The glass is half empty at Rosemont Sports Dome

Seeding is not an exact science, so it should come as no surprise that after the first day of play in the 16 Open division of the President’s Day Challenge at chilly Rosemont Sports Dome, only two of the top four seeds remain unscathed.

1st Alliance 16 Silver and SPVB 16 Elite, the top two seeds in the 24-team field, will head into Saturday’s second round atop their respective pools with 3-0 records.  

Third-seeded Fusion 16 Red went down to defeat in its first match, losing to TVC 16-1 (Toledo Volleyball Club), while No. 4 seed Tri-State Elite 16 Blue won its pool but lost to club little sister Tri-State Elite 16 White in a crossover match.

But for Michael Owen and his 1st Alliance 16 Silver team, the seeds are meaningless. It’s all about the bigger picture.

“We’re just trying to focus on getting better every game,” Owen said. “You can’t really control what seed you get, you can only control how you play. If we take care of business on our side the court, we hope that we can be successful.

“There some good teams here,” he added. “It’ll be a challenging tournament, for sure.”

1st Alliance 16 Silver cruised through its pool – defeating Ms. Pakman 16U 25-16, 25-16 and Uno Girls 16 Elite 25-17, 25-16 – then took down No. 8 seed Cyclones 16 Black Adidas 25-15, 25-17 in its crossover.

“Our serving is definitely a strength,” Owen said. “Our block is pretty big. “We’re a pretty physical team. Those two things are probably our strengths, and we have a lot of hitters who put the ball away and hopefully finish points quickly. That’s our goal.”

1st Alliance 16 Silver is anchored by 6-foot-2 twin towers Leilani Dodson of Nazareth and Rebecca Oldendorf of Lockport, who make life easier for outside hitters Kaitlyn Hurka of Hinsdale South, Katarina Kaburov of Hersey and Kirsten Leitshuh of Lincoln-Way West.  

“(Dodson and Oldendorf) both touch over 10 feet, and they’re both athletic, physical middles,” Owen said. “It’s great to have them. They do great job of drawing the block and letting our outsides get open swings.”

Those swings aren’t always there when 1st Alliance 16 Silver competes in the Great Lakes Power League 18 Super Open division. But playing up has helped 1st Alliance 16 Silver keep its younger opponents down.

“It’s been a great experience for us because we play against older kids every match,” Owen said. “The Power League is so challenging. We’ve gone five games quite a few times. Even playing five-set matches instead of three sets is a great teaching tool for us going forward.”

Cyclones 16 Black Adidas would like to keep going forward, but it won’t be easy. After running afoul of 1st Alliance 16 Silver in its Saturday afternoon crossover, the girls from Aurora will find themselves in a pool with No. 2 seed SPVB 16 Elite on Sunday.

That after surviving a couple of three-setters in pool play Saturday including a 25-18, 13-25, 15-10 win over EC Power 16 Liberty in its opener.

“After the first game we played today, I said let’s make that the worst we play all weekend,”
Cyclones 16 Black Adidas coach Michael Schwerdtfeger said. “Then that second game happened. Honestly, I just wanted to close my eyes and forget that second game.”

Six-foot-1 freshman outside hitter Chloey Myers of West Aurora came up big in the third set against EC United.

“If we play to our level, we’ll see some ‘Ws’ this weekend,” Schwerdtfeger said. “That’s our goal. We’re trying to hold our seed. We want to hold up or better. That’s our goal for this weekend. We’ll see how it goes.”

Illini Elite 16 Cardinal coach Andy Erins wondered how his team would fare against No. 4 seed Tri-State Elite 16 Blue out of Cincinnati, Ohio, in its pool play finale Saturday.

“They have three big kids who play in the middle and the right side, and No. 14 (Mary Shaffer) out there who has a real heavy arm,” Erins said. “They played Wildcat Jrs. 16 Black in the first match and Wildcats struggled. They couldn’t pass.”

Ironically, passing was also an issue for Illini Elite against Tri-State. So was defense. It added up to a 25-21, 25-15 loss.

“They’re better than we are,” Erins said. “They hit better. They pass better. They played much better defense than we did. That was the biggest difference. We couldn’t pick up anything that they were hitting, tipping, rolling, whatever.

“I thought we did well hitting-wise,” he added. “We just didn’t have enough opportunities.”

Opportunity knocked for Fusion 16 Red, which carried the No. 3 seed into the tournament. But the girls from Batavia did not answer the bell, losing to TVC (Toledo Volleyball Club) 16-1 25-15, 25-15 in its Pool C opener Saturday.

“Toledo’s actually a good club,” Fusion 16 Red coach Mike Bui said. “We’re not used to the speed right now. I know we played 18s teams pretty much all year, but it’s still hard for us to adjust. It’s not a slower game, it’s just a different game.”

Fusion 16 Red bounced back to beat Ultimate G16 Gold 25-21, 19-25, 15-12 in its pool play finale and Wildcat Jrs. 16 Black 26-24, 25-19 in a crossover match.

VC United 161 Elite will try to bounce back from an 0-3 start Saturday when it plays South Performance 16 NAT Melanie on Court 25 Sunday at 8:00 a.m. One of those losses was a 25-17, 25-11 setback against No. 2 seed SPVB 16 Elite.

“We’re serving pretty well, but our serve-receive is little shaky,” VC United 161 Elite coach Kaylee Libby said. “We just got make some better choices. We’re doing good things behind the service line and when we’re in transition. We’re working on perfecting our out-of-system game a little bit better and eliminating some errors.”

Second-seeded SPVB 16 Elite wasn’t perfect Saturday, but it was able to overcome some struggles in the second game of its crossover match against MVA (Michigan Volleyball Academy) 16 National Black to win 25-18, 25-23 and remain unbeaten.

Aurora Christian outside hitter Cate Long had 9 kills, Kayla Closset of Naperville Central and Plainfield North’s 6-3 middle Gretchen Ketelhut each had 5 kills, Benet libero Hattie Monson had 9 digs and Waubonsie Valley setter Melissa Walden had 25 assists against MVA.

“The two areas we struggled in the second set … we didn’t serve very aggressively and our passing was off,” SPVB 16 Elite coach Erik Vogt said. “They had a couple of different servers who really put a lot of pressure on us to pass well. But the girls found a way to win.”

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