Baranek: Familiar roadblock in Sandburg’s path
By Tony Baranek email@example.com November 3, 2013 8:30PM
Sandburg volleyball coach David Vales. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 5, 2013 6:14AM
Timing can be a crucial element in the success of a high school athletic program.
The best example I give every now and again are the Antwaan Randle El and Melvin Ely-led Thornton boys basketball teams of 1994-97.
Those three teams were 93-4, but finished second, second and third in Class AA. Of those four losses, three of them were to Peoria Manual on state finals weekend.
Most observers say that at any other time, against any other opponent, Thornton coach Rocky Hill would have three consecutive state titles on his resume.
Which brings me to Sandburg girls volleyball.
It was 15 years ago when Erika Lange, Stephanie Brandys, Sarah Kustok, Katie Engel, Megan McDonough and Amy McMahon brought the program its first, and to date, only state championship.
Sandburg has made four other state appearances, in 1980 and ’81 under Joanne Mutsch, in 2001 under Joann Holverson (finishing second) and in 2004 under Kelly Mendoza.
Ironically, 2004 was the last time Sandburg and Mother McAuley weren’t in the same sectional complex.
Since then, an Eagles team hasn’t gotten out of a sectional.
You could say that Rocky Hill’s Peoria Manual is David Vales’ McAuley.
In the past eight postseasons, the Mighty Macs have ended Sandburg’s season seven times. In 2011, McAuley’s neighbor, Marist, applied the final nail.
Guess who’s coming to Orland Park?
Marist is Sandburg’s sectional semifinal foe Tuesday. In the other semi, Mother McAuley is matched up against Lincoln-Way North.
I wouldn’t have blamed Vales if he wailed and gnashed his teeth a little at the IHSA. But the most ire I could get out of him was, “It is what it is.”
“I can’t control Mother McAuley. I can only control me and I can only control our program,” Vales said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we’re tough to beat in our own conference. We’ve won the (Maine West) Pumpkin for the first time back-to-back.
“At the end of the day we work with the girls that are in our area, and we do what we can. I can’t say, ‘Oh, it’s frustrating.’ I would have quit a long time ago if I was frustrated (with the pairings).”
Vales has tasted state success on the boys side, his 2005 team earning a spot in the quarterfinals. In eight years as the boys coach, he averaged 30 wins a season, topping out at 35 in 2010.
Vales was an assistant to Mendoza during the girls run to state in 2004. Since taking over the program, he’s had an unbroken string of regional titles, a fair share of conference championships, and plenty of impressive tournament appearances.
In the 18 sectional sets that Sandburg has played against McAuley or Marist since 2004, the Eagles have scored 21 or more points in 14 of them.
Competing was never a problem. Closing was.
Which makes this year’s sectional prospect an interesting one.
The Eagles’ heart-thumping three-set win on Thursday over T.F. South was their 30th of the season. They were the epitome of a 2013 team that, behind leaders Sami Knight, Bridget Lebert and Kelly Finlay, has displayed on more than a few occasions that it can handle crunch time.
“I don’t know that this is the most talented group we’ve ever had as far as individuals, but this is the first team that plays as a full team, the definition of what high school sports is all about,” Vales said. “They play as a unit, one person at a time.
“We’ve had all of our players step up at certain times. When it’s 23-23 they believe.”
No reason to think it’ll be any different if it’s Marist or McAuley on the other side of the net.