By Pat Brozynski

July 2009 Archives

The "Fab 56" tip off the 2009 season

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By Phil Brozynski

The beginning of the girls volleyball season is less than a month away, so it's time to start throwing out some names of the nominees to crack the Chicago Sun-Times Top 50 Girls Volleyball Players list which will come out later this month.

Here's half (OK, slightly less) of the list of 113 players vying for the Top 50 (in alphabetical order):

Katie Aiyello, 5-5, So., L, St. Edward
Amelia Anderson, So., 5-11, OH, Crystal Lake Central
Lindsay Anderson, 6-1, Sr., MH, Crystal Lake Central
Kelsey Augustine, 6-1, Sr., MH, Geneva
Kylee Baker, 6-0, Sr., OH, Plainfield North
Cami Beghou, 5-11, Jr., OH, New Trier
Taylor Brauneis, 5-11, Sr., S, Prairie Ridge
Jenny Buczek, 5-10, Jr., OH, Sandburg
Hannah Burkle, 6-2, Jr., MH, Crystal Lake South
Colleen Brennan, 5-10, Sr., S, Glenbrook South
Ellen Carberry, 5-9, Sr., OH, Mother McAuley
Ellen Chapman, 6-5, Jr., MH, Glenbrook South
Julia Conard, 5-10, So. OH, West Chicago
Chelsea Cunningham, 6-0, Jr., MB, Whitney Young
Casey D'Ambrose, 5-10, Sr., S, Addison Trail
Victoria Day, 5-8, So., OH, Prairie Ridge
Sarah Dent, 5-8, Jr., OH, Von Steuben
Olivia Desormey, 6-0, Jr., MB, St. Charles East
Amy Dion, 5-5, So., L, Huntley
Danielle Donahue, 5-6, Sr., L, Lockport
Mari Faines, 6-2, Jr., MB, Payton
Jessica Falk, 5-9, Sr., OH, Mother McAuley
Nikki Federico, 5-11, Sr., OH, Neuqua Valley
Gina Finke, 6-0, Sr., OH, Benet
Natalie Fiore, 5-11, Jr., S, Oak Forest
Alexandra Funk, 5-10, Jr., OH, Lake Forest
Katie Gallagher, 5-8, So., S, York
Jessica Galotta, 5-10, Sr., OH, Mother McAuley
Abby Gilleland, 5-10, So., S, Marian Central
Alexandra Gossen, 6-0, Sr., OH, Evanston
Mary Grassano, 5-5, So., L, St. Ignatius
Emily Harris, 6-0, Sr., OH, Barrington
Abbey Heredia, 5-8, Sr., S, Cary-Grove
Annemarie Hickey, 5-8, Jr., OH, Joliet Catholic
Stephanie Holthus, 6-0, Jr., OH, Burlington Central
Mary Kate Imrie, 5-10, Sr., S, Sandburg
Jenna Jacobson, 5-8, So., S, Whitney Young
Jenna Jendryk, 5-11, So., S/OH, Benet
Courtney Keefe, 5-11, Jr., OH, Lemont
Kristen Kelsay, 5-9, Sr., S, St. Francis
Shealyn Kolosky, 6-2, Jr., MH, Wheaton Warrenville South
Katie Krasowski, 5-11, Jr., MH, Marist
Kelly Lamberti, 6-0, Jr., OH, Cary-Grove
Madison Lang, 6-1, Jr., S, Barrington
Katie Lill, 5-10, Sr., OH, Hersey
Chloe Lupina, 6-0, Jr., OH, Naperville Central
Lexy Maciarz, 5-7, Sr., OH., Oak Forest
Mary Kate Manning, 5-10, Sr., OH, Marian Central
Kendall Martin, 5-9, Jr., OH, Elgin
Storm Melnick, 5-5, Sr., L, McHenry
Morgan Mientus, 5-11, Sr., OH, St. Ignatius
Maisey Mulvey, 5-6, So., L, St. Charles East
Jennifer Murphy, 5-9, Sr., S, Joliet Catholic
Lanie Muys, 6-1, Sr., MB, Sandburg
Caroline Niedospial, 5-8, Jr., L, Marist

Next week, the second half of the list will be revealed.

By Phil Brozynski

Meghan Niski, who will be a sophomore at St. Charles (Illinois) East High School this fall, accomplished a rare feat for somebody so young. She won a state volleyball title and a national championship all before she reached the tender young age of 16.

Toss in an all-tournament selection and an MVP award at the Junior Volleyball Directors Association National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky last month, and Niski has had herself quite a year.

"A state title and a national championship in the same year...how do you top that?" Club Fusion (Marengo) 15 Black coach Mike Bui said.

Even Niski does not know what she can do for an encore.

"Even though it's been a few weeks since winning the national championship, it's still hard to believe right now," Niski said. "Nobody expected us to win. We pulled an upset."

Nobody expected Niski to be part of an Illinois state title, either. Sharing that achievement with her older sister, Caroline, who also plays for Fusion and will be a high school senior this fall, made that accomplishment just as special.as her achievements on the national stage.

"Winning a state title, especially with my sister and my whole family there...that was special," Niski said.

