Senior outside hitter Mikaila Dowd knew this time was coming. She was prepared for it.
It showed Wednesday night as Dowd had 12 kills and nine digs as Metea Valley slipped past Geneva 24-26, 29-27, 25-21.
The senior returners, as they’ve grown accustomed to doing this year, stood at the forefront for the Mustangs (18-4).
Besides Dowd, Kailee Bass had four kills and five blocks, Emma Aske had 11 kills and five digs, Sydnie Herrmann had six kills and five blocks and Sydney Aitchison notched 32 assists and eight digs.
Dowd, a Naperville resident who is committed to Georgia Tech, combines an advanced skill set, high-level athleticism and a confident method of leadership. This season is what the four-year starter has been building toward.
“I’ve always been in the position that I knew, at some point down the line, I’d be asked to be a leader,” Dowd said. “Being on varsity as a freshman, you know you’ll be counted on in that role later on, so I knew I had to prepare.
“With the help of all the coaches and older players, I think I was prepared completely.”
The four additional senior returners — Bass, a middle who’s committed to Belmont; Aske, an outside; Aitchison, a setter; Herrmann, a right side — form a leadership core, one Dowd where plays an increasingly significant role.
The five, according to both coach Dave MacDonald and Dowd, have a symbiotic relationship, a collective understanding of what’s necessary for the program both on and off the court.
“If there were any less than (the five of us), I don’t know what I’d do,” Dowd said. “We’re so close to each other, we all have the same ideology, I don’t know where I’d be without them.
“Our experience on varsity has shown us how important it is to lead by example, how crucial that is. This is a legacy that’s been passed down, and we’re leaving it. We need to leave it better than we found it.”
The idea of leaving a legacy was solidified last season as Metea set a school record with 25 wins before falling to St. Francis in the regional final. Then-seniors Claire Rothenberger and Maggie Petersen were leadership touchstones for the current group, an embodiment of what to emulate.
But Dowd has also continued to evolve as a player. Her defense has improved significantly in the past calendar year, and MacDonald raves about her versatility. Dowd wants be the sort of player who always can be depended on.
“(The) coach knows wherever you’re put, they can count on you to be successful,” she said.
It’s a high standard.
“Dowd brings that next-level competition to our group of seniors as well, she helps push everyone, bring everyone in the huddle when things are going bad, correcting things,” MacDonald said. “I’ll sometimes just sit back during timeouts, and just let her and a couple other girls just take charge to settle everything down.
“She’s helped grab that leadership and coaching aspect to a new level in those in-game situations.”
While MacDonald references both winning the conference for the first since 2013 and the regional as primary goals, Dowd and her fellow seniors don’t want to stop there.
“A regional championship, a sectional, all of that,” Dowd said. “Our goal, really, is doing things the school hasn’t done before.”
Rich Mayor is a freelance writer for the Naperville Sun.