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Baranek: A definite top two in girls volleyball

Marist's Mallory Salis goes up for kill against St. Charles East during their class 4A state finals consolatimatch Redbird ArenNormal

Marist's Mallory Salis goes up for a kill against St. Charles East during their class 4A state finals consolation match at Redbird Arena in Normal, IL Saturday, November 12, 2011. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:52AM



Feel like soaking in the landscape as we soar into the second half of the volleyball season? Don’t mind if I do ...

After seeing every team in the Top 10 at least once, it’s pretty evident at this point there are two top dogs. Surprise? No. It’s Marist and Mother McAuley.

The two Mount Greenwood powerhouses have played each other twice, with McAuley dominating in a two-set victory on Sept. 11 and Marist fighting back from a one-set deficit Saturday to prevail at the Rich East Invitational.

Even though McAuley has won three of the five sets, I bumped Marist back into the No. 1 spot because of how the RedHawks won Saturday — with blocking prowess at the net by Rachel Dalton and Elyse Panick and smart and powerful hitting by Mallory Salis. For the first time I’ve seen this season, it really appeared down the stretch that McAuley looked like the young team it is.

That being said, don’t be surprised this weekend if the Macs turn things right back around should the two teams meet again at the Asics Challenge. This McAuley team is loaded with young hitters and junior setter Courtney Joyce is doing a nice job of putting them in a position to succeed. I doubt their confidence is shaken.

As far as the best of the rest — whew, that’s a tough one. The beauty of Southland volleyball is the best always seek out the best. It results in a back-and-forth cycle of wins and losses that leaves me tempted to pull names out of a hat when it comes to ranking them every Monday.

Anyway, Lincoln-Way East looked pretty invincible early on, winning 12 in a row. Granted, the schedule wasn’t that tough, but the Griffins did impress defensively behind Dana Van Dyck, Sara Buchback and Marissa DeGroot in beating Lincoln-Way Central and capturing the McAuley Preview. But last weekend the wheels fell off at Rich East, and on Tuesday unranked Lincoln-Way North scored probably its biggest victory of the season by beating East in two sets.

Before the season Lockport got the No. 2 nod, and for the most part the Porters haven’t disappointed under new coach Erika Lange behind the hitting of Aubrey Ficek and Amanda MacNab. Scoring just 15 and 10 points against McAuley at Rich East wasn’t good, but taking Providence to the wire shows a little bit about their mettle.

Speaking of Providence, the Celtics are probably my biggest area surprise. Putting them at No. 8 to start with and with Krista Brakauskas running the show at setter, I figured they’d be pretty good. Taking McAuley to three sets in both of their meetings and going 4-1 at Rich East shows this is a team that might be in it for the long haul.

Another nice early surprise has been Stagg. The Chargers won nine matches in a row before getting upset by H-F last week. In their two signature matches so far, they lost to Lockport in a three-set thriller and crushed Sandburg. If there is a smarter setter/hitter out there than Jill Conrad, you know where to find me. I’d love to know about it.

Sandburg? The Eagles have one of the most powerful hitters in the state in Dakota Hampton, but she can’t hit from everywhere. A lot of days off in a row might have caused the meltdown against Stagg. Wins over Marian and Lincoln-Way East at Rich East are a little better barometer. Hopefully, Paige Bendell can overcome some foot issues that have hobbled her of late.

I thought I had a finger on Lincoln-Way Central’s pulse after watching Amanda Dolan crush Andrew on Sept. 4. But Andrew, quite frankly, has been getting crushed a lot. So using a 3-2 performance at Rich East as a better measuring stick, I’d say Central definitely can play with the best, but I’m not really sure what being dominated in two straight by Wheaton-St. Francis and in Set 2 by Providence means.

The award for the team with the most resilience at midseason is Marian Catholic. Losing two players to injury and having another (Kelsey Clark) transfer to Mother McAuley, the Spartans, at best, figured to be a team that couldn’t possibly live up to the promise that being at state last fall indicated. But Amber Clay, Colleen Rynne and Nicole Manno really have been leaders. The Spartans have pulled off some stunners, including wins over East and most recently Benet.

As far as preseason No. 10 Chicago Christian, the Knights have played pretty well against bigger schools in their quest to prepare for the big move up to Class 3A. Behind Emily Workman and Emily Lindemulder, they’ve done enough to make me think they’ll go far in the playoffs, but they’ll need some kind of intervention should they reach a super against either JCA or Wheaton-St. Francis.

Beyond that, kudos are definitely in order for Shepard, which, led by Natalie Carberry and Stephanie Korbakes, won eight straight in the South Suburban Conference heading into Thursday’s match against Lemont. Can’t wait until the Red showdown against Oak Lawn on Tuesday. Homewood-Flossmoor has had some ups and downs, but Kaitlyn Shereyk has been a real leader and the Vikings are an upswing after shocking Stagg on Sept. 20.



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