Marian Central Catholic's Abby Gilleland helped lead Sky High 18 Black to a second-place finish at the USAV Girls Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
Sky High 18 Black, which won the AAU 17 Open title last year, fought its way back from early losses to A5 Mizuno and top-seeded Front Range but fell short in its quest to win the USAV title Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, losing to Tampa Bay 18 Black, 25-17, 25-19, in the finals.
Sky High reached the championship by taking down TAV Advantage in the quarterfinals, 25-15, 22-25, 15-9. Middle blocker Ashley Rosch, outside hitter Melanie Jereb, rightside Mary Streidl, setter Abby Gilleland and libero Amy Dion had huge games for Sky High.
Sky High led start to finish in Game 1 and was never threatened, but TAV pulled out a win in Game 2 as setter Tanna Aljoe distributed the ball among middle blocker Shelby Sullivan, lefty rightside Liz Fortado and outsides Jennifer Allen and Emily Ehrle.
Game 3 was tied at 8-8 after back-to-back kills by Ehrle and Allen, but a serving error gave the ball to Sky High. Dion then served three tough serves, which Sky High converted into easy points, including a Rosch kill, to take a 12-8 lead.
Dion's next serve produced an overpass, but TAV libero Caitlin Nolan dug up a kill attempt by Sky High and the ball fell over the net to make it 12-9. But Rosch and Striedl went back-to-back to give Sky High match point. A TAV error ended the match.
Sky High then took down Vision Gold 18-1 in the semifinals, 25-23, 19-25, 15-12, but the girls from Crystal Lake ran out of steam in the finals.
Sky High's route to the finals might not have been as difficult had not a fluke play cost them the match against Front Range. With Front Range leading 15-14, Rosch's kill attempt caromed off of the Front Range block and headed high and wide of the court.
But before it could land on the adjacent court, the ball struck a convention center light, located just inside the sport court surface. It bounced back towards the Front Range front row, was alertly dug and then transitioned into the corner over the stunned Sky High defense.
Members of USAV 18 Open division runner-ups included Chicago Sun-Times all-area selections Amelia Anderson and Abby Gilleland, Samantha Boesch, Samantha Boehne, Amy Dion, Melanie Jereb, Amanda Orchard, Ashley Rosch, Mary Streidl and Daiva Wise.
Despite two early losses, 1st Alliance 18 Silver was in contention in the Gold division until a 19-25, 25-21, 15-10 loss to Front Range in a challenge match knocked them into the Silver, where they lost to AJV 18 Mizuno 21-25, 25-23, 15-11 in the finals to finish 6-5.
1st Alliance team members included Brittany Brown, Casey Harris, Jenna Jacobson, Melissa Nava, Bridget Powell, Megan Miller, Caroline Rose, Jessica Tulacka, Laura Williams, Lauren Zielinski and Sun-Times Player of the Year Alexis Viliunas.
Uno 18 Elite competed in the 18 American division in Columbus and won its first six matches before losses to Xceleration Blue and City Beach knocked them into the Silver division.
Uno finished third in the Silver division after losing to Absolute Black 18-1 25-17, 25-18 in the semifinals.
Team members included Haley Bowden, Kelly Feigh, Kendall Korte, Briana Marquez, Stacey Perinar, Shelby Ritsema, Lauren Robertson, Ashley Sisk and Marissa Villarrubia.
After two days of play in the 17 Open division at the USAV Junior Nationals, 1st Alliance 17 Silver stands at 4-2 and Sky High 17 Black is 3-3.
Middle hitters Hanna Lee and Ana Vrhel helped 1st Alliance, the AAU 16 Open national champions last year, to a quick 3-0 after one day before the girls from Western Springs ran into trouble on Day Two, losing to OVA 17 Asics and Northern lights in straight sets
In the 16 Open, Ultimate G16 Gold is 2-1 after one round and 1st Alliance 16 Silver is 0-3.
In the 15 Open division, Lions 15-1 is 5-3 heading into play Thursday.
Chuck Aiello, brother of Lake Zurich girls coach and Buffalo Grove boys coach Matt Aiello, led Sky High 17 Red team to the national title of the 18 Club division at AAUs last week in Orlando, Fla.
Matt Aiello had mixed feelings about Red's 27-29, 25-23, 15-12 victory over Sky High 18 White in the finals.
"(Chuck) actually had to beat one of my Lake Zurich players to win the title match," Matt Aiello said.