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Crusaders make best teams in the state sweat

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice players celebrate a state quarterfinal win over Hinsdale Central on Friday.

The conventional wisdom was that heading into this weekend’s Illinois High School Association State Volleyball Tournament, Glenbard West and Lake Park were the top two teams in the state and were ready to butt heads in the state championship game.

On Saturday morning, Lincoln-Way East had other plans, knocking off Lake Park 25-21, 27-25 in the first semifinal at Hoffman Estates High School.

Then, when Brother Rice opened the second semifinal with a 25-21 win over the two-time defending state champion Hilltoppers, it was looking like conventional wisdom was about to turn into unconventional lunacy. But Glenbard West, which had lost just three sets in two years prior to the Brother Rice setback, came back and squeaked out 25-20, 25-22 victories in the final two sets before moving on the beat Lincoln-Way East in three to claim its third straight state title. 

That set up a Brother Rice-Lake Park battle for third and the Crusaders made the Lancers sweat before falling 21-25, 25-20, 25-16.

The Crusaders, making their first state appearance since 2012 and winning their second state trophy in program history, finished 31-11 on the campaign.

Junior middle hitter Dan Littleton showed he could be a monster next season as he had 10 kills and hit .769 against Lake Park while senior Jimmy Baker had 10 kills and a .364 hitting percentage.

In the semifinals against Glenbard West, junior Kyle Springer had 12 kills, Lewis University-bound Joe Kenzinger had 11 and hit. 500 to go with five blocks while Ryan Banky and Baker each had 10 kills as the Crusaders hit .326.

To get to the trophy round, Rice beat Hinsdale Central, 25-17, 25-20. Springer had 10 kills and Banky nine.

Junior setter Matt O’Donnell spread the wealth around and was credited with 102 assists in the three matches and Baker said that was a key to the team’s success this year.

“Opponents have no idea where the ball is going,” Baker said. “Sometimes we don’t even know where it’s going.’’

Players graduating from this year’s team are Kenzinger, Bankey, Baker, Mike McIntyre, Vito Calace, Brendan Ashley, Cal Konecki and Patrick Hollander. Underclassmen on the playoff roster hoping for another state appearance next year are juniors O’Donnell, Springer, Littleton, Alex Culloton, Tom Kleist, Tom Phelan and Sean Badali.