Uno Girls 18 Elite was not looking for a bid to the USA Volleyball Girls’ Junior National Championships June 25-July 4 in Detroit, Michigan, Monday at the Winter Volleyball Championships at McCormick Place.
The team had already decided to decline a bid since several of the team’s members will be heading off to college early.
Uno was looking for a gold medal.
However, after winning the first set 29-27 on kill by Minooka’s Holly Bonde and sprinting to a 15-10 lead in the second set of their Gold bracket semifinal against Circle City 18 Purple, the long weekend grind finally caught up to the girls from Joliet.
“I think the energy changed,” said Uno libero Taylor Baranski of Minooka. “We just weren’t really ready to go 100 percent. But that is where we need to be when we play teams like that. Our intensity dropped a little bit. You could feel things slow down for us.”
Circle City, out of Indianapolis suburb Plainfield, rallied to win the second set 25-20 and never looked back, building a 12-7 lead in the third on its way to a 27-29, 25-20, 15-9 victory.
Uno had to settle for fourth place, falling 25-18, 26-24 to Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold in the third-place match.
Baranski said Uno might have overlooked teams like eventual 18 Open champion Circle City and runner-up TI (Team Indiana) Elite 181, which beat Uno 16-25, 25-14, 15-13 in Gold division pool play earlier in the day.
“I don't think we knew that there was this much competition in this qualifier,” she said. “We never heard of Circle City being nearly that good. We thought it would be us and Milwaukee Sting. But there were a lot stronger teams in this tournament.
“This is good preparation for future qualifiers that we're going to be in,” Baranski added. “We know some of the good teams will be there, so I think this is a good start for us.”
Earlier in the day, Uno battled TI Elite 181 in Gold division pool play before falling 16-25, 25-14, 15-13. But the Joliet girls earned a spot in the Gold division semifinals by cooling off RAGE 18 Gabe 25-16, 20-25, 15-8.
Uno Girls 18 Elite coach Vivian Pritz saw some fatigue settling in during the long match with Team Indiana.
“The girls are getting a little tired, but they're really fighting,” she said. “I couldn't ask for more from them. We struggle sometimes almost like a roller coaster, but they don't dive crazy deep. I’s just like a little hill that they're trying to chug up.
“Maintaining their play is huge for this team,” the coach added. “They don't get stagnant, but they do sometimes get ‘Oh, you'll get this’ or ‘We'll get this.’ Maintaining their play is huge for them.”
Elsewhere, Michio Chicago 18 National, which saw its bid for a bid end Sunday in the tiebreaker loss to Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold, and 1st Alliance 17 Silver both advanced to the 18 Girls Open Silver bracket semifinals Monday.
But both teams were eliminated from further contention. RAGE 18 Gabe defeated 1st Alliance 25-19, 25-21, and Metro 18 Travel out of Washington, D.C., ousted Michio 25-15, 25-19.
“It’s just a disappointing end to the weekend,” Michio coach Bryn Kehoe said. “We’re not where we need to be right now physically. But everything we do from this moment on is to prepare for Mideast Qualifier (March 23-25 in Indianapolis) and get our bid.
“We’re definitely capable, we’re just not there yet,” she added. “Which is good and bad. We would have liked to have earned our bid this weekend, but at the same time I'd rather peak in March than now. We’ve got some work to do and the girls are motivated.”
Michio can look back at its two losses to Milwaukee Sting on Sunday – 25-15, 19-25, 16-14 in pool play and 26-24 in the tiebreaker – as the turning point in its weekend fortunes.
“We were right there with them, it just didn't go our way,” Kehoe said. “But I told the girls, they can have their moment now. We want to have our moment later in the season. We learned a lot from this weekend and will definitely get better.”
Sky High Adidas 18 Black advanced to the final four of the 18 Girls USA division by sweeping six matches Saturday and Sunday, but Monday was not kind to the girls from Crystal Lake. Vying for one of two USAV bids, Sky High was derailed by OT 18 S. Tom out of Florida 19-25, 25-19, 15-7 in its opener Monday.
“A lot of it was mental mistakes,” said Sky High coach Ray Rugebregt. “We needed to have more focus on trying to control our side of net. They were getting a lot of touches off of our swings. We were swinging too low.
