Uno Girls 18 Elite is getting closer each week.
Sunday, it was a set. How much longer before Uno breaks through with a victory?
One week after SPVB 18 Elite took down the girls from Joliet 25-19, 25-20, 25-18, Uno Girls 18 Elite finally broke through by winning a set Sunday and was a long rally away from extending the hosts to five games.
But SPVB 18 Elite rallied from a 17-9 deficit in Game 2, and after squandering three match points in the third, outlasted their Great Lakes Power League 18 Super Open division rivals 25-14, 25-21, 28-20, 25-20 in a Gold pool crossover.
“Our girls are trying to play at a mental toughness level and never letting any point go, so they're really trying to play hard every single point,” Uno Girls 18 Elite coach Vivian Pritz said.
“It’s hard when you play best-of-five,” she added. “It’s hard learning that mental toughness and then knowing that you can't give up on anything or read something over too soon. That's what college is all about.”
Those who think Uno Girls 18 Elite is tired of seeing SPVB 18 Elite every week should think again, Pritz said.
“I love playing these guys,” she said. “It's fun. It's always a good game. It's always learning. The kids are learning, ‘Maybe I should do this. Maybe I should do that.’ That's what they're prepping for, for college.
“I'm excited to play them, I know the girls are, too,” Pritz added. “I know it's always going to be a good match. It's a learning experience every time.”
SPVB 18 Elite night have learned not to take Uno Girls 18 Elite lightly the next time the two teams meet in March.
After breezing though the first set, SPVB 18 Elite found itself trailing big in the second. But a pair of dumps by SPVB setter McKenna Slavik and a kill by 6-foot-5 sophomore Taylor Landfair of Plainfield Central were part of a 12-2 run that gave the home team a 21-19 lead it would never surrender.
In Game 4, a kill off the block by Lauren Hatch of Marian Catholic gave Uno Girls 18 Elite a 21-17 lead. But an Uno hitting error tied the set at 24-24. SPVB earned match points at 26-25, 27-26 and 28-27, but Uno would not go away.
A hitting error by SPVB 18 Elite gave Uno Girls 18 Elite set point at 29-28, and Olivia Klank of Minooka finished it off with a block off a Sports Performance defender.
Both teams will earn No. 1 seeds in their Gold division pools when the league resumes March 17.
“If we come out of one pool and they come out of the other, that’s exactly what we want,” Pritz said. “We want to have that high level of competition so the girls can learn something new. That will prepare them for college. That’s we strive for, what we fight for, at Uno.”
Illini Elite 18 Cardinal, which made the jump from the Silver division this weekend, maintained its position in the Gold by defeating SPVB 18 Kahl 29-27,25-19, 19-25, 25-22.
“We knew (SPVB 18 Kahl) was really technically sound, as almost all Sports Performance teams are,” Illini Elite 18 Cardinal coach Kyle Caldwell said. “Their offense isn't super complicated, but they understand what they're trying to do and they do it well.
“We just had to find ways to beat what we knew they were going to do,” he added.
Illini Elite 18 Cardinal’s resurgence has coincided with the return of outside hitter MaKenna Barnhart from Normal Community, who sat out the first weekend of league play with an injury.
“The first weekend we were in the baby gym,” Caldwell said. “Then we went 4-0 in the Silver when she came back, moved up to Gold and now we’re staying here.
“She makes a big difference … ball control, hitting, blocking,” he added. “She's a great blocker for how small she is. She does a really nice job for us.”
Dropping down to the Silver is Sky High Adidas 18 Black, but not after extending SPVB 18 Elite to five sets on Saturday, 14-25, 25-19, 11-25, 25-20, 15-11, and beating Fusion17 Red 27-25, 25-26, 25-22 in both teams’ Gold crossover Sunday.
“(The match with SPVB 18 Elite) raised a new bar for us as far as playing better,” Sky High Adidas 18 Black coach Ray Rugebregt said. “The thing we have to learn is that we need to keep that same intensity throughout the whole tournament.
“We have to figure out how to get the team to consistently play at that level all the time,” he added. “They’re learning and getting progressively better. Our goal next time we come back is to win the Silver and keep moving ahead.”
Moving back up to the Gold after a week’s absence is Michio Chicago 18 National, which dropped down a division after playing last weekend without Mother McAuley star and Notre Dame recruit Charley Niego.
Michio Chicago 18 National punched its ticket back to Gold by winning the Silver, including a 25-21, 25-23, 21-25, 25-27, 15-4 win over 1st Alliance 18 Silver in the crossover match between pool unbeatens.
“We just need to get a lot better as a team,” Niego said. “Last weekend, I wasn't there so we were starting a new lineup. Against 1st Alliance, we didn't have one of our setters (Bridget Holly), but I think we’ll be good when we have our team back together working together as a team.”
Defense continues to be a staple of the Michio Chicago 18 National resume.
“(1st Alliance 18 Silver) has really good hitters, so we had to stay disciplined on defense and be ready for hard balls coming our way,” Niego said. “The key for us is not giving up on the ball, going for everything and throwing our bodies on the court.”
Despite the loss to Michio Chicago 18 National, 1st Alliance 18 Silver will rejoin the Gold in March after winning its Silver pool.
“They were missing a setter and we were missing an outside hitter (Niles West's Natalia Pehar), so we have yet to play them when both teams have their full lineups,” 1st Alliance 18 Silver coach Elizabeth Baetzel said of Michio Chicago 18 National.
“But it’s competitive,” she added. “We’re getting better. We’re finally finding some sort of chemistry. This is the time to work out the kinks. We go to Atlanta (Mideast Qualifier) in two weeks. We shall see. But I think we’re playing better and there’s some positivity there.”
Later Sunday, the Great Lakes Power League saw a shakeup at the top when previously unbeaten SPVB 18 Navy suffered its first loss after starting the league 15-0.
Wisconsin Ice 18 National, which entered the match 9-6, stopped SPVB 18 Navy 25-23, 25-21 by overcoming deficits of 21-19 in Game 1 and 14-10 in Game 2.
SPVB 18 Navy, which was missing starters 5-8 outside hitter Emily Holbrook of Joliet Catholic and 5-11 outside/opposite hitter Abby Nickell of Oak Park-River Forest, rebounded to beat 1st Alliance 17 White 14-25, 25-18, 15-8.
“You can't go the whole season without any injuries,” SPVB 18 Nay coach Stephen Justice said. “That never happens. We don’t play next week which will be good for us. We should get Emily back and Abby in another couple of weeks, and then hopefully we’ll be back at full strength.”
No team in the league other than SPVB 18 Navy has fewer than 3 losses.
Meanwhile, at the Central Zone Invitational in Indianapolis, Indiana, Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open juggernauts Lions 15-1 and SPVB 15 Elite met in the finals of the 15 Open division. Lions 15-1, the field’s overall No. 1 seed, prevailed 26-24, 23-25, 15-10.
SPVB 15 Elite had won six previous three-set matches to reach the championship, including a 25-19, 17-25, 15-11 win over A5 South Joe-15, the team that knocked favored Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold out of title contention.
Lions 15-1’s route to the finals included a 25-13, 25-23 win over previously unbeaten CVC 15 Black in the semifinals.
SPVB 16 Elite, which had been one of the favorites entering the weekend in the 16 Open division, finished tied for fifth out of 27 teams after dropping its final two matches of the tournament, including a 25-19, 25-20 loss to eventual champion Mintonette Sports m.61.
For more results and schedules from the Great Lakes Power League, go to www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(mm50rw45qiy3ep45iycwbd45))/Standings.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM3MDI90&d=60254