Prepvolleyball.com guru John Tawa dropped Cary-Grove from second to third in last week's national rankings. It was an error he is unlikely to repeat.
After the affable Tawa watch Cary-Grove dismiss (Louisville, Ky.) Assumption 25-23, 25-18 to win last weekend's Asics Challenge, he wrote that the Trojans would likely elevate to No. 2 in this week's new national rankings.
He also stated that the Trojans have joined an elite circle of teams that are now in national title contention. His article about the Asics Challenge final is reprinted with permission following a few other items of local interest.
After Cary-Grove defeated No. 2 Marist 25-7, 25-21 in the Asics semifinals and Mother McAuley 25-126, 25-22 in the quarterfinals, perhaps all that stands in the way of a second consecutive state title for the Trojans is No. 3-ranked Lyons.
Lyons (19-1) played its first 20 matches without 6-1 junior setter/outside hitter Alexis Viliunas, who fractured her wrist during a camp at Illinois this summer. She is expected to return soon, perhaps as early as this weekend's Glenbrook North invite.
Lyons' only loss this season was to Marist at the Rich East tournament.
The big tournament on tap this weekend is the 24-team St. Charles East Mizuno Cup at the Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora.
Benet, which has won 11 of its last 12, is the top seed, followed by Edwardsville, (St. Louis, Mo.) Incarnate Word, which finished third at last weekend's Belleville East Metro Classic, and St. Charles East.
The next four seeds are Belleville Althoff, Hinsdale Central, Joliet Catholic and Rosary. Teams to watch include Hinsdale South, which shares a pool with Althoff and Lincoln-Way East, and Bloomington, in a pool with Hinsdale Central and Naperville North.
The tournament starts at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 8 with pool play and resumes at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday with bracket play. All matches will be played at the Great Lakes Center, and all third games will be to 15 points.
Meanwhile, Lyons and Libertyville are favored to meet in the finals of the Discovery Tournament at Glenbrook North. Pool play gets underway at 5:00 p.m. on Friday at Glenbrook North and New Trier. Championship play begins at 9:00 a.m. Saturday.
Speaking of Benet, former Redwings libero and Chicago Sun-Times all-area selection Brianne Riley (pictured above) of Kansas was named Big 12 Conference Rookie of the Week for the week ending September 18.
The 5-foot-6 defensive specialist recorded a team-high 15 digs and was perfect in 34 service receptions as the Jayhawks defeated Texas A&M, which was riding a four-match win streak including an upset of No. 8 Texas.
Earlier that week, Riley had 18 digs and six assists at Kansas State.
Riley became the first Jayhawk to win weekly conference honors in almost two years.
Here is John Tawa's article on Prepvolleyball.com following the Asics final:
Louisville Assumption, the most storied program in prep volleyball history and winners of 10 of the past 14 Asics Challenge events, led Illinois' Cary-Grove, 9-5, in the first set of Saturday's Challenge final in Chicago, seemingly in control of its destiny.
At that point in the match, Kelly Lamberti, C-G's outstanding attacker, had just one kill against two errors, but a lot of determination.
"We wanted to go out and beat them really badly," the senior outside hitter said. "I washed it away and re-started."
Behind Lamberti's 18 kills, the Trojans remained unbeaten on the year, defeating Assumption, 25-23, 25-18, to capture their first Asics Challenge.
"Obviously we didn't stop her," said Assumption coach Ron Kordes, whose team fell to 27-4. "We didn't block her and we didn't dig her. She was amazing."
"When she gets fired up there's really not an answer for her," added Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis.
The win capped an amazing Saturday for Cary-Grove, which defeated the host school Mother McAuley in the quarterfinals, coming from 14-4 down in the second set; and then swept previously unbeaten Marist in the semifinals. The defending Illinois 4A champs improved to 24-0 on the year and put themselves clearly in the national championship picture.
"A goal of ours was to win the Asics Challenge," said Langanis. "The whole week that's what we've been working towards and thinking about. But this whole weekend we hadn't been challenged by these storied teams that have been around for decades so I didn't know how we'd respond mentally against Assumption. But to see how calm we were and how composed we were when things were going bad and when things were going well shows a lot of mental toughness. To see that we can compete with these top programs is very exciting."
Early on in the final, it appeared that Assumption would be the team raising the championship trophy. The Rockets were getting strong back row play from libero Jackie Napper and got kills from Claire Gerwig and Laura Purcell in a 6-1 run that saw them lead 9-5. Assumption grew the lead to 12-7 after a terrific Napper dig set up a back row strike from Jeni Houser, Assumption's big horse.
