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Baranek: Planting volleyball seeds deeper would be a super idea

Lincoln-Way Central girls volleyball coach Kathy Sulkowski. |  Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

Lincoln-Way Central girls volleyball coach Kathy Sulkowski. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 20, 2012 10:55AM



Straight from the theater of the absurd, we bring you (drum roll) ... the IHSA girls volleyball playoffs.

The Class 4A Lincoln-Way Central Sectional and the Riverside-Brookfield Sectional feed into the Mother McAuley super.

Let’s take a look at the seedings at Central: No. 1-ranked Mother McAuley is at the top, followed by No. 2 Marist, No. 4 Stagg, No. 3 Sandburg, No. 9 Lincoln-Way East, No. 10 Marian Catholic, No. 5 Lincoln-Way Central, unranked but solid Homewood-Flossmoor and No. 7 Lincoln-Way North.

At R-B, the top seed is Hinsdale South, followed by St. Ignatius, Young, Oak Lawn, De La Salle, Hinsdale Central, Lyons, Riverside-Brookfield, Kennedy and Reavis.

What’s wrong with this picture? Enough that Lincoln-Way Central coach Kathy Sulkowski is pretty disgusted with it. And I don’t blame her — let’s face it, there are only two teams in the R-B Sectional (Hinsdale South and St. Ignatius) that would be seeded any higher than eighth in the Lincoln-Way Central Sectional.

“It seems that I can’t be surprised anymore that the IHSA does this with our sectional every year,” she recently wrote to me. “It has been this way unfortunately since I was a player (at Sandburg) battling against McAuley and Providence over 10 years ago in sectional and regional games. The top teams in the state have to compete against each other just to attain a sectional championship.

“I know we are a regional championship-caliber team, but the IHSA doesn’t think about those things since they are so concerned with regional and geographic representation. At the end of the day we should all be concerned with doing what is best for kids, and this isn’t best for kids.”

It’s a tale of woe I’ve heard from endless numbers of girls volleyball, basketball and softball coaches for the past 20 years. There are certain pockets of talented Southland teams that every year get thrown together in regional fields simply because they happen to be located so close to one another. And when they look at the other side of the sectional fence, they want to get sick.

I’ve taken their concerns from time to time to the IHSA, and every time I’ve come away with the same answer: The IHSA doesn’t care about giving the best talent the best chance to advance in the postseason. All it cares about it is ... well, what Kathy Sulkowski said.

For that reason, even if they’re ever ranked 1-2 in the country, you never will see Marist and Mother McAuley playing downstate.

That’s a shame. But it’s an even bigger shame you’ll probably never see them in a supersectional. In the 11 years since Marist started having girls teams, McAuley and Marist always have been in the same sectional complex.

Can we fix this? Sure, we can, but I won’t hold my breath.

I won’t suggest the IHSA abandon its precious “all corners of the state” mentality when it comes to who’ll have the chance to compete at its annual jamboree, otherwise known as the state finals. But would it be so hard to at least create and seed a supersectional complex?

I mean, there aren’t any of the regional sites in either the Lincoln-Way Central or Riverside-Brookfield sectionals that would create commuting issues for any of the 44 schools. Combine the two into one supersectional complex for seeding purposes and you’d have much better-balanced regionals.

As it is, the imbalance is striking.

Just to get out of the semifinals at the Class 4A Lincoln-Way North Regional, Lincoln-Way Central, the SouthtownStar’s fifth-ranked team, is going to have to find a way to beat the host Phoenix (No. 7). Then, if the Knights are fortunate enough to get past that challenge, they’ll run right into No. 2 Marist.

And at Shepard, the host and previously ranked Astros are going to have their hands full with, first, No. 10 Marian Catholic, and second ... well, there probably isn’t going to be a second. But if there is a second, it’ll most likely be No. 4 Stagg.

Meanwhile, over at the De La Salle Regional, unranked Oak Lawn is top-seeded in a field that includes Morton, Kenwood, Jones, Simeon and De La Salle. And at Argo, Hinsdale South’s benchwarmers are going to have a lot of fun winning a plaque during routs over Argo and either Riverside-Brookfield or Kennedy.

Speaking of winners, here’s the short story on what I see happening with our locals over the next few weeks.

Among the upset specials, I see Lincoln-Way East as a simmering pot that finally reaches the boil against Sandburg in the Eisenhower Regional final. Ultimately, though, it’ll come down to Marist and McAuley, and with the confidence gained in winning twice and dominating in parts of their other meeting, I’ll go with McAuley in a hotly contested two-setter.

I’ll also take McAuley, with the homecourt edge, over Hinsdale South in the McAuley Supersectional. Don’t think they’re quite there yet to go all the way at state, but this Mighty Macs group is pretty special, and over the next two years will put itself among McAuley’s best ever.

Look for Chicago Christian to have a good run in Class 3A, all the way to coming home for a supersectional. A fourth straight trip to state? Joliet Catholic (after beating Wheaton St. Francis) will say no.



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