Boys Volleyball: Healthy Josh Phalen making difference for Lincoln-Way East
By Logan Malloy For Sun-Times Media April 28, 2014 9:30PM
Josh Phalen, of Lincoln-Way East | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 30, 2014 6:21AM
It was around this time last year when Lincoln-Way East’s Josh Phalen realized his season was over.
While chasing down a ball in practice, Phalen awkwardly tangled with a teammate. Phalen fractured his right thumb, ending a strong junior campaign.
Lincoln-Way East was 25-1 before the injury, but Phalen’s absence left a hole. East lost twice the following weekend in its own 24-team tournament and just missed out on a trip to state, losing to Lincoln-Way North in the sectional finals with Phalen on the sideline, sporting a cast.
“I tried to help the other liberos as much as I could,” Phalen said. “But sitting the bench and not being able to play, I felt pretty helpless.”
Back and healthy, the Griffins are cruising once again with Phalen erasing kills in the back row. He earned All-Tournament honors at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic and has helped fuel Lincoln-Way East to a 20-1 record.
“I think Josh is the best passer in the state,” East coach Kris Fiore said. “What separates him from some of the other kids at the libero position I’ve seen is that he’s quick and athletic. Where they can dig and play defense in a certain area, he can move and cover distance and be very accurate.”
That’s why Phalen will continue to pass at the next level. The senior signed to play at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, which competes in the MIVA Conference with powers such as Lewis, Loyola and Ball State. Phalen is helping pay his way with an athletic and academic scholarship, noting his GPA is “around 3.6 or 3.7.”
“I really liked the players and the coaches there, and the area is really nice,” Phalen said. “I have some family from Phoenix — my grandma and my aunt live around there — so it won’t be like I’m too far away from home.”
Through 21 matches, Phalen has a team-leading 190 digs. He twice came up one dig shy of the school’s single-match record of 25. He claimed getting his name in the record book would be nice, but it’s not a top priority.
“It’s nice to get your name on the board, but we have a lot of other goals for ourselves,” he said. “We want to win state. We should of won it last year, but we got kicked out a little early. We’re still a little salty about that.”
East will lean on Phalen — along with setter Austin Royer and outsides Nate Van Dellen and Ryan Vorderer — during a pivotal week ehad. The Griffins host their loaded 24-team invitational Friday and Saturday.
“This is our last tournament before sectional seeding, so it’s pretty important,” Phalen said.
East is one of the top seeds in pool play. The others include returning state champ Downers Grove South, 2013 state runner-up Lincoln-Way North, Lyons, Lake Park, Sandburg, Lincoln-Way West and New Trier.