Cary-Grove hung in as Lamberti heated up, but the Trojans were matched point for point by Assumption, which continued to lead, 19-15, on another Gerwig kill set up beautifully by junior setter Katie George.
Down four, Cary-Grove setter Colleen Smith decided it was time to look for her own offense. The Indiana-bound senior executed a perfect dump to pare the lead by one. It set the tone for a four-point Trojan run. Melanie Jereb, an athletic junior attacker, served an ace, Smith had another sweet dump, this one over the shoulder, and Lamberti delivered her seventh kill of the set to pull Cary-Grove even at 19-19.
A serving error thwarted the run and a hitting error followed, giving Assumption the lead once more. Cary-Grove had an answer, however. Ashley Rosch, a physical junior middle, went off speed on the next point, trying a two-hander to the right sideline. Napper was there with a great save, but the ball popped over to the net to Rosch, whose two-hander to the left sideline was true. Sophomore middle Mallory Wilczynski followed with a kill off of a serve-receive overpass to tie the set at 21-apiece.
Assumption middle Dallas Zimmerman untied it with a strong slide attack, but Lamberti countered with a kill, which sent Smith behind the line. Her tough first serve, combined with a nice dig from libero Sam Mainzer, led to Lamberti's tip, which put Cary-Grove ahead for the first time since 4-3. Her second was an ace, Cary-Grove's fourth of the game, and gave the Trojans two set points.
"We have a passing problem," said Kordes. "They aced us too many times in that first set."
Houser's fourth kill of the game, a vicious slide attack, saved one set point for Assumption. But the Rockets, scrambling to keep the ball alive on the next point, were called for a lift. Elated Cary-Grove had the first game!
"Two" was the theme at the beginning of the second set, as both teams seemed to score two points at a time. After an opening service error by Cary-Grove gave Assumption a 1-0 lead, a Lamberti kill and Jereb block made it 2-1 Cary-Grove. George's fantastic set to Houser and a lift call put Assumption out front. Three straight Cary-Grove kills followed, as Jereb, Allison Whimpey and Lamberti all scored, but Houser answered off of one foot and behind the service line to knot the set at 5-5.
It went on like this, more or less, with Houser getting her kills for Assumption and Lamberti matching her for Cary-Grove, until Purcell's tip, made possible by another nice Napper dig, gave Assumption the lead at 14-13.
It would be Assumption's last lead of the match.
Rosch tied the game with a tip, which sent Cary-Grove back behind the line. Whimpey's serve proved mighty. Her first effort produced an overpass the Jereb tapped down to give the Trojans the lead. Her next one fell for an ace, as Cary-Grove put perpetual pressure on Assumption's passers.
With Whimpey still serving, Cary-Grove scored twice more - on Smith's fourth dump of the match and a Jereb kill -- to take an 18-14 lead. C-G's advantage remained four until Lamberti rattled off one kill, then a second and finally a third in a row to give the Trojans seven match points leading 24-17. A serving error delayed the celebration for one point. Lamberti, ranging over to the right side, had the chance to make her 18th kill of the afternoon the final one of the Asics Challenge and she did not miss.
"Awesome," said the Ohio-bound attacker. "It's awesome to win this tournament. Senior year!"
"We fought for every point until we got to 25," said Smith, who finished with five amazing dumps. "We played with a ton of heart and energy. I thought we played outstanding."
"That's a solid team over there," said Kordes. "I thought they defended well and passed well. Their ball control was better than ours. Their defense was better than ours. And their setter did a great job. They served better than we did. They beat us pretty much in all phases."
With the win, Cary-Grove, ranked third nationally, thrust itself squarely into the national championship picture. No. 1 St. James improved to 26-0 Saturday by winning the Joan Wells Memorial Tournament, defeating Kansas 5A champion Bishop Miege in the finals for the third time this season. No. 2 Harvard-Westlake, which vaulted ahead of Cary-Grove in last Thursday's rankings after defeating Assumption en route to the title last weekend at the Durango Fall Classic, lost to Marymount on the day the rankings came out and will slip behind the Trojans in the next rankings.
Asked whether Harvard-Westlake or Cary-Grove was the better team, Kordes was non-committal.
"I would like to see [Cary-Grove] play Harvard-Westlake," he said. "I think it would be a good match. Those are the best two teams I've seen."