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Boys Volleyball: Sandburg seeks to make gains from adversity

By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

Sandburg routinely practices with players at positions other than what they typically play during a game.

The exposure to different roles and places on the floor is part of coach David Vales’ development of his players.

“That’s always a focus,” Vales said. “We do a lot of practicing with guys all out of position. We are always creating a program where we can get guys to do different things.”

The Eagles needed that versatility last weekend at the Lincoln-Way East Invitational. In pool play on the tournament’s opening night April 29, the Eagles were missing 10 seniors because of prom. Many players were forced to play out of position guys and several JV guys were brought up to varsity.

The resulted was Sandburg finishing 0-2 in the pool play, losing 23-25, 25-16, 15-12 to Joliet Catholic and 25-18, 25-7 to Downers Grove South.

But guys stepped up and made big contributions. Junior right side/middle hitter Seth Judd and sophomore outside hitter Zach Supanich, both of whom are already on the varsity, had 12 kills apiece in the two matches.

Freshman JT Snider stepped in at outside hitter and had 13 kills, and junior setter Andrew Gracyk passed out 30 assists. Both were JV callups.

Starting setter Myles Aquino moved to libero for the opening couple of matches to make room for Gracyk. Aquino, a sophomore, is excited to have the opportunity to be a starter, no matter what the position.

“It feels like an honor,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure but I don’t let it get in my head. I was entrusted on the court to be a leader.”

Normally playing next to his senior brother Josh, an outside hitter who wasn’t there because of prom, the younger Aquino was happy to play with some new guys.

“I’m excited to have the JV players up, we got to experience the future,” he said. “It’s also a chance to see the different guys, show that leadership and lead the team.”

In bronze bracket play on April 30, Sandburg had a trio of three-set matches and went 1-2. The Eagles lost to Naperville North 23-25, 25-23, 16-14, beat Willowbrook 15-25, 25-13, 15-11 and fell to West Aurora 28-26, 23-25, 26-24.

Vales was not at all discouraged by the 1-4 record.

“We battled hard all weekend with a pieced-together lineup,” Vales said. “We had an unbelievably competitive match versus West Aurora before losing in a third set that was only supposed to go to 15.”

Kyle Wagner was back at libero on Saturday and had 45 digs in the three matches. Fellow senior Brayden Rice rapped 30 kills at outside hitter while junior middle hitter Kyle Kuchel added 18 kills on the day.

The losses left the Eagles (11-13) with a losing record with 11 matches to go. Sandburg has never finished a season under .500 and had a steak of 25 straight seasons of at least 22 wins snapped last year. But the 15-6 finish in 2021 was in part because of a truncated schedule.

The most losses the Eagles ever had in a full season is 15 in 2018. They have won 16 regional and 10 sectional titles in their history, and Vales is optimistic that they can turn it around down the stretch.

“Hopefully, we can learn from this,” he said. “Just get over the hump to push for a possible conference title and playoff run.”

Entering this week, Sandburg was 2-1 in the SouthWest Suburban Conference, with the loss being 25-18, 29-27 to league-leading Lincoln-Way East on April 28 in Orland Park. Of the 13 losses, seven of them have been in three sets, including to state powers Barrington and Marist.

“I feel what we have to do is take a breath,” Myles Aquino said. “We want to win. We just need to breathe, loosen up and not be in our own heads.”

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