Second day of 16s Power League is a head-scratcher

Pick your poison.
 
How about Gold Pool B on Court 2? 1st Alliance 16 Black takes down unbeaten Iowa Rockets 16R, then loses to SPVB 15 Elite, which had barely beaten a Sky High Adidas 15 Black team that lost to the Rockets.
 
Or Gold Pool C on Court 3? Lions 15-1 blasts Michio Chicago 15 National, which extends sister club Michio Chicago 16 National to three sets, before losing to Illini Elite 16 Cardinal, which lost to Michio Chicago 16 National by the narrowest of margins.  
 
It was that kind of unpredictable and crazy day Sunday in the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora.
 
“I knew Pool B would be very, very difficult,” said Sports Performance girls’ director and SPVB 16 Elite coach Erik Vogt. “Sports Performance 15 Elite is a handful. I watched 1st Alliance 16 Black play yesterday. They’re very strong. Iowa Rockets has some big, physical kids.”
 
SPVB 15 Elite coach Luke Stapleton echoed Vogt’s assessment.
 
“It’s a really tough pool,” he said. “All these four teams, any one can beat each other at any point. It usually comes down to those little things, those little executions and whoever happens to execute better.”
 
And the winner is …
 
But first, it was 1st Alliance 16 Black that set the tone for the day, taking down the heralded team from Iowa City 25-18, 21-25, 15-10 early Sunday morning.  
 
“Our girls came out swinging aggressively, playing aggressively all the way through the first set,” said 1st Alliance 16 Black coach Greg Manus. “We slowed down in the second set and gave them too many opportunities. It caught up to us.
 
“When we got down 5-2 in the third set, it was an eye-opener for sure,” he added. “They had to wake up quickly. Luckily at the end, Patty (Cesarini of Lyons Township) put away five or six of our last couple balls. She was big in the big moments.”
 
Manus also credited the play of libero Jaclyn Oblena of Sandburg and his team’s tough serving for grounding the Rockets.
 
“Jaclyn is a pure hustler all the way through,” Manus said. “She’s someone who leads by example and she’s always going to the floor for everything. The other thing that really helped us was our serving, being able to keep them out of system especially late in the third set.”
 
However, the euphoria was short-lived for 1st Alliance, which lost to SPVB 15 Elite 25-22, 28-30, 15-11 in its second match and later to Sky High Adidas 16 Black 25-23, 22-25, 15-12 to finish fourth in the pool.
 
SPVB 15 Elite’s patchwork lineup, which features twins Brooklyn and Breelyn Borum and libero Alexis Rodriguez of Sterling and eighth-grader Charlotte Cox, likely benefitted from playing three matches together Saturday.  
 
“I think it helped give us a little bit less thinking and more just react and play volleyball, as opposed to, ‘Oh wait. Am I supposed to do this now?’” Stapleton said. “Just being able to react. All good volleyball players … you have to get them to be volleyball players, not be mental.”
 
But the euphoria was short-lived for SPVB 15 Elite, too. The hosts lost to Iowa Rockets in the final match of the day in Pool B 21-25, 27-25, 15-10, leaving both Iowa and SPVB 15 Elite with 2-1 records. Iowa won the pool, however, edging SPVB 15 Elite with a better point differential.
 
Meanwhile, in Pool C, Lions 15-1 emerged as the champion despite losing to Illini Elite 16 Cardinal 25-20, 19-25, 15-12. Lions 15-1 clinched the top spot in the pool by closing out Michio Chicago 16 National 25-23, 29-27 in both teams’ finale.
 
“As you go through the day, you always want to be progressing up,” Lions 15-1 coach Courtney Keefe said. “If we keep progressing up, we’ll be fine. The pool is really good competition, but it’s also a good way to see where we rank among the competition.”
 
Keefe said her team’s defense was not much of a factor in its 25-10, 25-19 win over Michio Chicago 15 National, but as the day progressed, Lions 15-1’s back row became more of a factor.
 
“Bigger games depend on who’s going to be able to dig up more balls than the other,” she said. “With that, I think our libero is stellar, our middle backs are great and our right backs are great, too.”
 
Illini Elite 16 Cardinal put itself in position to win the pool by beating Lions 15-1  25-20, 19-25, 15-12 after dropping a 26-24, 25-23 match to Michio Chicago 16 National in both team’s opener.
 
But Illini Elite was surprised by Michio Chicago 15 National 25-16, 23-25, 15-10 in its finale, and slipped all the way to fourth in the four-team pool.
 
“But it’s good, though,” Illini Elite 16 Cardinal coach Andy Erins said. “It’s a good first Power League day. You get a chance to see where you’re at, how good you are, what you need to work on and whether you’re ready to win yet.
 
“It’s January and this is the first time we played, so it’s fine with me,” he said.
 
Illini Elite 16 Cardinal is a tough matchup for most 16s teams with a pair of big middles – 6-foot-2 Allie Trame of IHSA Class 2A state champion St. Thomas More and 6-2 freshman Mira Chopra, who played with Illinois recruit Rylee Hinton at Champaign Central.
 
“But if your strongest players are in the middle and you don’t have the ball control yet, you can’t get them the ball,” Erins said. “It’s a point of focus. We’re getting better.”
 
Michio Chicago 16 National was fortunate to finish second in Pool C. The girls from the south suburbs had to fight off a match point in the second set to survive its own 15s team, 22-25, 27-25, 15-11.
 
“Our 15s team had nothing to lose,” said Michio Chicago 16 National coach Naveed Nizam. “When I talked to the girls, they kind of felt like it was going to be an easier match. I tried to explain to them that they’re (15 National) going to come out gunning for you guys.
 
“I thought (Michio 15s) did great job playing defense and had some great shots against us hitting-wise,” the coach added. “They really stretched our defense. But in the end, it was the will to win, the desire. That’s what it came down to.”
 
That, and a little too much Camryn Hannah, the sophomore from Marist who closed out both Games 2 and 3 with monstrous kills.
 
“We have a lot of depth,” Nizam said. “Our ball control is crazy and our defense is very good. At match point, I told the girls we don’t need to score points, we just got make sure that they’re out of system and that we play defense.”

There was little drama in Pool A, where SPVB 16 Elite cruised through its pool to become one of only four teams and the only Illinois team to go 6-0 through the first two rounds of seeding.

“The big key for us is always to be good on our side the net, getting fundamentally sound and generating less errors so the opponents can’t take advantage,” Vogt said. “That’s what we did. We passed and defended better and we’re getting better looks.

“Transition and those things should be big for us long-term because were not that big of a team, so we have to be really good at digging, passing and serving on our side of the net,” he added.

Lions 15-1 and Michio Chicago 16 National are two of only four teams at 5-1 through two rounds of seeding, while a logjam at 4-2 includes SPVB 15 Elite and two Sports Performance No. 2 teams, SPVB 15 C-Fed and SPVB 16 C-Fed.

After dropping two of three matches Saturday, Club Fusion 15 Red went 3-0 in the Silver flight Sunday – beating Sky High Adidas 16 Red, Club 1 16 Red and Krush VBC 16 National – and also sits at 4-2.
 
For more results and standings, go to https://www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(mxm3ydeqwyndzv55jlldopun))/Standings.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM3MDM90&d=60257.

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