By Phil Brozynski
It was a good day for the locals at the 20th Anniversary Nike Challenge Saturday.
Defending state champion St. Francis (23-2), surprised by Marist 19-25, 25-20, 25-23 in Friday’s pool play, rebounded to beat Lone Peak (Utah) 25-19, 23-25, 25-17 in Silver bracket finals behind sophomore Kelsey Robinson’s 12 kills and Megan Barnicle’s 10 kills and four blocks.
Lone Peak (17-2) was ranked 38th in the country by Prepvolleyball.com coming into the tournament.
“After the disappointment Friday night, it says a lot about these girls to come back like this,” St. Francis coach Peg Kopec said. “Lone Peak was very, very scrappy. We showed a little more excitement today and we communicated better.”
Downers Grove South (19-5), beaten by eventual champion Assumption in the Gold quarterfinals, finished fifth by defeating last year’s Illinois Class AA runner-up Rockton Hononegah (13-2), 25-22, 25-14.
“We have played a lot of games that have been very, very tight,” Downers South coach Colleen Reagan said. “But we find our groove and run with it.”
Christine Bowe led Downers South against Hononegah with nine kills, Kelsey Safranek added five kills and a block, Courtney Gosewisch collected eight digs and Colleen Dobry dealt 14 assists.
“One of our goals is to finish high in tournaments,” Reagan said. “We anticipated going pretty far here.”
Marist (15-7), which knocked St. Francis out of the Gold division Friday, lost to Joliet Catholic (25-22, 25-18) and Downers South (25-12, 18-25, 25-16) on Saturday. But the Redhawks finished on an upswing by defeating Pius XI 14-25, 25-19, 25-20 for seventh place.
“I’m very pleased,” Marist coach Natalie Holder said. “We have played in three very difficult tournaments (Rich East, St. Joseph, Mo. and the Nike). I even asked Colleen (Reagan) if we could get on their schedule next season. I’d rather play this kind of schedule.”
Sandburg (18-6) and Downers Grove North (17-6) also finished with wins. Downers North defeated Crystal Lake South to finish third in the Silver, and Sandburg avenged an earlier loss to Stagg to finish seventh in the Silver.
But the best showing of the day belonged to Mother McAuley (15-5), which beat Sacred Heart (Ky.) 22-25, 25-23, 25-19 in the semifinals. The Mighty Macs, who had their 13-match winning streak stopped by Assumption in a non-conference match Thursday, are rounding into a serious state contender.
“We knew we had some talented parts but that it would take a little more time to put it together,” McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said.
“We had some breakdowns in the first game (against Sacred Heart),” she added. “We had some trouble closing our blocks. But we changed the way we were blocking and that was the big thing.”
McAuley’s turnaround can be traced to 5-6 senior Melissa Joyce’s move to setter from outside hitter and the addition of 5-8 sophomores Jessica Falk and Jessica Galotta to the lineup two weeks ago.
“Melissa moving to setter has made a huge difference,” DeJarld said. “She’s an offensive weapon as a setter. She can hit left-handed, she can hit right-handed, and she’s more comfortable in that role (setter).”