LANSING | Nobody in the class of 2013 was laughing Thursday at Illiana Christian.
At least nobody on the boys volleyball team. During the game, anyway.
Consider it a welcome change for coach Nikki Van Dyke.
Seven players from last year's 23-11 Vikings squad graduated. Those who remained?
"They got by being the goofballs, the comic relief," Van Dyke said. "They didn't react to stepping up against Lincoln-Way North (in Tuesday's season opener).
"They didn't communicate at all. They looked like deer in headlights."
On the heels of that 25-8, 25-10 loss came Wednesday's practice, lecture included. And Thursday's nail-biting, 27-25, 25-22 win over Nazareth Academy.
"A couple of them stepped up big time in practice," Van Dyke said. "(Against Nazareth) we passed way better than we did Tuesday. My libero (Mike Waldmarson) talked, my quiet setter (Trevor Dekker talked), (Zach) Thompson talked, (Mike) Fiene talked …"
And they produced, especially when things got tight.
After letting leads of 19-12 and 24-17 slip away in the first set, the Vikings were down 25-24 when Fiene notched one of his match-high six kills with a tip. With Dekker serving, Fiene had a roof block to put Illiana on top, and the Vikings closed it out on a Nazareth hitting error.
The second set was a back-and-forth affair, with 11 ties — the last at 22-all. From there, C.J. Beezhold served out the match, Glenn Haag sandwiching a pair of kills around another from Fiene.
"We got serious so we could communicate," said Beezhold, who also added five kills. "Today was a big improvement.
"We still have a lot of easy mistakes we can fix. We can definitely do better."
Van Dyke expects it.
Outside hitters Fiene (6-foot-3) and Thompson (5-11), the latter of whom signed this week to play at NAIA Lindenwood University in Belleville, are big leapers. And Dekker showed a knack Thursday for distributing the ball. His 18 assists went to five different hitters.
"Fiene, last year he played right side, this year I expect big things from him on the outside," Van Dyke said. "Zach, he's definitely one of my leaders this year, by far. And my setter, I think, will improve a ton.
"Those three are keys."
As long as they aren't Keystone Kops.