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Baranek: Volleyball playoffs bring plenty of intrigue

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Updated: December 1, 2013 6:51AM



OK, it’s time to gaze into the state girls volleyball playoffs.

What do I see ... what do I see ... A major upset at the Class 4A Sandburg Sectional?

Umm ... umm ... no.

Folks, I would have to be out of my ever-lovin’ mind not to pick Mother McAuley to not only emerge as a winner at Sandburg, but also go on to advance to the weekend finals at Illinois State University and capture the school’s first state title since 2004.

This Mighty Macs team has talent up and down the starting lineup and pretty much three-quarters of the way down the bench. They communicate and play together as well as any McAuley team I’ve ever watched.

They should win this thing, not only in 2013, but with a boatload of juniors they should win in 2014 as well.

But, and I say this very seriously, the old “on any given day” adage that coaches have used for centuries on their players in an underdog situation has never been more apropos.

The Sandburg Sectional has to be the best in the state. Imagine these regional finals: Sandburg vs. T.F. South at Andrew. Marist vs. Lincoln-Way East at Marist. McAuley vs. Homewood-Flossmoor at T.F. North. Lincoln-Way Central vs. Lincoln-Way North at Marian Catholic.

And there are still quality teams beyond such as No. 9 seed Oak Lawn, No. 10 Shepard, No. 11 Richards, No. 12 Stagg and No. 13 Marian, the last of which beat Joliet Catholic in the first set just the other day.

If you’re looking for an upset special right off the bat, you might want to check out the Marian Regional semifinals. The host Spartans, behind Amber Clay and Kendyl Todd, beat Lincoln-Way North on Oct. 19 in the third-place match at the Lincoln-Way Central Autumn Knight Invitational. Stagg, led by Lexi Mantas, plays excellent defense and should be a major handful for Lincoln-Way Central.

Could T.F. South, with perhaps the best team the program has ever had, surprise Sandburg in the regional final? I could see three sets, but the Eagles are too balanced across the board hitting-wise. Marist has matured faster than I think most people expected, but I saw a fire in Lincoln-Way East in that Southwest Suburban Blue title match that has me thinking Griffins. Lincoln-Way Central is more consistent than Lincoln-Way North. And it seems like H-F always runs into McAuley in the regional final.

I’ll take Lincoln-Central’s relentless offense with Maria Brown and Jackie Langer to give McAuley a headache and a half before falling in the Sandburg Sectional semifinal. And while Lincoln-Way East may have the most prodigious hitter in the area in Jessica Lindsey, Sandburg super setter Sami Knight will spread the ball around enough that the Eagles will prevail in the other semi.

After McAuley wins a classic sectional final, the Macs will advance to the Lyons Supersectional and meet the winner of the Morton Sectional.

Glenbard South and Downers Grove North are the 1 and 2 seeds there, but fifth-seeded Lyons is a different team now that setter Hannah Juley is recovered from a foot injury. The Macs should get it done over the Lions in two sets.

Who else from the Southland will make it far?

In Class 4A Lemont is seeded fifth in the Plainfield South Sectional, but runs into a buzzsaw that includes Plainfield North, Naperville North and defending state champion Benet.

In Class 3A, Chicago Christian and Emily Workman should survive a sectional challenge from improved Queen of Peace, but is staring directly into a supersectional meeting with Wheaton St. Francis.

In Class 2A, watch out for Morgan Park Academy and Isabelle Panozzo, who put down 16 kills against Bremen. Potential supersectional opponent is Dakota (34-0).



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