Keefe, Lions 15-1 impress on day one of 16s Power League

Courtney Keefe could not have asked for a better debut as head coach of Lions 15-1 in the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division Saturday.

Lions 15-1 wrapped up the first day of Power League at 3-0 with a 23-25, 25-13, 15-5 win over SPVB 15 Elite after it squandered a 19-15 lead in Game 1.

Keefe graduated from Lemont in 2011 and played two-and-a-half years at Bradley before transferring to North Central College in Naperville. She played club at 1st Alliance, and was asked to take the reigns of Lions 15-1 after spending a year coaching Chicago Juniors.

“It’s a good a good age group to work with just because they’re vulnerable to changes and their able to adapt,” Keefe said. “So it’s good to see how they respond to those adjustments and when different adversity comes their way. I’m excited to see where they go.”

Rachel Muisenga, who played outside as a freshman for perennial high school power Benet in the fall, is the engine that makes Lions 15-1 go.

“She’s doing a really good job,” Keefe said. “The girls look to her, especially for her positive attitude in tight matches. She demands the hitters to put the ball away. The is the perfect opportunity for her to start working at demanding, especially as a 5-1 setter.”

Muisenga has been training as a setter since her 13s year. 

“It’s a lot different since I’m running the court all the time,” she said. “It’s also different because at Benet there are people I look up to who help me through things. Here, I’m helping out my teammates. But I have a really good team to back me up so it’s always good.”

The core of Lions 15-1 finished fifth at the USA Junior Nationals last year as 14s. But Muisenga fifth-place won’t be good enough this time around.   

“No, it will not,” she said. “We want to succeed. We can do it.”

Lions 15-1 will resume Power League play Sunday against Michio Chicago 15 National (2-1) at 9:00 a.m. on Court 3 in Gold Pool C.

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Injuries and illness forced SPVB 15 Elite coach Luke Stapleton to make several adjustments to his roster prior to Saturday’s play in the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division.

Breelyn Borum of Sterling, whose twin sister Brooklyn is a mainstay on the outside for SPVB 15 Elite, was brought up to set after 6-1 Wheaton Warrenville South product Zayna Meyer broke her finger and will be out four weeks.

Charlotte Cox, an eighth grader, was also inserted into the lineup to replace 6-1 outside hitter Emily Wilson of Joliet Catholic, who has been battling a knee problem.

“We have injuries all over the place, and I keep telling the girls to take it one match at a time,” Stapleton said. “Survive today and move on. Next week we’ll see if we’re healthier and go from there.”

Brooklyn Borum, whose older sister Josilyn plays at Club Fusion in Batavia, was SPVB 15 Elite’s primary option in a 25-19, 25-15 win over Wisconsin Volleyball Academy (WVA) 15 Black and a 25-19, 25-14 victory over Ultimate G16 Gold.

“I feel like I get the best training here (at Sports Performance),” she said. “The skill level, the competition, this is going to make me better as an athlete and a person.”

Stapleton likes what Brooklyn brings to the table.

“Brooklyn’s got a ton of power and her volleyball IQ is high and helps her in certain situations see things on the court,” he said. “All 15-year-olds have lots of things to fix, but she’s a good player considering she’s also still playing basketball right now.”

Brooklyn, her twin Breelyn and older sister Josilyn, a junior, all play varsity basketball at Sterling.  

“We practice three times a week and I see her one to two practices out of those,” Stapleton said. “It’s great she’s playing and has a contributing role in high school. That’s awesome. Not a lot of girls can do both at a high level.”

SPVB 15 Elite will resume Power League play Sunday against Sky High Adidas 15 Black at 9:00 a.m. on Court 2 in Gold Pool B.

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SPVB 16 Elite survived its first match of pool play Saturday at the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division thanks to the powerful right arm of 6-1 outside hitter Cate Long of Aurora Christian.