It was her sister who got Niski started in volleyball.

"She started ahead of me," Niski said. "She really got me into the sport.

"Since we went to a private school (St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles) we were able to start playing volleyball in fifth grade. She wanted to try a new sport, so she started playing first. Then when I got to fifth grade, I started playing, too."

Niski began her career as a setter alongside high school teammate and sophomore-to-be Maisey Mulvey, who also started for St. Charles East as a freshman at libero and was credited with more than 300 digs for the Saints

"Then we switched to outside hitter in seventh and eight grade," Niski said.

That move proved to be fortuitous. Niski contributed more than 215 kills, 30 blocks and 35 aces for St. Charles East last fall, then helped her Fusion team do what few thought was possible.

****

If you had to step away to the restroom during the second game of any of Club Fusion 15 Black's matches at the JVDA national championships, you never had to worry that you were going to miss the finish. After all, chances were very good there WAS going to be a third game.

Fusion 15 Black played 11 matches - and one tiebreaker to 25 points - in Louisville. Nine of those matches went to three games. It was fortunate they weren't playing best of five. They still might be playing.

"The girls were an emotional wreck," Bui said. "But I give the girls a lot of credit. We played very good competition the first day. All four teams in our pool made it into the gold. The teams that beat us were very, very solid."

Fusion lost twice on Day One in Louisville, falling to Louisiana VB 15 Danny and Team Z 15 Orange, before salvaging the day with a victory over WWBA 15 Mizuno.

Things did not get any easier on Day Two. Fusion defeated SPVB 15 Elite (17-25, 26-24, 15-13)and MI Elite 3rd Degree (20-25, 25-10, 15-13) , but lost to Nebraska Juniors 15-1 (25-2, 18-25, 15-13), forcing a one-game playoff with the Cornhuskers.

Fusion defeated Nebraska Juniors 26-24 to advance against Milwaukee Sting 15 Gold (an 18-25, 25-21, 15-11 loss) and KIVA 15 Red, where it won just its third match of the tournament in straight games, 25-21, 25-20.

"We barely got out of pool play on the second day," Bui said. "Things got tougher and tougher after that."

But Niski, who struggled through the team's first several matches, finally found her groove.

"That was the funny thing," Bui said. "She really struggled until we got into bracket play. Serving, hitting, passing, she just couldn't do anything very well. She wasn't herself.

"But in the gold bracket, the switch turned on," he added.

"It wasn't that I was playing badly," Niski said. "I just knew I could play better. I knew I had to step it up. I knew every game could be our last game of the year and that I had to put everything into it."

Fusion 17 Black dodged more bullets than Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd.

Four times, Fusion's matches ended with at 15-13 in the third game. They trailed 13-9 in the third game of the quarterfinals against Maunalani 3rd Degree 15 Black and again in the third game against Sky High 15 Black in the semifinals.

"I was down for a little bit (against Maunalani), but then we came back and scored 6 straight points," Niski said. "Then when we were down in the semifinals and came back, that gave us momentum. That helped us a lot."

Fusion defeated favored Munciana 19-25, 25-22, 15-10 in the championship game, finishing atop the 15's bracket despite a 7-4 record.

***

While Niski was struggling early, her Fusion teammates were able to pick up the slack.

"Julia Conard (West Chicago) played phenomenally all week," Bui said. "She carried us to the finals. (Kim) Juriga and Jillian Stolzenburg did a phenomal job in the middle blocking-wise, and Katie (Aiyello) and Annie (Kunes) were lights out in the back row."

Outside Emma Hussey and middle Brigitte Foltz also contributed in spots. Meanwhile, Setter Erienne Barry, who will be a freshman at St. Charles East and a teammate of Niski's in the fall, showed why she is a player to watch in the future.

"She just completed eighth grade," Bui said. "This was her first year setting at any level. But she did a great job running our offense."

Niski said that chemistry had a lot to do with Fusion's ability to overcome the adversity it faced throughout the tournament.

"We're all real close, we're all real good friends," Niski said. "We work so well together."

***

Niski and her high school teammates recently wrapped up two weeks of summer camp. She will get about a 10-day break to enjoy what's left of her summer before the first official day of high school practice begins in mid-August.

The rapidly approaching high school season reminds Niski how little time she has left with her sister before Caroline heads off to college in the fall of 2010.

"She's always been my go-to person," the younger Niski said. "We're together a lot of the time. We play volleyball together at the same club so I see her all the time. I'm really going to be sad when she leaves next year."

Niski will be spending her abbreviated vacation time with her sister and parents touring some college campuses in Maryland, Virginia and points east.

"My sister is going on some college visits to the East Coast and I'm going along,' Niski said. "It will be good. I don't know where I want to go, so I will get to look and some schools and get a feeling for what I want."

The trip won't be all business, however.

"I was talking with my dad and he said we may do a little tourism," she said. "So I'll get a little break."

Then Niski can go home and start planning how she can top her freshman year.


By Phil Brozynski

Chicago Sun-Times 2008 all-area selection Jessica Jendryk of Benet will have to put her college career on hold for a year after tearing a knee ligament at the Junior Volleyball Directors Association national championships in Louisville, Kentucky last month.

