Shocking? Perhaps. After winning an AAU title last year in the 16s, Sky High 17 Black was expected to duplicate that feat earlier this week in Orlando. However, Asics KIVA 17 Red out of Louisville had other thoughts.
Asics KIVA Red rocked Sky High 17 Black 27-25, 25-14 in the round of 16, ending the club season for what was certainly one of the most talented collections of young talent anywhere in the United States.
Now, volleyball fans will have to wait until the fall to watch Glenbrook South's Ellen Chapman, Cary-Grove's Kelly Lamberti, Prospect's Sarah Hunt, Crystal Lake South's Hannah Burkle and Cary-Grove's Colleen Smith.
Meanwhile, national championships and Sports Performance 18 Elite are nearly synonymous. Led by soon-to-be Tennessee teammates Kelsey Robinson of St. Francis and Carly Sahagian of Bartlett, SPVB downed Munciana 18 Samurai 25-23, 25-22 in Orlando to win the 18s division.
Two players from that SPVB team to keep an eye on this fall are junior middle hitter Meghan Haggerty of Benet and senior Meg Vonderhaar of St. Francis. Vonderhaar appears ready to emerge from Robinson's huge shadow and lead the Spartans to another outstanding season.
Here is an abbreviated version of a story witten by PrepVolleyball.com's John Tawa about SPVB's national championship victory:
"They'd been told -- and were acutely aware -- that no class in a long while, perhaps ever, had gone through the program at Sports Performance without at least one national championship trophy. Moreover, at a club known for winning championships at the highest levels, no player on Mizuno Sports Performance 18 Elite had ever even won a state high school volleyball title.
They had one more chance Monday afternoon in the 18 Open finals at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championship in Orlando against rival Asics Munciana Samurai, the team that had beaten SPVB here in the semifinals a year ago. Using brilliant setting from Kristen Kelsay (pictured above) and strong work both on the pins and in the middle, Sports Performance got it done before a national broadcast audience and a crowd of 500, defeating error-prone Muncie, 25-23, 25-22.
"This means a lot because no one's ever experienced it and we did it together," said Kelsay, who was one of three Spri players named to the "All-American" team.
Winning a national championship probably wasn't on the minds of Sports Performance players as much as a premature exit from the tournament when the team lost to Circle City Sunday afternoon to close pool play. Circle's win gave it the pool and forced SPVB into a "loser out" Challenge match versus MAVA just to get into the quarterfinals.
"Losing to Circle City definitely was a big bummer," said Kelsay. "We all banded together and said, 'This is our last shot.' It made us want it even more because we knew it was that close from being taken away from us. We came out against MAVA on a mission, feeling sorry for whoever was going to get in our way."
After dominating MAVA, Sports Performance came out Monday morning and swept both KiVA and M1 to reach the finals against Munciana Samurai, which won AAU's 18 Open division in 2009. A strong middle attack and excellent serving from libero Caitlin Cremin were key to those wins.
Muncie reached the finals by dominating Capital and then easing by Team Indiana in three, thanks to an energetic performance from MB Sloane White.
The crowd was barely settling in when a dig from Meghan Binkerd set up the final's first point, a slide kill from White assisted by Sara Metroka. Sports Performance tied it on a kill from sophomore middle Meghan Haggerty. Two Jeme Obeime kills sandwiched another Haggerty quick attack blast as Munciana took a 3-2 lead, a margin which grew to 9-5 thanks to supreme defense from libero Emmi McIntyre, who had an outstanding tournament, and one-footed attacks from Megan Campbell.
Down four, Sports Performance, wearing spiffy new uniforms designed only for the final (bearing two inscriptions, "KAFS" and "M14M," scored five in a row, starting with a kill from left side Carly Sahagian, to claim a 10-9 lead.
The teams were not separated by more than two points the rest of the way. Kelsay, who was in complete control on Spri's side of the net, fed Sahagian and Kelsey Robinson on the left, Meg Vonderhaar on the right and Anna Dorn, a first-year Sports Performance player formerly with Dunes, for points, while Muncie countered with Obeime kills, strong serving from Binkerd and White and capitalized on four Sports Performance serving errors.
Tied at 20-20, Sports Performance took the lead on a Haggerty kill, then got another from Robinson to extend the advantage. White answered on the slide, but Haggerty blocked the next Samurai swing to restore the two-point advantage. Obeime, one of seven juniors on Munciana's team, pounded home two Samurai kills to tie the set at 23 apiece.
Munciana could not go ahead, however. Sahagian, who along with Robinson has signed with Tennessee, slammed a ball into the seam to give SPVB game point. Then, after Dorn and Vonderhaar kept a rally alive by soft blocking Munciana's attack, Sahagian scored again on a tool shot for the 25-23 win.
"It was a great feeling," Sahagian said. "I always want the ball. I've been waiting for this match for four years."
Game 2 started quickly for Sports Performance, which used a tandem block from Haggerty and Robinson and a Sahagian kill to take a 4-2 lead. Munciana came back with three straight, taking the lead on a joust win from athletic junior middle Kiki Jones and grew the lead to 10-7 thanks to another Jones kill, one from Campbell and an Obeime ace.
The teams then exchanged points, three point-runs each to start, then single points until Vonderhaar and Sahagian scored back to back to pull Sports Performance within 15-14. The Sahagian kill negated a sensational Jones pirouette dig at the net - what an athletic play!
Up just one, Jones scores off of a superb Metroka set to make it 16-14 Samurai and led 19-17 when senior Taylor Unroe, who has played all year on a bad foot, found a way with two hands through the block.
Robinson, who would be named MVP, scored for Sports Performance to slice the lead to one. A Haggerty transition kill and Cremin ace followed thereafter, putting Sports Performance on top for the first time since it was 4-3. A hitting error equalized the score, but Robinson came back with a kill to give SPVB the lead again and a net violation on Samurai extended the lead to two at 22-20.
That would give Sports Performance just enough breathing room to bring home the championship. After Obeime scored to get Muncie one point closer, Sahagian's great cover saved a point for SPVB, which notched the point on a Samurai hitting error. A Haggerty/Vonderhaar block followed by Haggerty's quick attack kill earned Sports Performance the crown.
"We had a hard year with ups and downs and went through everything a team can go through," Kelsey said. "That makes it even more memorable now. We did have that chip on our shoulder and got it done."
"We worked so hard; it totally paid off," Sahagian added."
Believe it or not, just a few weeks remain before area volleyball players return to the gym in anticipation of the high school season. Beginning next week, we will start running our annual lists of top downstate and top area players.
If you have somebody you would like to see on the list, pass their name (school, height, position and year too!) along. The area list is already 130 names strong, but there is always somebody we inadvertently omit.