Long, who was up with SPVB 18 Elite two weekends ago to fill in for the injured Hanna Lesniak of Lincoln-Way East, was back with her 16s team Saturday. She had a pair of kills to end the first set and her final kill of the match gave SPVB 16 Elite a 23-18 lead in Game 2 of a 25-21, 25-19 win against Sky High Adidas 15 Black.

“It was a good experience (playing with the 18s),” Long said. “It’s a lot more intense. And it’s a lot harder to get around the block with the 18s. Here, it’s a little easier to get around the block and get a lot of kills.”

“This is the first time they played together as a group,” SPVB 16 Elite coach Erik Vogt said. “We’re trying to find our court identity. We had two players out the past couple of days with sickness, and this is the first time they played together since Tuesday.”

SPVB 16 Elite led 20-14 in Game 1 before Sky High Adidas 15 Black used a 6-0 run to tie the set. The host club also surrendered a 7-2 run in Game 2 after taking a 20-10 lead.

“Some of the issues we had (against Sky High Adidas 15 Black) were likely due to illness, but that’s not an excuse for how we let those runs go,” Vogt said. “They probably just had to do with finding our identity as a team.”

SPVB 16 Elite also got big contributions from outside hitter Kayla Closset of Naperville Central, one of several team members battling illness earlier in the week.

“Kayla played really well,” Vogt said. “She’s one of the kids who’s been sick. She does a great job for Naperville Central. She has a really bright future ahead of her.”

SPVB 16 Elite will resume Power League play Sunday against Wildcat Jrs. 15 Black at 8:00 a.m. on Court 1 in Gold Pool B.

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Sky High Adidas 15 Black bounced back from its loss to SPVB 16 Elite to beat Club 1 16 Red and Midwest Penguins 15 Black and earn a berth in Gold Pool B with unbeaten Iowa Rockets 16R, and 2-1 1st Alliance 16 Black and SPVB 15 Elite.

“We do have a solid group,” Sky High Adidas 15 Black and former collegiate coach Jill Rokosik said. “I think we’re really strong in the middle and we have to phenomenal setters who both can run a 5-1.”

Sky High Adidas 15 Black is led by Libertyville outside hitter Peyton O’Brien and middle hitters Madeline Timmerman of Crystal Lake Central and Margaret Wallenberger of Jacobs. The team should get a lift from the return Sunday of 5-10 outside hitter Jenna Splitt of Cary-Grove.

 “I love (Splitt),” Rokosik said. “She’s a phenomenal player. She’s probably our best six rotation player on the right side. She’s super powerful, has quick arm strength and a big topspin serve.

“There’s a lot of potential here,” the coach added. “I think we’re still molding some of it, but we came in with a ton of potential. We’re working a lot on the finer tunes.”

Big Ten coaches are already taking a close look at some of the members of Sky High Adidas 15 Black. That does not surprise SPVB 16 Elite coach Erik Vogt.

“Sky High 15-1 is a very strong offensive force,” he said. “They don’t really have many weaknesses and they’ve got a really good upside. It will be interesting to see how far they come during the next year or so.”

Sky High Adidas 15 Black will resume Power League play Sunday against SPVB 15 Elite at 9:00 a.m. on Court 2 in Gold Pool B.

 ***

Cyclones 16 B
lack Adidas from Aurora secured its spot in the Gold flight Sunday when it defeated   FC  Elite 15 Navy out of Appleton, Wisconsin, 25-21, 18-25, 16-14, to finish 2-1 on the first day of seeding.

“We have a lot of girls who made big contributions on their varsity teams this last year and a handful of girls that were on JV teams who were star JV players,” said Cyclones 16 Black Adidas coach Michael Schwerdtfeger.

“The girls have a lot of experience playing high-end volleyball and it’s showing,” he added. “We’re getting some good wins at this level.”

Cyclones 16 Black Adidas also defeated Illini Elite 15 Cardinal 25-19, 26-24, winning on a kill over the middle by 6-foot rightside Kendra Battle of West Aurora and a block by Battle’s high school teammate, 5-8 setter Jenna Millen.

