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Boys High School Volleyball: Stagg falls to defending champs in regional final

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Stagg’s Michael Kazanecki skies for a kill attempt during a match against Lincoln-Way East on May 23. Photo by Jason Maholy

A turnaround season, a memorable season.

That’s what Stagg can look back on after reaching 20 wins for the first time in about a decade.

“Twenty wins is 20 wins and that’s always the goal,” Stagg coach Tim Kaczmarek said after the Chargers reached that goal with a regional semifinal victory over Oak Forest on May 21 at the Lincoln-Way Regional. “We haven’t won 20 matches in a season in about a decade. This is where we thought we could be.”

It was, and it was a good spot. Especially after the Chargers were 13-22 last season.

Unfortunately for Stagg, they were for the second straight season in the same regional as Lincoln-Way East. Even though the defending state champion Griffins graduated 10 seniors from last season’s squad, they still have plenty of talent. That showed last week when they defeated the Charger 25-15, 25-20 on May 22, in the title match of the Lincoln-Way East Regional.

The Griffins went on to avenge a two-set loss from a week prior and defeat Sandburg 17-25, 25-16, 25-15 on May 24 in the semifinals of the Marist Sectional.

It was the fifth straight season that the Chargers (20-18) lost in a regional title match. They haven’t won a regional since 2006.

“We have nothing to be disappointed with, other than a loss to a great team,” Kaczmarek said. “We finished with 20 wins and had a great group of seniors that will be missed.”

The five Stagg seniors were Mike Kazanecki, Martynas Macenis, Jared Muhr, Jeff Oblazny and Eddie Oh.

Against Lincoln-Way East, Kazanecki (six kills) led the way from his outside hitter position. Junior right side hitter Eric Nunez (five kills) and Oblazny (17 assists, seven digs), a setter, also contributed for the Chargers, who played without Macenis, a starting middle hitter who was out ill.

The tone was set immediately as Lincoln-Way East raced to 6-1 advantage and led the entire first set. Senior outside hitter Wil McPhillips (nine kills, four aces) had four kills in the spurt, including one that nearly knocked over a Charger player.

“It was a very different level,” Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said of his team’s performance, compared to the first meeting with Stagg in a SouthWest Suburban Conference matchup, won by the Griffins 25-23, 25-23 on May 1 in Palos Hills. “We had two All-Staters out that match.”

After the initial surge, the score never got closer than 7-4. Ahead 22-15, junior right side hitter Casey Goss (five kills) sandwiched kills, including the set-winner, around one by junior middle hitter John Glennon.

Junior right side hitter/setter Trevor Lewis (five kills, 13 assists), senior setter Brent O’Donnell (10 assists, five digs, one ace) and senior libero Danny Pacini (13 digs, two aces) also contributed for the Griffins.

Stagg came to play in the second set and led 5-4, but that would be the last time they were ahead. Once again it was McPhillips talking over with a block, and he later had consecutive kills to cap a 4-0 burst for an 8-5 lead.

“He’s tough,” Kaczmarek said of McPhillips, who has committed to Ball State University. “There’s a reason he’s going D1. He’s got a hard swing.”

The Chargers tied the score at 13-13, but East sophomore middle hitter Jason Kougan had a kill and a block in a 3-0 run that gave the Griffins the lead for good at 16-13. Stagg crept within 20-19 on a kill by Nunez but the Griffins came back with a 5-1 spurt to end it. The final three points came on a kill for McPhillips, a block by Goss and an ace from Pacini.

“We passed better in the second set and that allowed us to run our offense,” Kaczmarek said. “We have guys that can hit, we just didn’t pass well that first set.”

Three of the five Charger seniors started the match against Lincoln-Way East.

“Stagg is a solid team,” Fiore said. “Our conference is very tough this year and it’s not easy to win a regional title.”

Eight SWSC teams played for regional championships, with four winning.

In a semifinal match on May 21, it was Kazanecki who loved being in the pressure situation. He clubbed a match-high 10 kills and added six digs and three aces as Stagg defeated Oak Forest 25-20, 25-19.

The Chargers found themselves in a first-set battle against the Bengals (15-12). There were five lead changes and seven ties through 15-15, then Oak Forest burst ahead 18-16 when Kazanecki stepped up. He creamed three straight kills in a 4-0 run that put the Chargers ahead for good. After an Oak Forest point, he added another kill to make it 21-19.

Leading 21-20, yet another Kazanecki kill started a set-ending 4-0 spurt. Macenis (3 kills) had consecutive slide kills and Oblazny (17 assists, 9 digs) put down a block to end the opener.

“I love the pressure, I love it,” Kazaneski said of being in the situation at the end of the first set. “I feel like I have to be my best in those situations. It wasn’t the cleanest of matches, but we figured it out.”

The Chargers were ready in the second set. After five lead changes and 10 ties through 13-13, they scored four straight points to take the lead for good. Ahead 17-16 they went on a 5-1 burst, which included aces by Kazanecki and Oh, a middle hitter, to go up 22-17. Ahead 23-19, kills by juniors Christian Maciata from the right side and John Tylka on an overpass in the middle ended the match.

Nunez (four kills), junior outside hitter Owen Erickson (three kills), and junior libero Dylan Peddemors (seven digs) also contributed for Stagg. Oak Forest, which has a new coach this season in Cassidy Staunton, was led by senior middle blocker Shawn McCarthy (five kills, two blocks, two aces) and junior outside hitter Jacob Phillips (three kills).

Stagg opened the postseason on Monday, May 20 with a 25-6, 25-10 victory over Washington in a regional quarterfinal.

Chicago Christian was also at the Lincoln-Way East Regional. But the Knights ended their first season as a varsity program with a 25-20, 24-26, 25-18 loss to T.F. United May 20 in a regional quarterfinal. They finished 18-11, and with only five senior graduating the future looks bright for the fledgling program.

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