In a sport dominated by teams from the West Coast, it would not be surprising to see Ultimate B17 Gold out of Frankfort, Illinois, hoist a national championship trophy at the Phoenix Convention Center in early July.
Two weeks ago at the Winter Volleyball Championship (WVC) at McCormick Place, Ultimate B17 Gold carried the No. 1 seed into a 47-team Boys 17 Open field that featured teams from California to Florida and throughout the Midwest.
“The expectations were high going into the weekend,” Ultimate B17 Gold coach Troy Vidovic said. “Josh (assistant coach Scaletta) and I were very proud of how the team handled that. We had played and won the 18-year-old division at the Lewis invite the weekend before, so we had some nice momentum coming into the qualifier.”
Ultimate B17 Gold breezed through day one at the WVC, never allowing an opponent to score more than 19 points in a set and winning by an average score of 25-14. Day two presented its first challenge from Ocean Bay 17 Quicksilver from South Florida.
But after dropping the first set, Ultimate B17 Gold bounced back to win 23-25, 25-18, 15-6.
“The boys’ ability to keep their focus on one match at a time showed with our results,” Vidovic said. “To only drop two sets over the course of the weekend against the caliber of teams we played was very impressive.”
The second time Ultimate B17 Gold dropped a set was in the semifinals against Bay to Bay 17-1 out of San Jose, California. But after a few adjustments, Ultimate B17 Gold rebounded to hand Bay to Bay its only loss of the tournament, 21-25, 25-16, 15-10.
“Our success in Chicago was very much a team effort,” Vidovic said. “Due to our team’s depth and versatility, we are able to use a number of different lineups and still be successful. Over the course of a tough, long three-day tournament, that is very important.”
Despite a few anxious moments in the second set, the championship match against MVVC (Mountain View Volleyball Club) 17 Red out of Sunnyvale, California, was another straight-set sweep for the Ultimate B17 Gold, 25-18, 27-25.
“It was great for the boys to see a lot of new competition from all over the country.,” Vidovic said. “We only played one team from our region the entire event (a 25-20, 25-20 win over Adversity 17 Purple in a Round 3 Challenge Match).”
Ultimate B17 Gold features players from all three Lincoln-Way schools, Marist, Joliet Catholic and Chicago Christian.
“This group has a very high volleyball IQ and a lot of familiarity with each other,” Vidovic said. “Seven of our 11 players have played together since they were 14 or younger.”
Team members include: 6-foot-6 middle hitter Zach Bulthuis from Chicago Christian; 6-2 outside hitter Chris Dargan from Lincoln-Way West; 5-11 outside hitter David Flores from Lincoln-Way West; and 6-0 outside hitter Marty Jepsen from Marist.
Also, 6-3 middle hitter Wil McPhillips from Lincoln-Way East; 6-4 outside hitter Louden Moran from Lincoln-Way West; 5-9 libero Danny Pacini from Lincoln-Way East; and 5-10 outside hitter Ben Pluskota from Lincoln-Way West.
Also, 5-11 rightside/setter Nicky Studer from Lincoln-Way West; 6-4 opposite/middle hitter Andy Wilkinson from Joliet Catholic; and 6-0 rightside/setter Jack Yarkanin from Lincoln-Way Central.
“As a group, they have had a lot of success over the years including winning the WVC two years ago as 15s and top 10 finishes the past two years at (USAV Boys Junior National Championships), including a tie for fifth last season as 16s,” Vidovic said.
The coaches have had a fair amount of success over the years as well.
Vidovic was an all-state setter on the 2001 Mt. Carmel team that finished 33-7 and reached the IHSA state semifinals before losing to eventual runner-up Sandburg 15-9, 15-8.
Scaletta was a setter a captain on the 2007 Brother Rice team that went 39-0 before losing to New Trier 25-20, 21-25, 25-23 in the quarterfinals. He was also the setter and captain of the 2009 D3 national champion club team at Illinois.
“Josh and I have known each other a long time,” Vidovic said. “I was Josh’s club coach at Chicago Select when he was 18. To coach this group with him has been a lot of fun.”
There is no end on sight for the fun in Frankfort.
“Josh and I are excited for the future with this group,” Vidovic said. “If the team continues to work hard and improve, we should put ourselves in a good position to compete at nationals this summer in Phoenix.”