“It’s a well-balanced group,” Schwerdtfeger said. “We don’t really have one person that’s a star. We have a whole bunch of stars. It’s fun playing volleyball that way. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if we should be doing that right now.’ Anybody that you set the ball to has the ability to put the ball away.”

Although Battle has high school varsity experience, some of the Cyclones 16 Black Adidas players are getting their first taste of top-notch competition.

“The biggest adjustment for some of the girls is just playing at this level,” Schwerdtfeger said. “We actually haven’t played with the biggest and best, so that’s kind of an adjustment. We won’t have easy matches only. ‘We always have to be on’ is the new thing this year.”

Cyclones 16 Black Adidas will resume Power League play Sunday at 8:00 a.m. when it meets unbeaten Motion Volleyball 16 BLU on Court 6 in Gold Pool F.

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Central Illinois Elite Volleyball Club began four years ago in response to the need for a strong, competitive program in the Peoria area. The club provides local and travel opportunities for more than 300 girls.

CI Elite has been participating in the Great Lakes Power League since the club opened. Although his team began Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division play Saturday 0-3, CI Elite 16 Red coach Brian Martin sees a bright future for his team and the club they represent.

“The girls are talented,” he said. “But they need to figure out how to play. The girls in our area are a little behind the eight ball because they don’t start playing junior high volleyball until March. They play catch-up until they’re about 17 or 18 years old.”

CI Elite 16 Red feature five players from Peoria suburb Dunlap – 5-10 middle blocker Lauren Day, setter Jillian Jockisch, 5-9 outside hitter Marissa Seibel, libero Jenna Shelby and middle blocker/rightside Brooke Wetherill.

Other players include Hope Allen from Chillicothe IVC, defensive specialist Emily Craig from Hartsburg-Emden, Haylee Davis from Metamora, 5-6 setter Logan Finneran from Pekin and 5-8 outside hitter Elise Monroe of Washington.

CI Elite 16 Red will look for its first win in Power League play Sunday when it takes on Wisconsin Volleyball Academy (WVA) 15 Black at 9:00 a.m. on Court 7 in Silver Pool A.

***

Peter Netisingha has a national championship ring from perennial Big Ten and collegiate power Nebraska. Now he’s trying to help bring Illinois State University in Normal to national prominence.

Netisingha, a 2008 graduate of Hinsdale Central, is in his second year as an assistant coach at ISU. He had previous stops at Ohio University, Wisconsin and Nebraska, where he served as a volunteer assistant for two seasons including the Huskers’ 2015 NCAA tournament title run.

The former Chicago Sun-Times all-area setter attended Saturday’s opening day of the Great Lakes Power League 16 Super Open division at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora, looking for the kind of player who will help bring ISU a Missouri Valley title and NCAA tournament bid.

“We want to be the team that’s going nationally and being recognized as a top 25 team,” he said. “Were not stopping short of that. We’re looking for the best players locally and regionally, but it would be great to get somebody from Illinois to come be a Redbird.”

Illinois State went 23-11 this season, but graduated one of the league’s best players and a four-year starter in 6-foot 2 middle hitter Jaelyn Keene of Jacksonville.

“She’s a great student, a great athlete and a great person,” Netisingha said. “Those are the type of people we’re looking for.”

Although it has been 10 years since he last wore the red and white of Hinsdale Central, Netisingha still has fond memories of his time at 55th and South Grant Street.

“It feels like it was yesterday,” he said. “I still remember the matches, the interviews afterward, and playing Lyons Township in the regional and sectional. Those were great times, being with the guys and my old teammates.”

Netisingha aspires to become a collegiate head coach, but for the present, he’s focused on winning a Missouri Valley championship at ISU.

 “I’m thinking short-term mostly, long-term a little bit,” he said.

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For more results and Sunday’s schedule, go to https://www.advancedeventsystems.com/EventResults/(S(eukp5yypirftwpeu0daliqeh))/PlayResults.aspx?e=PTAwMDAwMTM3MDM90&p=-50072

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