If not for injuries that sidelined two of its best players for more than half the season, there’s a good chance Mizuno Sports Performance 18 Elite might never have lost this season.
Sports Performance 18 Elite completed an 85-3 season by defeating Asics Munciana 18 Samurai, 25-22, 25-23, for the 18 Open title at the 41st AAU National Championships Friday in Orlando, Fla.
The national championship was the second in a row, fifth since 2008 and 32nd all time for Sports Performance.
“I can’t even explain how good it feels,” former Waubonsie Valley setter and Sun-Times All-Area selection Rachel Minarick told Prepvolleball.com’s John Tawa. The Michigan State-bound Minarick was named the tournament MVP.
“It’s beyond words. We believed in ourselves the whole way through. At the end of the season, we honestly believed we should have gone undefeated. We think that was achievable. It was an attitude and we were willing to work hard for it.”
Sports Performance had to endure some anxious moments at the end of Game 2 against Munciana. SPVB 18 Elite led 21-16, but the girls from Muncie, Ind. reeled off six straight points to take only their third lead of the set.
A Minarick dump tied the game at 23, and a net violation and out call against Munciana sealed Sports Performance’s title and most likely solidified its hold on Prepvolleyball.com’s No. 1 ranking.
Sports Performance, which defeated Asics KIVA 18 Red 25-23, 25-22 in the semifinals, also featured Annika Albrecht, Rachel Fara, Maddie Haggerty, Molly Haggerty, Madison Jaudon, Brittany Pavich, Abby Skryd and Caroline Wolf.
“If you would have told me in December that we would end the year as national champions and go 85-3 for the year without having Maddie Haggerty and Brittany Pavich for 80 percent of the season, I would not have believed it,” Sports Performance club director and 18 Elite coach Rick Butler said.
“This was one of the best serving teams we have ever had, and that allowed us keep both KIVA and Munciana from running their offense much of the time and gave us a high number of defensive transition opportunities to score points.
“Our seniors (Minarick, Albrecht, Maddie Haggerty, Pavich and Wolf) gave us great leadership and focus at the end.”
SPVB 18 Elite won the 18 Open division by going 11-0 in matches and 22-0 in sets on the heels of last year’s national championship effort when the team went 12-0 in matches and 24-0 in sets.
Sports Performance played International division champion Brazil in an “AAU USA vs. The World Challenge” exhibition match following their championship, and lost 20-25, 29-27, 15-11. Brazil was third at the World Championships in Thailand last August.
“We loved playing the Brazil Junior National team following the USA championship,” Butler said. “To have a club team from the western suburbs of Chicago play a level of match that we had with them was quite a feat.”
Far south suburban stalwart Ultimate 18 Gold finished 6-5 in the 18 Open division, good for seventh place, after losing to A5 Mizuno 181 Bob 12-25, 25-16, 15-12 in the consolation semifinals.
Team members included Kelli Bates, Maria Brown, Kayla Currier, Kyisha Hunt, Ashtyn Kapovich, Jessica Lindsey, Carissa Lorenz, Shannon Murphy and Kayla Pfeiffer.
Club Fusion 18 Black, which went 5-6 in the 18 Open division with two of its losses to national finalists Sports Performance and Munciana, and Sky High 18 Black (4-6) were among the teams tied for ninth place.
Fusion 18 Black included Courtney Bemis, Danielle Cabel, Samantha Dubiel, Elizabeth Dunn, Kathryn Kniep, Olivia Kofie, Taylor Krage, Lauren Leverenz, Mackenzie Long, Katie Olson, Brianna Stewart and Bryanna Weiskircher.
Members of Sky High 18 Black included Hannah Davis, Emily Frieder, Hallie Hart, Taylor Louis, Kara Maleski, Carly Nolan, Mallory Parsons, Ashly Schmitt, Nicole Slimko and Kristen Walding.
Sports Performance 18 White led the local qualifiers in the Club division, going 9-1 to finish fifth. Team members included Hailey Aguilar, Kate Federico, Ellie Ivancich, Hailey Kauling, Ellie Petersen, Dakota Santore, Becca Shearer, Rebekah Shea-Thayer and Stephanie Tobison.
Club Fusion 18 Blue finished ninth in the Club division. Team members included Tricia Graham, Olivia Hanley, Sarah Hendle, Margaret Horihan, Madison Lord, Erin Lyman, Taylor Marmitt, Kennedy McNeil, Taylor Otto, Rachel Shores, Courtney Wagner and Emily Westermeyer.
Sports Performance 18 White finished 12th in the Club division. Team members included Nicole Celarek, Delaney D’Amore, Talie Holze, Angea Jurek, Lexie Lobdell, Anna Melka, Natalie Murison, Mackenzie Rombach, Alana Schouten and Julia Shemaitis.
SPVB 18 Elite wasn’t the only team from Aurora to come home with a national championship. Sports Performance 18 Red went 11-0 to capture the title in the new 18 Premier division, downing Premier Onitsuka in three sets, 22-25, 25-19, 15-6, in the championship match.
“It feels amazing,” former Benet star Whitney Battoe told Prepvolleball.com’s John Tawa. “We made so many sacrifices for this moment and they finally paid off.”
Team members also included Skyler Cavazos-Day, Meg DeMaar, Krissa Gearing, Meghan Hanewell, Ruby Hunt, Brooke Istvan, Kimmy Martino, Mikaela Mosquera, Megan Rogers, Kaylen Torain and Erica Walker.
Elsewhere, Sports Performance 15 Elite and Club Fusion-South 15 Red reached the quarterfinals of the 15 Open division Monday before losing, and Illini Elite 17 Cardinal out of Bloomington-Normal and Mizuno Northern Lights 17-1 were meeting for the 17 Open title late Monday.
In the 16 Open division, Michio Chicago 16 National opened with six straight wins before losing to Sports Performance 16 Elite, which was the first of three consecutive losses for the south siders coached by Mother McAuiey’s Jen DeJarld.
Sports Performance 16 Elite, a collection of some of the western suburbs top juniors-to-be including Allie Lindroth of Plainfield North and Natalie Schilling of Glenbard West, was playing Fraser Valley later Monday for a berth in Tuesday’s championship quarterfinals.