When the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division reconvenes April 15, Bracket A will have a little "Welcome Home" feeling to it.
Three Sports Performance teams -- SPVB 16 Elite, SPVB 15 Elite and SPVB 16 C-Fed – all of whom began in Bracket A, won their first match Sunday to remain among the league’s top eight teams going forward.
They will be joined April 15 by SPVB 15 C-Fed, which will move up after beating Wildcat Jrs. 15 Black 19-25, 25-18, 15-12 and 1st Alliance 16 Black 21-25, 25-16, 15-11 in Bracket B on Sunday.
But it was SPVB 15 Elite which provided the day’s biggest surprise, defeating Lions 15-1 27-25, 25-23 in a Bracket A semifinal without the services of their 6-foot-1 outside hitter Emily Wilson of Joliet Catholic, who was sidelined with an elbow injury.
Lions had won the previous two meetings between the clubs, defeating SPVB 15 Elite 23-25, 25-13, 15-5 in Power League play on January 20 and again 26-24, 23-25, 15-10 at the Central Zone Invitational in Indianapolis, Indiana, on February 4.
“We knew we were going to have to play good and play as a team to beat them,” said SPVB 15 Elite libero Alexis Rodriguez from Sterling. “I think we played really well and we had really high intensity, so it felt good to beat them.”
Sunday’s Bracket A finale between SPVB 16 Elite and SPVB 15 Elite also provided some high drama.
After falling in the opener, SPVB 15 Elite withstood a furious Game 2 rally by SPVB 16 Elite that saw coach Erik Vogt’s charges slice a 19-13 deficit to 24-23 before Wilson’s stand-in, 5-10 freshman outside hitter Giorgia Cavalleri of Naperville Central, put away the final point of the set.
But the third game was all SPVB 16 Elite, which grabbed a 7-3 lead on a monster smash by Glenbard North’s 6-foot outside hitter Maddie Meyers and coasted to the 15-5 win.
“We were happy with the first two sets against (SPVB 16 Elite), and even if we had lost (in two games) and played well we would've been happy,” Rodriguez said. “But I think toward the end we just kind of gave up, so it wasn't how we wanted it to end.”
But the beginning and middle wasn’t too bad, Rodriguez said.
“We know what our tendencies are and what we do best, and we just try focus on those things and make everyone around us better,” she said. “We’re not as loud as we could be. We’re trying to work on communicating more. But we know if someone's on, we have to get them the ball and we have to do our job.”
Another team doing its job was SPVB 16 C-Fed, which secured its spot in Bracket A for another week by stunning Iowa Rockets 16R 14-25, 25-17, 15-7 in both teams’ opener Sunday. The Rockets had won the previous meeting between the two teams 25-23, 25-20 on February 11.
“I don’t know what happened, but once we got our momentum going we knew we were going to have it,” said SPVB 16 C-Fed 6-foot outside hitter Sophia Gregus from Benet.
SPVB 16 C-Fed has quietly out together a 9-6 record in Power League play despite its melting pot origin. Only two of its players are high school teammates and no more than two players were on the same club team a year ago.
“We have two people from last year’s 15 Elite team, two people from 15 Red, two people from 15 White, a girl from the fifth team and two new people,” Gregus said. “We’re all new people trying to figure it out. We’re getting there.”
But SPVB 16 C-Fed certainly doesn't think of itself as a "No. 2" team.
"We're all competitive," Gregus said. "It doesn't really matter what the name is."
Another team trending upward is Illini Elite 16 Cardinal, which bounced back from a disappointing 3-5 performance at the Presidents’ Day Challenge to win Bracket B with a 25-23, 25-13 victory over SPVB 15 C-Fed.
But getting to the Bracket B finals was no easy feat for the girls from Illini Elite. The crew from downstate Bloomington had to don its rally caps to edge FC Elite 15 Navy 19-25, 27-25, 15-12 in its opener and FaR Out 15 Black 22-25, 25-20, 15-10 in its second match of the day.
“I'm trying to get some of our outsides experience in the back row and stuff like that, so some of our struggles are understandable,” Illini Elite 16 Cardinal coach Andy Erins said. “They just can't seem to win until the volleyball gets really intense like the third set (vs. FC Elite).
“Then they play so well, they communicate and they do everything they're supposed to,” he added. “Why they can’t do it the rest of the time? It’s a mix bag. I’ll certainly take the wins, but I want to see us get better.”
Erins is one of those coaches who will not let himself get duped into thinking that just because his team is moving up the league standings, it’s actually improving.
“You look at the stats and your four outsides are hitting zero,” he said. “You’re passing 1.5. We play really well at the right times, but there’s a lot of bad in there. Winning is good for the kids. They know they cannot play great and still find a way to win. But I want to see us get better.”
Another coach looking for improvement is Fusion 15 Red’s David Soller. Fusion 15 Red went 1-2 Sunday, losing to FaR Out 15 Black 25-19, 21-25, 15-12, beating FC Elite 15 Navy 25-23, 25-19, and losing a heartbreaking finale to Epic United 16 Elite ROX 25-23, 25-23.
Fusion 15 Red will drop into Bracket C when League play resumes April 15.
“We’re a work in progress,” Soller said. “We have three months of practice to work on things. We want to be playing better and be able to take control of match like that (FaR Out 15 Black) when it comes to June. There’s lot of work with 15-year-old minds and learning to play the game better.”
There is a solid foundation on which Fusion 15 Red can build, Soller said.
“Our strengths are aggressive serving and defense, and we block pretty well,” he said. “We’re not overly strong offensively, but we make up for a lot of that with how hard we play and our aggressive serving.”
Another team dropping out of Bracket B is Wildcat Jrs. 15 Black, which went 0-3 Sunday. All three matches were three-setters. Wildcat Jrs. 15 Black lost to SPVB 15 C-Fed (19-25, 25-18, 15-12), Epic United 16 Elite ROX (25-23, 29-31, 15-9) and FC Elite 15 Navy (25-18, 23-25, 15-10).
“They’re a great group of girls,” Wildcat Jrs. 15 Black coach Kirstine Jensen said. “They’re so fun. They work hard. They're really great teammates. They really want each other to succeed. But recently … like everyone else … we’re struggling with people being ill. A lot of the kids haven't touched a volleyball for a week.”
Jensen has been pleased with the progress of her team’s middle hitters – 5-foot-11 Sadie Bard from New Trier and Ashley Carr – and setters Ava Tortorello from Latin and Mary-Julia Noteman from Glenbrook South.
“We have a lot of hitters, we just have to find some more ways to score,” Jensen said. “We've been working on getting the ball to our middles more. Our middles are pretty physical. They did a great job this week in practice and our setters did a great job getting them the ball.”
Elsewhere, Iowa Rockets 16R faced a long ride home to Iowa City after losing twice in Bracket A to tumble out of the top eight, while 1st Alliance 16 Black rebounded from a loss to SPVB 15 C-Fed to beat FaR Out 15 Black 25-17, 22-25, 15-9 and move up to Bracket A on April 15.
Also, Michio Chicago 16 National defeated Motion Volleyball 15 BLU 19-25, 25-15, 15-4 to finish fifth in Bracket A and avoid dropping into Bracket B.
For more results and schedules, go to www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(2gx554bqezfbzn450o5wdifz))/Standings.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM3MDM90&d=60257