COLUMBUS, OHIO – That’s a wrap.
The 2023 USA Volleyball Girls 18s Junior National Championship concluded Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, and while Illinois did not produce any national champions, there were some solid finishes among the 11 teams from the state that competed.
1st Alliance 18 Silver was the top finisher from the Great Lakes Region, going 7-1 and advancing to the Gold bracket semifinals of the 18 National division before falling to NOVA Juniors 18 Navy (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio), 18-25, 26-24, 15-8, to place third.
“We came in as the 13th seed and we won our pool, going 5-0 with consistent play from our entire roster,” said 1st Alliance 18 Silver coach Madisen Babich. “Our setter, Vivian Campbell (Oswego East and University of Cincinnati recruit), quarterbacked our offense.
“We won an exciting challenge match (beating SA Juniors 18 Adidas, San Antonio, Texas, 25-16, 16-25, 15-8) to make it into the Gold bracket on day three, and started off day three with a win (defeating OP2 18-1, Oklahoma Peak Performance, Edmund, Oklahoma, 25-22, 25-20),” Babich added.
The victory over OP2 sealed a bronze medal for the girls from Woodridge.
“Our defense was incredible,” Babich said. “Nothing hit the floor. Peyton Turner and Christine Pullen anchored the back row. Both of my six-rotation outside hitters, Madison Shroba and Grace Ulatowski, were named all-tournament.
“Chloe Anderson had her best performance of the season – hitting, serving, blocking and left back defense as a middle hitter,” the coach added.
1st Alliance 18 Silver featured 5-10 outside hitter Madison Shroba (Bolingbrook), 6-6 middle blocker Jessica Schmidt (St. Francis), 5-7 junior defensive specialist Christine Pullen (Benet Academy), 6-1 middle blocker Brooke Gwiazda (Peotone) and 5-10 outside/rightside hitter Mary Kate Sheehan (Mother McAuley).
Also, 5-9 outside hitter Grace Ulatowski (Lemont), 6-1 middle/opposite Chloe Anderson (Romeoville), 5-10 setter Vivian Campbell (Oswego East), 5-6 defensive specialist Peyton Turner (Benet Academy) and 5-10 rightside hitter Colleen Engstler (Downers Grove South).
1st Alliance 18 Gold also went 7-1 in the 18 Open division, but a 25-10, 25-27, 15-12 challenge match loss to Premier Nebraska 18 Gold dropped the locals in the Silver B bracket, where they defeated OT 18 J John, 25-17, 25-22, in the finals.
1st Alliance 18 Gold featured 5-6 libero/defensive specialist Vanessa Del Real (Crown Point, Indiana), 5-10 setter Jordan Heatherly, 6-4 middle blocker Annie Eschenbach (Benet Academy), 6-1 middle/opposite Kamryn Lee-Caracci (Lyons Township) and 6-1 outside hitter Kennedy Wagner (Valparaiso, Indiana).
Also, 5-6 libero/defensive specialist Gigi Navarrete (Mother McAuley), 6-1 outside hitter Kamryn Chaney (Marist), 6-0 middle/opposite Chidera Ozoh (Homewood-Flossmoor), 5-6 junior defensive specialist Alyssa Lawton (IC Catholic Prep), 5-10 middle/opposite Ufuoma Omene (Marist) and 5-9 libero Ava Falduto (IC Prep).
Club Fusion 18 Apex went 7-2 in the 18 American division in Columbus, winning the Silver A bracket with a 25-16, 23-25, 15-11 victory over TVC 18 Black. 1st Alliance 18 White went 6-2 in 18 Freedom, winning the Silver B bracket with a 25-13, 25-22 victory over Academy 18 HP Shana.
“I am incredibly proud of this group of girls,” said Fusion 18 Apex coach Henry Graack. “The girls were great teammates for each other and built team chemistry as quickly as they could. They played up a level at every tournament. If that doesn’t show improvement, I don’t know what does.
“Half of the team had never even competed at the Liberty level before the season started,” he added. “All credit to them for having the drive to work hard and have fun while doing it. That attitude will take them far in life and I cannot wait to see how they use it. Fusion will miss having them in the gym next year.”
Apex was 6-0 middle hitter Natalie Rush (St. Charles East), 5-11 outside Kate Goudreau (St. Charles East), 5-10 outside hitter Brooke Hoffman (Burlington Central), 5-7 defensive specialist/libero Olivia King (West Aurora), 5-10 setter Jessica Parker (St. Charles North) and 5-7 libero Nina Schuberth (Yorkville Christian).
Also, 5-11 middle Lauren Benson (Geneva), 5-11 junior outside Claire Bickett (Rock Falls), 5-10 outside Abigail Buban (Geneva), 6-0 middle Anja Kelly (Neuqua Valley) and libero/defensive specialist Kiley Morrison (Wheaton Academy).
Other finishers included Adversity G18 Adidas (2-6, 37th) and VC United 181 Elite (1-6, 47th) in Open; Michio Chicago 18 National (2-6, 35th) in USA; Blue Steel 18 Black (4-4, 22nd) in 18 Liberty; VC United 182 Elite (4-4, 13th) and Sky High Adidas 18 Black (3-4, 29th) in 18 American; and Top Notch 18 Elite (8-3) in 18 Freedom.