ST. CHARLES • Francis Howell senior standout Luke Armstrong gave teammate Jacob Stillman the nickname “Harry” because of what he said is the sophomore’s likeness to Harry Potter.
Armstrong could have changed it to “Dirty Harry” after the Clint Eastwood character as a result of the way Stillman chalked up the kills on Tuesday.
The sophomore outside hitter tallied a game-high nine terminations on 15 swings to help power the Vikings to a 25-15, 25-18 win over host Francis Howell North in a Gateway Athletic Conference match.
“He’s stepped up big for us this year,” said Armstrong, who also had a solid effort with seven kills on 11 attempts. “When I’m in the back row, he steps up and puts the ball down.”
Stillman came out of the blocks extremely well against the Knights. He tallied seven of his kills in the first contest to help the Vikings (9-1), the No. 4 team in the STLhighschoolsports.com rankings, claim the first game.
“I thought I did real well as far as offense goes,” Stillman said. “On defense, I tried to stay low and read the hitters as best I could and I was able to get to a lot of balls.”
Howell coach Justin Young likes the talented youngster’s ability to put the ball on the floor.
“He’s a smart hitter,” Young said. “Even though he’s only 5-11 or 5-10, he sees the block real well.”
After falling behind 12-2 early and later 15-5 in Game 1, the Knights (1-2) battled toe-to-toe with the Vikings the rest of the first set, but couldn’t cut into the deficit the rest of the way.
“We had a bunch of tough runs where we couldn’t seem to get a side out,” Knights coach Ryan Von Feldt said of his team’s play early in Game 1.
The second contest was much more competitive. Only a few points separated the two teams for the majority of the set. However, with the Vikings leading 19-16, Armstrong and Alec Engle both tallied a couple of big kills to help Howell pull away and chalk up the sweep.
“I told our setter, Nick Vandenbosch, I wanted the ball,” said Armstrong, one of the top outside hitters in the state. “I saw an open seam and that the middle (blocker) was late (covering) and I hit the ground and it was nice.”
“Offensively, we were clicking real well, so I’ve got to be happy with that,” Young said. “Both (Stillman and Armstrong) were very efficient tonight.”
The Vikings also got solid efforts from libero Kyler Thompson, who had seven digs and eight serve-receives, and setter Nick Vandenbosch, who tallied 15 assists and also had a run of 11 straight service points at the start of the first set to get Howell going.
“We all have high goals for the team and we want to win as much as possible, obviously,” Stillman said. “There’s just a lot of energy, and there’s even more energy when you do win.”
The red-hot Vikings, who took second in the gold bracket of the Preseason Tournament this past weekend, now will get a break before facing GAC power Fort Zumwalt South next Tuesday.
“That’ll be a big match,” Young said. “We beat them in a tough three-set match this past Saturday. They're a big team and the defending Class 3 champs. They’re going to be a tough out every time we play them, which will be at least two more times."
The Knights got a game-high six kills from Lewis Stein in defeat. Logan Berman, Mark Reichert and Kevin Rudberg each tallied three.
“There were some positive things tonight,” Von Feldt said. “We made a few changes here and there. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Despite Stillman’s great effort on Tuesday, Armstrong said his nickname for the underclassman won’t change.
“The team came up with it last year and it kind of stuck,” he said. “Now even coach calls him that.”