“Credit to them,” he added. “They are a great team. But we weren't in sync so our serve receive and transition game were a little off. Everything just compound. But it's still early in the season and we still have many chances to get that bid.”
On the boys’ side, Ultimate 18U Gold and Adversity 18 Purple lost challenge matches early Monday and with it an opportunity for one of nine USAV bids.
But SPVB 18 Elite, SPVB 18 Lenny and Pipeline 18 Nike all weathered their challenge matches to reach the 18 Boys Open quarterfinals and earn bids to the USAV Boys Junior National Championship in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 2-9.
However, only Pipeline won its quarterfinal match Monday, defeating SPVB 18 Lenny 15-25, 25-23, 15-11, before losing to eventual Open champion HPSTL (High Performance St. Louis) B18 Royal 25-23, 25-21 in the semifinals.
“Surprised? I’m not really surprised,” said Pipeline 6-7 outside hitter Michael O’Toole of Barrington. “We finally came in and played to our level. We’ve kind of struggled all year. Our libero (Barrington’s Thomas Chapman) has been out all year and he came back this weekend.
“He just kind of rallied the troops and we put some good games together,” O’Toole said.
SPVB 18 Lenny had its way with Pipeline in Game 1 of their quarterfinal match. But an adjustment at the service line turned the match around in Game 2.
“In Game 1, we struggled with serve receive,” O’Toole said. “And our coach (Dominic Spadavecchio) stressed that we needed to serve harder and get them out of system because they had perfect passes and we’re just running it down our throats.
“As soon as we got them off the net a little bit, we were able to capitalize, string some points together and get on a run,” he added.
Pipeline features four players off last year’s Lake Park team that finished third at the IHSA state tournament – Nic Carzoli, Jordan Haigh, Nick Martinski and Robert Sampson – Palatine’s Camden Hill, Fremd twins Aaron and Jacob Peterson, and Caden Frye of Genoa-Kingston.
“This group of guys has played together for a couple of years now,” O’Toole said. “We’re all really good friends. It helps knowing that you can trust the guys on the floor and work through tight situations. When you have your teammates backing you up, you have all the confidence in the world.”
But will they still be friends when they take the floor this spring on opposite sides of the net?
“I’ll always be friendly with these guys,” O’Toole said.
The boys tournament was also friendly to Sports Performance, which earned two bids in the 18 Boys Open division (SPVB 18 Elite and SPVB 18 Lenny), one in the 18 Boys USA division (SPVB 18 Delta), one in the 16 Open division (SPVB 16 Elite), and one in the 15 Boys Open division (SPVB 15 Elite).
SPVB 18 Delta earned its bid by finishing second in the USA division, going 8-1 after losing to
Vegas United B18 Navy 25-19, 25-17 in the championship match. SPVB 15 Elite earned its bid by winning the silver bracket over Hitmen 15 Elite, 25-21, 25-22.
SPVB 14 Elite finished third in the Boys 14 Open division, but the club declined the bid.
“We usually send them the AAUs for their national tournament,” said SPVB Boys Director and 18 Elite coach Troy Gilb.
SPVB 18 Elite won its challenge match against Academy Boys 18 Red out of New York 25-19, 25-21. But the boys from Aurora fell into some poor pass-and-serve habits in their quarterfinal match against eventual 18 Boy Open runner-up AZ Fear 18 JB (Phoenix, Arizona) and lost 25-22, 25-20.
“Fear is a good team,” Gilb said. “They were in system a lot. They pass very well. We couldn't get them out of system and we were out of system too much. That was really the difference.”
Gilb, who watched his team commit a flurry of service errors Saturday and Sunday, pulled the reins in a little Monday. But after Fear passed SPVB off the court, it may not be a permanent move.
“We took a couple guys off the jump serve and went to the jump float hoping that would cut down on our errors and give ourselves more opportunities to score defensively,” he said. “But maybe I'm rethinking that. We might go to a little bit of both and try to be a little more aggressive against teams that pass the ball better.”
For more results from the Winter Volleyball Championship, go to https://www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(h2l4vp451gwutu24b5pd5h55))/Home.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM2MTM90.