reference to the fundraiser for sophomore volleyball player Mary Kobler, who attended the match after having a brain tumor removed in November. "We all told each other we were going to win this match for Mary."