Sometimes a good loss is better than a bad win.
Michio Chicago 18 National didn’t win the 18 Open division of the Presidents’ Day Challenge at the Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora. But the girls from the South Side gave eventual champion SPVB 18 Elite all it could handle in Monday’s semifinal.
Michio Chicago 18 National overcame a 19-16 deficit in Game 2 to force a third set, then built an 8-3 lead before the Lincoln-Way East’s Hanna Lesiak ignited a late SPVB 18 Elite rally to lift the hosts to a 25-21, 23-25, 15-13 victory.
SPVB 18 Elite defeated FaR Out 18 Black (Grand Rapids, Michigan) 25-15, 25-21 to claim the 18 Open title, while Michio Chicago 18 National handled Epic United 18 Elite ROX (Hobart, Indiana) 25-19, 25-21 to take third place.
“They played really well all weekend,” Michio Chicago 18 National coach Bryn Kehoe said. “It was great to see them compete at a high level. Anytime you play a high level game like that (the semifinal against SPVB), you mature as a player and it helps build your confidence, which is what we need.”
Michio Chicago 18 National broke out to a 5-1 lead in Game 1 against SPVB 18 Elite before the hosts rallied to take a 21-16 lead behind Lesiak and 6-foot-4 outside hitter Taylor Landfair of Plainfield Central.
An ace by Cassidy Wyman of Lincoln-Way Central got Michio to within 24-20 before Landfair’s block settled Game 1.
A hitting violation and Landfair’s kill to end the longest rally of the match gave SPVB 18 Elite a 19-16 lead in Game 2, but St. Ignatius’ Jill Bennett sparked a 9-4 closing run by the south siders to force a third set.
“She can play even better,” Kehoe said of Bennett. “She’s got a whole other gear.”
Bennett’s ace and a SPVB hitting miscue gave Michio its biggest lead of the match at 8-3 in the third set, but a sequence that featured 3 blocks and a kill by Lesiak gave the hosts a 10-9 lead they never relinquished.
“I'm really, really happy with this weekend,” Kehoe said. “This team grew so much. I think we’re all really looking forward to training this next month and getting ready for the (18 Nike Mideast Qualifier March 23-25 in Indianapolis).”
Overcoming huge deficits is becoming a staple of the SPVB 18 Elite playbook, but overall, coach Seth Salmon was pleased with his team’s performance during the three-day weekend tournament.
“They played well,” he said. “There are things that we got a lot better at since we played two weeks ago, but also playing really high level teams on this last day shows a lot of things we need to get better at. Hopefully, three weeks from now it'll be a little bit better.”
Illini Elite 18 Cardinal continued its recent tear, defeating Uno Girls 18 Elite 23-25, 25-20, 16-14 to win the Silver Bracket. Illini Elite went 7-1 on the weekend with its only loss a 19-25, 25-23, 15-5 setback to Michio Chicago 18 National in a Gold Pool D meeting Sunday.
The Bloomington club’s tournament performance mirrored its climb from a shaky 2-2 start and exile to the Silver division of the Great Lakes Power League 18 Super Open to an 8-4 record and berth in the Gold Pool A.
“This year, with a mixture of players coming from different teams, we knew it would take a little while,” Illini Elite 18 Cardinal coach Kyle Caldwell said. “After our first weekend of team bonding, they really came together and now they're playing much more like group that's been together longer than what they have.”
Illini Elite 18 Cardinal also demonstrates that even small school athletes – the team features players like Mallory Bergbower from Newton, Carly Mason from Maroa-Forsyth, Isabella Classen from Delavan and Tri-Valley’s Hannah Clayton – can compete at a high level.
“We’re playing a shorter season this year so they really feel the importance of every tournament,” Caldwell said. “They want to come out hard every match and play well.”
Uno Girls 18 Elite survived a season’s worth of misfortune to place fourth. Setter Sarah Nahas of Joliet Catholic was unavailable all weekend, outside hitter Holly Bonde of Minooka battled the flu and Minooka libero Taylor Baranski was nursing a sore back after a collision with a net stantion.
Uno Girls 18 Elite was bounced from gold medal contention Sunday with a 26-25, 25-19 loss to Epic United 18 Elite ROX in Gold Pool B, then defeated SPVB 18 Kahl 25-19, 27-29, 16-14 in a Silver Bracket semifinal before falling to Illini Elite 18 Cardinal.
“We focused on elevating everyone's level of play this weekend,” Uno Girls 18 Elite coach Vivian Pritz said. “(Second setter JoDee Kovanda of Lockport) did awesome, but of course at this high level it's always off a little bit when you have a new person or have something different in the lineup.”
Elsewhere in the 18 Open, shorthanded Club 1 18 Red out of Plainfield turned up the heat in the second set of its Copper Bracket semifinal against Southern Performance 18 NAT Julie out of Hoover, Alabama, and carried that momentum all the way to the bracket title.
Club 1 18 Red defeated Southern Performance 18 NAT Julie 20-25, 25-12, 15-8 then turned back Premier 18 Onitsuka 25-20, 25-16 in the championship despite the absence of rightside hitter Johanna Havenaar of Naperville Central (illness).
“This team is a pleasure to coach,” said Club 1 Red 18 coach Daniel Hallman. “They ‘re at their best when the chips are down. I like the way we came out on fire in that second set (against Southern Performance) and fought the entire time.”
Chicago Elite 18 Elite fought back from an 8-4 deficit to take a 14-13 lead in the third set of its Red Bracket quarterfinal against Ultimate G18 Gold. But a service error at match point gave Ultimate G18 Gold new life, and the Frankfort crew advanced with a 25-18, 21-25, 16-14 win.
“Missing serves at key times is not really acceptable at this level,” Chicago Elite 18 Elite coach Nicole Pasquinelli said. “You can't win missing serves after timeouts and missing serves at game point. Our blocking suffered the whole match, too. That was a big problem for us.”
Chicago Elite 18 Elite’s blocking took a big hit when 6-2 junior middle hitter Brittany Wells from Wheaton Academy tore an ACL at a tournament last weekend.
But the team’s future still looks bright with players like 5-11 freshman setter Schuyler Williams and 5-5 freshman libero Leah Kodat from Wheaton Academy and 6-1 sophomore opposite and Michigan State commit Lia Moore from Chicago Christian.
The trio helped Chicago Elite 18 Elite bounce back from the loss to Ultimate G18 Gold with a 25-13, 28-26 victory over K2 18 Adidas Andre out of Knoxville, Tennessee, in its final match.
“We have two freshmen who touch the ball most of the time,” Pasquinelli said. “We have a lot of young talent. I’m happy with the young kids and how they played.”
For more results from the 18 Open and other age groups of the Presidents’ Day Challenge, go to www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(kf2oqw3303j3porg40dlch55))/Standings.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM2NzA90&d=60039