Jendryk suffered the injury in the first game of Sports Performance 18 Elite's three-set loss to Munciana 18 Samurai in the 18 Open division championship. By redshirting in 2009, Jendryk will be eligible to play as a fifth-year senior in 2013.

Despite the injury, Jendryk did earn all-tournament honors at the JVDA tournament. Erin Johnson, a middle blocker from Crystal Lake South who played for Club Fusion 18 Black and will join Jendryk at Illinois, was also selected to the all-tournament team.

Former Wheaton Warrenville South setter Jackie Wolfe, another Illinois recruit, was named the MVP of the JVDA 18 Club all-tournament team after leading the Sports Performance 18 Red team to the title in that division.

Other all-tournament selections included Sports Performance 18 Elite setter and former Glenbard East standout Amanda Peterson (Ohio State) and former Naperville Central and SPVB 18 Elite star Emily McGee.

***
Among the players making a splash at the JVDA tournament who will be returning for their senior years were Abbey Heredia (Cary-Grove), Lauren Zerante (York), Annemarie Hickey and Claire Randich (Joliet Catholic), Jillian Paluch (Nazareth), Kara Wehrs (Hampshire) and Kylee Baker (Plainfield North), who were named to the 17's Open division all-tournament team.

Mary Katie Imrie (Sandburg) was named MVP of the 17 Club division tournament at the JVDA tournament. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Mother McAuley's Jessica Falk.

Among the 16's Open division all-tournament selections were DeKalb's Courtney Thomas, Ali Gossen of Evanston, and Colleen Smith and Kelly Lamberti of Cary-Grove.

St. Charles East's Meghan Niski was MVP of the 15's Open division tournament. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Lyon's Alexis Viliunas, York's Morgan Semmelhack, Abby Gilleland of Marian Central and West Chicago's Julia Conard.

By Phil Brozynski

Wrapping up Prepvolleyball.com's list of the top recruiting classes of 2009, the following schools are listed as honorable mention thanks to their recruiting efforts in Illinois:

Illinois State cracked the list thanks to Normal Community's 5-foot-10 libero Jenny Menendez, Metamora's 6-0 outside hitter Angela Rego and Burlington Central's 5-8 defensive specialist Meghan Zasada.

Indiana State reaped 5-11 outside hitter Morgan Dall of Breese Mater Dei; Lipscomb added 5-10 outside hitter Kory Honel of Bradley; and Miami (Ohio) will welcome 6-1 setter Amy Kendall of Glenbard West.

Northern Illinois added 6-1 middle blocker Samantha Grams of Fenwick, 5-1 libero Sue Hayes of Mother McAuley, and 6-1 middle blocker Kaitlyn Pascus of Fremd; while South Carolina will greet 6-0 setter Taylor Bruns of Normal U-High.

Oakland (Michigan) worked the pavement in Illinois, adding 6-0 outside hitter Meghan Bray of Naperville Central, 5-7 defensive specialist Allison Kirk of Bloomington and 6-0 outside hitter Amber Miehlke of Lake Zurich to its 2009 class.

Six-foot outside hitter Sondra Parys of Prairie Ridge boosted Toledo's recruiting class, while Freeport's 6-0 outside hitter Kelsey Hoefer and 5-11 setter Evan Schulz of Hinsdale South hope to put Towson on the map.

And if you are looking for some superstars in the making for the Class of 2012, how about St. Charles East's Meghan Niski and West Chicago's Julia Conard, who combined to lead their club team, Fusion 15 Black, to a national championship at the recently completed Junior Volleyball Directors Association tournament in Louisville?

Former Benet star Mankus goes out on top

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by Phil Brozynski

Former Benet Academy standout Ariana Mankus' last day with her Sports Performance (Aurora, Illinois) 18 White teammates was a fairy tale worthy of Disney.

Mankus, who reported to United States Military Academy at West Point, New York on June 28 to begin her college career, was named MVP of the 18 Club division at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Tournament on June 20 after leading SPVB 18 White to the national championship.

SPVB 18 White defeated M-Juniors 18 Maize 25-19, 25-16, Premier 18-1 25-14, 25-13 and Louisiana Volleyball 18 Jon 25-21, 25-17 to win the national title. Mankus and teammates Amy Kendall and Lindsay Weber were named All-Americans.

"It was awesome," said Mankus, who along with her Benet teammates had to settle for second-place at last fall's Illinois Class 4A state tournament after the once-beaten Redwings were upset by St. Charles in the finals.

"We worked hard all season," she said. "Our goal was to medal at AAU's."

SPVB White learned three weeks ago it would not be competing in the 18's Open division at AAU's.

"There was a change of plans and we were put in the club division, but we were in it to win it," she added. "When we found out we were playing in the club division, we were a little disappointed. But we decided to make the best of it."

Mankus was given a hero's welcome when she returned to the home where SPVB 18 White was quartered during their trip to Orlando. Her teammates had decorated the house with streamers and hung banners that said "Goodbye" and "Good luck."

"I am excited about going to college, but also a little sad," Mankus said. "I will miss the girls. I will miss my teammates a lot. But change is good, so..."

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