By Walter Villa
Eli Manning is, in effect, the quarterback of the volleyball team at Huntley (Huntley, Ill.).
Manning’s name is pronounced exactly the same as the New York Giants quarterback – but they’re not related. And while the Giants’ Manning is famous for engineering a huge Super Bowl upset over the New England Patriots, his volleyball-playing namesake and her teammates scored a major surprise last week when they beat Cary-Grove (Cary, Ill.), snapping its 61-match regular-season win streak.
Huntley lost the first set and trailed 15-7 in the second before rallying for a 21-25, 25-23, 25-22 victory.
“That’s one of the best high school matches I’ve ever coached,” said Michelle Jakubowski, who is in her sixth year running the Huntley program.
Manning, a 5-foot-8 setter, is one of five key seniors on the team, all of whom are at least second-year starters. The others are 5-8 libero Amy Dion, who committed to Maryland; 5-11 outside hitter Sam Boesch, who is a Wake Forest recruit; 5-9 outside hitter Ashley Smith; and 6-1 middle blocker Jaina Jackson.
The victory over Cary-Grove got national attention and vaulted Huntley to No. 41 in the most recent POWERADE FAB 50 poll.
On Friday, the Huntley Red Raiders (14-0) will make their first-ever appearance at the Asics Challenge at Mother McAuley in Chicago. They will need to slay more giants if they expect to emerge on top of a 24-team field that includes eight other members of the FAB 50.
Here is a quick look at the top teams that will be competing with Huntley in Chicago this weekend:
(Note: Updated on Sept. 29 to reflect Week 4 rankings):
No. 3 Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.): The Bucs won the 2010 Florida state title in five sets over Bishop Moore (Orlando, Fla.), and they won their own Premier tournament this past weekend, beating – who else? – No. 28 Bishop Moore in five sets in the final. Berkeley Prep is off to an 11-0 start.
No. 5 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.): The Rockets (27-1) have won 10 of the past 15 Asics Challenges, never failing to earn the title more than one year in a row. And since Cary-Grove won Asics last year, Assumption may be due for another top prize. Already this year they captured the Durango Fall Classic title in Las Vegas, Nev.
No. 26 Joliet Catholic Academy (Joliet, Ill.): The Hilltoppers went 34-8 last season and finished second at state. They had some injuries earlier this season but are still 13-0. They’re finally healthy and could be a threat.
No. 31 Martin County (Stuart, Fla.): The Tigers (11-1) finished second this past weekend in their own tournament, the East Coast Challenge. They lost 25-22, 25-18 in the final to No. 18 Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).
No. 35 Mother McAuley (Chicago, Ill.): The tournament hosts won't just lay out the welcome mat. With an 11-2 record, they go from unranked to No. 35 this week.
No. 37 Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.): The Valkyries (21-6) have lost their two matchups against Assumption so far this season but had a good showing in Las Vegas, Nev., where they finished ninth in the 48-team Durango Fall Classic.
No. 38 Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.): The Sailors (15-3) boast top setter Cinnamon Sary. The 5-10 senior committed to Southern Cal, where she will join former Newport teammate Kelly Burnham. In 2009, the duo led Newport to a state title. Last year, the Sailors made it to the state quarterfinals.
No. 39 Marist (Chicago, Ill.): The Red Hawks (16-2) showed their heart in a win over Mother McAuley (Chicago, Ill.) earlier this month. The Hawks trailed 24-21 in the first set but rallied to win 26-24, 25-18.
National powers set to play
Two volleyball programs that have been outstanding since the moment the schools opened their doors will face off on Oct. 5 in a matchup that will help shape this year’s national championship.
No. 1 Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.), which finished 41-0 and No. 1 in last season’s FAB 50, will visit No. 4 St. James (Lenexa, Kansas).
Both schools are relatively new. Papillion-La Vista South opened in 2003 and finished second at state in 2008 and 2009 before breaking through with its first title last year.
St. James opened in 2005 with all freshmen. They played a junior varsity schedule that first year but showed immediate potential, posting a 35-0 record.
In their first two years playing varsity, St. James went 30-10 and 45-1, reaching the state finals in 2007. The Thunder’s first of three straight state titles came in 2008, and their record since ’07 is an impressive 190-7.
St. James’ top player is 5-7 senior setter Paige Brown, the school’s career leader in assists and an Appalachian State recruit. But the Thunder has no players over 6-1.
Papillion has three players committed to the University of Nebraska: setter Kelly Hunter and the 6-3 Rolfzen twins, Amber and Kadie, who were named ESPNHS Sophomores of the Year last season.