High-SchoolVolleyball: St. Thomas Aquinas

By Walter Villa
high schoolDavid Villegas/ESPNHSMother McAuley lost libero Bridget Powell (2) to a knee injury in the semifinals of the Asics Challenge.
2011 Asics Challenge Photo Gallery

CHICAGO, Ill. – Asics Challenge host Mother McAuley (Chicago, Ill.) will never know what may have happened this weekend had they stayed healthy.

Standout libero Bridget Powell suffered an injury to her right knee during McAuley’s 25-21, 25-16 semifinal loss to Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Fla.).

McAuley, 35th in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings, had beaten No. 3 Berkeley on Thursday in a pre-tournament surprise.

McAuley had also battled Berkeley to an 18-18 tie in the first set of the rematch when Powell slipped on the court.

“Her leg went one way, and she heard a pop,” McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “It’s not good, but we really don’t know yet.

“She’s going to get an MRI. We’re expecting the worst but hoping for the best.”

Jordan Burgess, Berkeley’s star player, paid tribute to Powell.

“She’s amazing,” Burgess said. “That girl is really good. I think her injury was a really big deal in the match.”

Powell said she has never had a knee problem before and has never had an injury more serious than a twisted ankle.

“It hurts, but it’s not that bad right now,” said Powell, who was on crutches after her match. “I’m a little bit nervous.”

Powell, a senior who has committed to play her college ball at Purdue, shouldn’t fear for her scholarship, DeJarld said, even if the injury is serious.

“She has a bright future and will not be affected,” DeJarld said. “But it will affect us. She has been a starter since her sophomore year. No one else has played that position on our team except her.”

After Powell was hurt, McAuley lost the Berkeley match and a three-set battle for third place against Newport Harbor (Newport Beach, Calif.).

To replace Powell at libero, DeJarld used senior Marykate Mixan, a quick player with experience playing in the back row, especially in club ball.

“We can’t mourn a loss,” DeJarld said. “We have to move on. I have high hopes for this team. I think we have the best team in the state, which is saying something in Illinois.

“Beating Berkeley on Thursday night was one of the highlights of my seven years as a coach. We played a beautiful match, and our semifinal started the same way.

“Who knows how it would have turned out had Bridget not gotten hurt.”

Aquinas accepts challenge

Lisa Zielinski, coach of St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), was just looking to play in the 2012 Asics Challenge.

She got her wish a year early.

Aquinas is not the type of school to turn away from a challenge – in any sport. Evidence of that includes the Aquinas football team, which is second in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings and regularly beats out-of-state powers.

So when Venice (Venice, Fla.) backed out of this year’s Asics just two weeks before the start of the tournament, Zielinski took advantage and brought her team to Chicago.

Zielinski, who got great support from school administrators and players’ parents to make the trip on just 10 days’ notice, made the decision to come even though the Raiders may not be quite ready to beat top-level competition.

“We’re young -- we start all underclassmen,” Zielinski said. “But our girls have great potential.”

Aquinas’ key players are 5-foot-9 junior outside hitter Allison Belanger; 5-5 junior setter Ana Pedraza; 6-0 freshman opposite hitter Nikki Lyons; 5-7 sophomore setter Mackenzie Zielinski; and 6-3 junior middle hitter Brooke Lyons.

Aquinas started the week 6-0 but suffered three straight losses to top-notch competition. Before heading home, they lost to No. 18 Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). On Friday at Asics, Aquinas lost to St. Francis (Wheaton, Ill.) and No. 5 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), both in straight sets.

Still, Zielinski said it was a great experience, especially after winning two out of three matches on Saturday and finishing in 18th place out of 24 teams.

“The girls wanted to do this,” she said. “They wanted to face this type of competition. We hadn’t really had a challenge until the Gibbons game.

“When we looked at the pools, we knew what we were up against. I’m not saying we didn’t fight and give it our best, but we knew. We’re just hoping this will help us in the postseason.”

Odds and ends

-- Of the top nine finishers at the Asics Challenge, only one was unranked – Sandburg (Orland Park, Ill.), which came in fifth after a three-set win over No. 39 Marist (Chicago, Ill.).

-- The lowest finish by a ranked team was turned in by No. 31 Martin County (Stuart, Fla.), which came in 15th.

-- In its first ever appearance at Asics, No. 41 Huntley (Huntley, Ill.) finished eighth.

SPONSORED HEADLINES