Michio Chicago 18 National was on top the world at about 10:00 a.m. Sunday at the Winter Volleyball Championships at McCormick Place.
By the end of the day, however, Michio Chicago 18 National was on the outside looking in.
The south siders began play at 9:00 a.m. Sunday against Uno Girls 18 Elite with both teams sitting at 2-1 after pool play. After winning Game 1 handily, Michio watched an early 9-4 lead in Game 2 evaporate.
The teams were deadlocked at 10-10 in the third set, but three kills by Marist product Savannah Thompson broke the tie and Michio held on for a 25-18, 23-25, 15-13 victory. Two more victories and Michio’s place in the Gold bracket would be all but assured.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Monday’s title round.
Michio was upended not once, but twice by Milwaukee Sting 18 Gold, 25-15, 19-25, 16-14 in pool play, then 26-24 in a challenge match. Meanwhile, Uno bounced back with straight set wins over Vision 18 Indiana Elite and Sting.
Uno (5-2) advanced to the Gold bracket where it will face TI (Team Indiana) 18 Elite on Court 5 at 8:00 a.m. Michio (5-3) finds itself in the Silver where it will face WVA (Wisconsin Volleyball Academy) 18 Black on Court 8 at 8::00 a.m.
Michio’s challenge match loss to Sting was particularly painful. Michio had fought back from an early deficit to take a 24-21 lead on two aces by libero Nicole Olesky and a Thompson kill. But the south siders could not close out the girls from Milwaukee.
“It was a competitive game,” Michio coach Bryn Kehoe said. “Even though we didn't win, I'm proud of our girls for competing as hard as they did. Losses like these can be heartbreaking, but they can also teach you a lot.
“Looking at my team after this game, I can tell their hearts are broken,” she added. “But that's a good thing because that means not only did they try very hard physically, but they were also invested emotionally, and that's all I can ever ask of them.”
Uno, meanwhile, used its loss to Michio as part motivation and part education in its next two matches.
“That match really opened our eyes to what we needed to fix,” said Uno’s Rocky Perinar, a Minooka product. “Our coaches are great telling us everything we need to do. We took it all in before we played our next game.”
Uno rolled past Sting 25-14 in Game 1, but had to dig deep to turn back the Wisconsin six 25-22 in the second set.
“Sting is a great team,” Perinar said. “We knew they were going to come out in the second game really hard. We knew we had to focus on our aspects of the game … everyone doing their job to the best of their abilities.”
Beating Sting and Vision 18 Indy Elite in straight sets also gave Uno an edge in the tiebreaker between the three teams from the pool contending for the Gold bracket, sending Michio into the challenge match.
“The girls knew they weren’t allowed to give up any sets to keep us in the best position possible, either taking first or second in the pool,” Uno coach Vivian Pritz said. “It worked out in our favor.”
The other area team in the 18 Open division that was in contention for the Gold on Sunday was 1st Alliance 18 Silver. But the girls from Western Springs dropped their first two matches Sunday – losing to TI Elite 181 22-25, 25-23, 15-5 and Circle City 18 Purple 25-18, 28-26 – and joined Michio in the Silver.
“We were so flat,” said 1st Alliance coach Elizabeth Baetzel. “Our serve receive fell apart. No matter what level you’re playing, if you can’t serve and you can’t pass, you’re not going to win. We were never in system.”
1st Alliance 18 Silver opens Silver play against Vision 18 Indy Elite, which ended the Gold aspirations of Ultimate G18 Gold 23-25, 28-26, 15-11, on Court 7 at 8:00 a.m.
Elsewhere, Sky High Adidas 18 Black improved to 6-0 in the 18 Girls USA division, beating 1st Alliance 18 Black 25-17, 25-20, Club 1 18 Red 25-19, 25-22, and Michio Chicago 18 Premier 25-19, 25-19 to advance to the Gold bracket.
On the boys’ side, Adversity 18 Purple, Pipeline 18 Nike, Sports Performance 18 Elite and Ultimate B18 Gold all sit at 5-1 heading into Monday’s round of challenge matches.
After a thrilling rally from a big third-set deficit to defeat MVP Academy (Florida) 18 Fire 23-25, 25-15, 27-25, SPVB 18 Elite and HPSTL (High Performance St. Louis) B18 Royal drew a huge crowd to Court 9 midday to watch the battle of unbeatens.
SPVB 18 Elite, which features 6-10 middle hitter Jack Ardell of three-time state champion Glenbard West, 6-8 setter Kevin Kauling of Neuqua Valley and 6-9 middle hitter Owen Wahlgren from Downers Grove North, had a big height advantage over HPSTL B18 Royal.
However, HPSTL B18 Royal ruled the day 25-18, 20-25, 25-21 and SPVB 18 Elite coach Troy Gilb rued his team’s performance.
“We made too many hitting errors, “Gilb said. “A lot of it has to do with our hitters not taking care of the ball or seeing the block, or the setter not giving us a hittable ball and we try to be a hero. We make too many hitting errors for an 18 Open team.”
SPVB 18 Elite will face ACAD Boys 18 Red (5-1) in a challenge match at 8:00 a.m. on Court 37 with the winner advancing to the Gold bracket and the loser still owning an outside chance of earning a bid to the USAV Junior Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona, July 2-9.
“Were still in it,” Gilb said. “If we win that match, we’re in the Gold and will play the second seed. If we lose the match, we’re in the Silver, but we still in position to get an open bid because it goes down to 9 bids. So we still have a chance.”
Pipeline 18 Nike is also 5-1 in its first qualifier and will face Hitmen 18 Elite in a challenge match on Court 53 at 8:00 a.m. Pipeline rebounded from a 25-23, 25-18 loss to Aspire 18 Black (Arizona) to beat HBC 18 Black 25-22, 23-25, 15-12.
Pipeline 18 Nike features 6-foot-7 middle hitter Nick Martinski, outside hitters Jordan Haigh and Nicolas Carzoli and setter Robert Sampson of IHSA state third-place winner Lake Park, twins Aaron and Jacob Peterson of Fremd and 6-8 outside Michael O’Toole from Barrington.
“They play really well and cohesively as a team with each person playing their role realm, really well,” Pipeline coach Dominic Spadavecchio said. “If we can continue to play with a lot of energy and serve and ass well, we’ll be all right.”
One Illinois team that has already punched its ticket to Phoenix is Sports Performance 16 Elite. The boys from Aurora sealed their bid with a 24-26, 25-15, 17-15 win over Cinci Attack 16 Black to go 6-0 on the weekend.
SPVB 16 Elite is led by a couple of Wheaton Warrenville South products – 6-4 setter Zeo Meyer and 6-3 outside hitter Joshua Gottlieb, and Neuqua Valley’s 5-11 outside hitter Gabriel Scharosch.
“We started off pretty well this season, then we had a couple of injuries the last two months,” said SPVB 16 Elite coach Matthew Warner. “But now we’re fully healthy and we’re really excited to get going and see what we really can do.”
Because the SPVB boys program is short on middles, Meyer has been asked to set out of the middle.
“He’s physical and he's got a lot of energy,” Warner said. “He can handle not only the blocking and hitting and all the responsibilities that go with that, but also setting and blocking in the middle. He does a nice job for us.
“We also have quality outsides, two big rightsides and our serve receive is usually pretty solid,” Warner said.
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