FRANKFORT – Ever since Lincoln-Way East’s boys volleyball tournament went to a 24-team format in 2011, there had been one constant at the prestigious competition.
And that was that a team from the SouthWest Suburban Conference not only reached the title match but also won the championship. In fact, nearly every squad that had played for a gold division title was from either the SWSC or the Joliet-area.
But things were different on Saturday as neither of the top two teams in the invite were from the local area. Lake Park rallied from a big defeat in the opener to capture a 15-25, 25-18, 15-10 victory over Brother Rice.
That left the three Lincoln-Way schools battling with the likes of Sandburg, Downers Grove North and South, Lyons Township and Edwardsville for the next-best finishes in the event.
Lincoln-Way Central and West both advanced to the Gold Division, East settled for a spot in the Silver Division and Minooka, Joliet Catholic and Bolingbrook were in the bronze division. When play ended, the Knights claimed fourth place, the Warriors finished seventh and the Griffins took 10th place.
Coach Mary Brown’s Knights lost to Sandburg, 25-19, 25-22, in their final match after falling, 25-16, 25-22, in the semifinals to Brother Rice. Central opened the day with a 21-25, 25-14, 15-11 quarterfinal win over Edwardsville.
Leading the Knights (23-8) were all-tourney pick middle Willy Kickert (24 kills, eight blocks), setter Andy Stevens (97 assists, 42 digs, 10 aces), outside Mason Davis (26 kills, five blocks, 25 digs), middle/rightside Matt von Holst (21 kills, eight blocks) and libero Eric Phalen.
“I was proud of our boys for taking fourth in the gold after losing to two good teams,” Brown said. “I felt like our last match wasn’t our strongest game. I don’t know if we were tired or if the loss to Brother Rice kind of affected us, but we just didn’t have the spunk we needed.
“We knew in the first part of the season, we were just trying to come together as a team and I felt that we’ve done that. But all eight of our losses have been to really good teams. We’re just really gearing up toward the playoffs and trying to be the best we can be and peak at the right time. We have eight seniors so those guys should be able to perform at clutch time.”
The Warriors picked up their lone win on Saturday in their final match when they used a late rally to pull out a 25-19, 14-25, 17-15 triumph over Edwardsville. After falling to Lake Park, 25-11, 25-21 in the quarterfinals, West lost, 25-23, 25-19 to Lyons Township.
Among the leaders for West (17-6), coach Jodi Frigo pointed to a pair of sophomores, all-tournament selection setter/rightside Louden Moran and setter David Flores, as well as senior middle/outside Max Rosenfeld.
“This is a great group of guys,” Frigo said. “We’re young since we have five sophomores who are potentially in the game, so there’s moments where we do sophomore-like things. But for the most part, they are resilient and fight hard all the way through, so they’re players.
“It’s getting to the point where we have to start winning games at the end of the season and seeing this high level of competition is a good thing for everyone and we are improving. It’s about who can eliminate the errors and play as clean as a game as they can.”
East beat Addison Trail, 25-19, 25-10, in the quarterfinals and rallied for a 13-25, 25-23, 15-7 semifinal win over Andrew. But in the silver division finals, the Griffins couldn’t complete the sweep for the day and fell, 25-18, 25-23, 15-10, to Downers Grove North.
Coach Kris Fiore’s Griffins (21-6) were led by all-tournament pick rightside Matt Shemanski (26 kills, five blocks), outside Ian Piet (40 kills), outside Jason Szara (23 kills), setter Jake Snyder (78 assists), libero Danny Pacini (45 assists) and middle Luis Zavala (10 blocks).
“This was the first time since we expanded that a Lincoln-Way or Sandburg didn’t win it,” Fiore said. “We always try to jam our schedule with good invites since we want to see good teams. And a tournament like this is good toward the end of the season with playoffs coming up since it has teams from all over the state that want a chance to play against each other.
“Our sectional has a lot of parity and there’s six or seven teams that may be able to make a run at it and you can’t say that every year. This team is a puzzle that we’re still trying to figure out and the end goal is to do that by playoff time to go with who we think is going to best for us to help us win. But we have a deep team and a good group of kids that works hard.”