FRANKFORT – While Lincoln-Way East obviously was thrilled to beat Brother Rice in the squads’ first three meetings this season, they also realized that such a streak of success probably wouldn’t continue.
Playing one another for the fourth time in a month, the Crusaders finally got the better of the Griffins, 20-25, 25-15, 15-11, in Saturday’s title match of the Lincoln-Way East Invite.
Three of the four matches between the two have gone three sets, and East won the opener each time. But unlike last weekend’s third-place match at Brother Rice’s Smack Attack, where they bounced back from a loss in the second set, coach Kris Fiore’s squad fell in the finale and missed winning their tournament title for the fourth time in seven years.
“It was a high-caliber match, and you want matches like that now so that can prepare you for later,” Fiore said. “They’re talented and all of our games went three games other than the one at their place. We have two totally different styles of play with us being bigger at the net and a more powerful team, and they’re a quick, finesse team that hits lots of shots, so it’s an interesting matchup.
“We play a really difficult schedule because what we need to do in the first two months of the season is to be able to identify our weaknesses so that for the last two or three weeks of the season, it’s about addressing those and fine-tuning what we need to do to make a state playoff run. Now we can focus on practice, and since we have such a deep team, they can be really intense. We play a lot of kids to figure out who are we going to go with.”
East (26-3) beat Downers Grove North, 25-16, 25-22 in the quarterfinals and Lincoln-Way West, 29-27, 25-19, in the semifinals before falling short against Brother Rice.
The Crusaders (24-5) were led in the tournament by MVP Dan Littleton and in the finals by all-tourney pick Kyle Springer (14 kills, three aces) and Tom Phelan (eight kills, two blocks). Leading the Griffins in the title match were all-tourney selection Mike Herlihy (11 kills) and Ian Piet (11 kills), Brent O’Donnell (18 assists) and Danny Pacini (seven digs).
Lincoln-Way West placed third in the gold division after beating Downers Grove South, 25-18, 25-16, in its final match. The Warriors beat Minooka, 25-11, 28-26, in the quarterfinals before falling to East in the semifinals.
“I think that we’re making a lot of progress,” Warriors coach Jodi Frigo said. “We’re playing well as a team and kind of eliminating our errors and playing some really good volleyball. Our first game against East was 29-27 so we were point-for-point and had a few errors at the end. In the other tournaments we’ve played, we lost to the team who won the championship. So we keep battling and we’re right there and are playing as hard as we can.”
In the third-place match, West (22-7) was led by all-tournament selection Ben Pluskota (seven kills, four aces), David Flores (20 assists, three aces), Chris Dargan (six kills), Brandyn Cullen (five kills) and Tyler Vedder (10 digs).
“I’m doing good, and our team is playing well,” said Pluskota, who was out earlier this year with a fractured wrist. “We didn’t get what we wanted this time, but I think third is pretty good in this tournament. We’re not the tallest team, but our players are really skilled, so when we see a bigger team, it makes us want to win more. Our team chemistry is really good, and we all like each other and we all pick each other up on the court, and that will be important when the sectional comes around.”
Minooka finished eighth in the gold division after falling to West in the quarterfinals, Downers Grove North, 25-16, 25-20, after that, and Parkway Central (Mo.), 25-22, 25-9, in its finale. AJ Lewis earned all-tournament honors for the Indians.
After falling in pool play, Lincoln-Way Central won its final three matches to win the silver division title. The Knights (18-11) beat Willowbrook, 25-23, 25-21, in the quarterfinals, Addison Trail, 25-16, 21-25, 15-13, in the semifinals and Sandburg, 25-12, 25-18, for ninth.
Jack Yurkanin received all-tournament honors after collecting 56 kills, 14 digs, seven aces and five blocks over the weekend. Other Knights leaders were Garrett McCrea (51 kills, seven blocks, nine digs), Aidan McGuire (71 assists, 19 digs) and Sebastian Olmos (43 digs, nine assists, three aces).
Bolingbrook took third in the silver division after beating St. Rita, 25-22, 25-20, falling to Sandburg, 28-26, 16-25, 18-16, and edging Addison Trail, 21-25, 25-22, 15-13. Andrew Otto was the Raiders’ all-tournament pick.