By Walter Villa
CHICAGO, Ill. – The 25thannual Asics Challenge started Friday night, but the biggest story involving the 24 teams happened before the tournament’s first serve floated into play.
Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.), ranked third in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings, lost 25-22, 25-21Thursday night to No. 35 Mother McAuley (Chicago, Ill.), the hosts of the Asics Challenge.
What Berkeley (12-1) had hoped would be a tune-up for Asics instead becomes the Bucs’ first loss -- and it may have ruined their shot at a national title.
But just as surprising as the loss was the fact that it came in straight sets.
“Thursday was a perfect match on our end,” Mother McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “I’m proud that we beat them, and we beat them in two (sets).
“My girls were able to follow the game plan from Point 1 to 25. It was a battle – never more than a two- or three-point lead by either team.”
With the win, Mother McAuley (18-2) continued what DeJarld said has been a two-week run of success. If anything, she said, her team’s two wins Friday at Asics snapped the streak of excellent play.
Mother McAuley dropped the first set against Nazareth (LaGrange Park, Ill.,) before rallying to win 23-25, 25-16, 25-14. After that, Mother McAuley impressed again, defeating No. 31 Martin County (Stuart, Fla.) 25-21, 25-19.
Berkeley Prep, the top seed, continued to struggle early Friday, dropping the first set against Wahlert (Dubuque, Iowa) before rallying to win 24-26, 25-21, 25-16. Berkeley then beat Pius XI (Milwaukee, Wis.) 25-18, 25-15.
Berkeley can still make a big impression if the Bucs win out on Saturday and prevail in a tournament with eight other FAB 50 teams.
And, DeJarld expects Berkeley to play with a chip on its shoulder on Saturday.
“Anger,” DeJarld said when asked how Berkeley handled the loss on Thursday. “They didn’t know what hit ’em a little bit. We’re flying under the radar.”
Something to watch for: Berkeley and Mother McAuley could meet in the semifinals Saturday if both teams continue to win.
New champ guaranteed
Cary-Grove (Cary, Ill.), the defending Asics Challenge champs, was knocked out of contention with a 25-8, 22-25, 25-23 loss to No. 37 Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.).
The day’s big biggest upset came Friday night, when No. 37 Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.) fell to Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.) 21-25, 26-24, 25-20.
Also winning their pools on Friday were No. 5 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.); No. 26 Joliet Catholic (Joliet, Ill.); No. 38 Marist (Chicago, Ill.) and Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.).