FRANKFORT – For one team, the third time definitely proved to be the charm while for another, winning two in a row was also gladly accepted.
On Saturday, Lincoln-Way East's boys volleyball team avenged two earlier three-set losses to second-ranked Glenbard West by rallying for a 22-25, 25-23, 15-10 triumph to capture the championship of its 24-team Lincoln-Way East Invite.
There was similar drama in the tournament's third-place match as Lincoln-Way West used a strong finish in the third set to edge Minooka by a 25-23, 24-26, 18-16 score.
Coach Kris Fiore's Griffins (21-6), the defending state champions, trailed 15-8 before rallying to force a third set, which was close throughout before the hosts scored six of the final points. The Hilltoppers (22-2) beat East in 2017 in the state finals to cap a run of three titles in a row. The invite's finals featured the Illinois state champs from the past five years.
"It took a lot of heart from our kids, who were up pretty in Game 1, but then Glenbard went on a huge run at the end," Fiore said. "So it took belief that we could beat this team, and we just had to finish that game off. And then in Game 2, where we climbed back and finish that game off, I think that gave us a ton of momentum going into the third.
"Our kids who were on the bench last year got to experience all of that and compete every day in practice, so they know the high expectations that we have as a program. We let them know that the expectations wouldn't drop because we lost 10 kids from last year."
In the opener, Glenbard West (22-2) scored seven straight and eight of the last nine points. But the Griffins, who beat West 28-26, 25-19 in the semifinals, rallied from a 15-8 deficit to make it 1-1. In the finale, the score was 9-9 when the hosts started to pull away.
Leading the Griffins was tournament Most Valuable Player Wil McPhillips (14 kills, three aces), Trevor Lewis (12 kills, 16 assists, 11 digs), Brent O'Donnell (15 assists), Danny Pacini (23 digs) and Ike Mahajan (five kills, seven digs). The Hilltoppers were paced by all-tourney selection Ryan Swartz (nine kills).
"Basically, we knew that we had to keep our energy up since you knew that they were going to make big plays, since they're a good team, and that was good for us," McPhillips said. "The momentum at the end of the second set was huge. We played Glenbard West twice before and we've now gone three sets each time."
In the third-place match that featured two-point decisions in each set, Lincoln-Way West won its third-straight match against Minooka with a 25-23, 24-26, 18-16 victory.
Leading the way for the Warriors (25-3) was all-tournament selection David Flores (35 assists) while other top performers for West were Ben Pluskota (13 kills), Tyler Holubek (12 kills), Chris Dargan (eight kills) and Louden Moran (seven kills).
"We're getting to the fun part of the season where everyone is trying to blend and see what's working, and they're playing really good volleyball," Warriors coach Jodi Frigo said. "We have a lot of depth, so we just have to play clean since this team has been together for three years now with me, and it's about learning to win and to set that tone."
The Indians (19-6), who fell 25-17, 25-22 in the semifinals to Glenbard West, were led by all-tournament pick Shane Ooms, who was joined by AJ Lewis to get a large number of kills in the third-place match. Setter Rafael Vieyra did a good job of distributing the ball.