CHICAGO HEIGHTS | If you're counting, with Tuesday's season-opening, 26-24, 15-25, 20-25 loss to Shepard, that's 18 in a row for Marian Catholic's boys volleyball team.
The Spartans, however, clearly are not.
If they were viewing this season as an extension of their 1-32 2013 campaign, libero Liam Fagan wouldn't have bothered to dive and slide, head first, into the scorer's table trying to track down what was Shepard's 24th point of the third set.
"It didn't hurt too bad," Fagan said of moving the table back about a foot with his noggin.
It would have hurt worse not to go all out.
"I felt like if I just let it go, it would have been demoralizing for everybody," he said.
There was enough of that in 2013.
"Everybody, by the end of the season, started looking at it as a joke," Fagan said. "Even I did.
"We decided we weren't going to let that happen this year. We got together at a practice and said we just didn't want to be embarrassed again."
Tuesday represented a step in the right direction. The Spartans went three sets with Shepard, something they did in only one of their 32 losses last season. They came back, with Sean McGlone serving the final five points, from a 24-21 deficit to capture the first set, and they tied in the teens in both of the other sets.
Sophomore setter Zak Piekarski had 15 assists, 11 digs and five service points, Fagan 13 digs and six service points, McGlone six service points and 11 digs, and Jackson Russell six kills for Marian.
All told, eight Marian players had at least one kill or ace block on the evening.
"This is the best team energy we've had since I've been here," said fourth-year Spartans coach Bob Piekarski, Zak's father. "Things got a little flip last year.
"In other years, at practices and things, I'd have to fire them up. That's not the case this year. They've come in with a different kind of mental toughness and attitude. The maturing of some of the players is probably the biggest thing — maturing as players and as people."
The Spartans' roster is made up of six seniors, a junior and four sophomores. Six of those players, including sophomores Piekarski, Cameron Green, Alan Kickert and Temitope Onayemi, stand at least 6-foot-2.
"We've got a lot more height than we've had in the past," Bob Piekarski said. "Zak grew four inches last year. Alan grew two inches.
"When we start getting some ball control — passing is kind of our weakness right now — we'll do a lot better."
How much better remains to be seen. The Spartans have just two winning seasons in their program's 16 years, the last coming in 2005, and the best mark in Piekarski's tenure was his 15-17 first season.
"I'm hoping we get to 10 or 12 wins," Piekarski said. "If we could do that, in our conference, with our schedule, that would be fantastic."