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Young, Jones bring home sophomore, varsity girls volleyball city titles

By Joey Gelman

Whitney Young Volleyball Storms Back, Wins Girls Sophomore Volleyball Championship Behind Stellar Play of Danielle Smith

The 2023 Sophomore Girls Volleyball Chicago Public League Championship was a thriller from the start. Lane Tech and Whitney Young challenged each other point for point during the first set, and the Champions rode the hot hand of freshman Maya Rodgers, who finished the game with eight kills.

Lane took the first set over the favored Dolphins 25-21 with momentum swinging its way in the best-of-three set championship series. 

However, it was Whitney Young who stormed back to win an impressive two straight sets (25-22, 25-19) to secure the 2023 title.

“Great teams find a way to win, even when their game is not on point,” said Whitney Young Head Coach Jesse Martinez, referring to the first set. “With will, might and skill, we stuck together no matter what and that helped us win the game.”

Whitney Young had tremendous clutch play from three standout players, Morgan Culbreath (seven kills), Vivian Sampson (11 kills) and Danielle Smith (nine kills). But it was Smith who starred down the stretch for the Dolphins, helping secure the Sophomore Championship behind her stellar offense play on the outside.

“I’m so proud…. every single player on the court clicked with the setter… everyone was going full out and it was great,” Smith said.

Coach Martinez shared that this is actually just the second year in which Smith has played organized volleyball, now dedicating herself to her new favorite sport. She has now joined club teams and played one of her best games of her young career when it mattered most.

“I feel like this game was probably my best game…. something clicked. I was telling the setter, if you need to, set me. I just got more confident and that showed.”

“When I first got her on the freshman team last year, I [said] if you put in the work, you have a lot of potential and a high ceiling,” the Dolphins’ coach said. “She put in the work, she started playing club, and you can see the results tonight. Honestly, I knew she could bring something tonight and she brought everything that she could. Super proud of her.”

While the sophomore season comes to a close as the IHSA Playoffs are only reserved for Varsity, both the Dolphins and Lane Tech have a lot to look forward to as they continue to build their respective volleyball programs with a lot of young and exciting talent.

Jones Secures Girls Varsity Volleyball Title For First Time Since 2017 Over Defending Champions Whitney Young

Jones College Prep has been to the Girls Varsity Girls Volleyball Championship for three years in a row, but the title has evaded them each time.

However, in 2023, the championship plaque is headed back home to Jones for the first time since 2017, as it swept the defending champion Whitney Young Dolphins in two sets.

The Eagles got off to a fast start in first set 1, securing a 13-5 lead early, and finished with a 25-10 win.

And in the second set, while the Eagles were impressive on offense, it was the defense that truly won the day, as they had five separate players record blocks, with two players recording multiple blocks, all resulting in key points for the Eagles.

Jones secured the title wth a 25-14 win in the second set behind impressive play from some familiar veteran faces and a brand new face when it mattered most.

Senior Erin Wheeler finished her final Chicago Public League career with a key kill to get the Eagles to within one point of match point, and secured the game-winning block on defense to capture the championship match point for her team.

“I honestly feel great,” said Wheeler. “This is my only dream for this season. I’m a senior, so this is my last year, and I’ve been here three years in a row and been runner-up. So it just feels good to get it [the title] when we’re right there.”

Junior Simona LaGigliio played a crucial role for the Eagles down the stretch securing seven kills and a block in the win.

“I’m just really proud of everyone, we worked really hard all season,” LaGiglio said. “Just stay focused, don’t let the crowd get to us, just play our game and don’t worry about anything else.”

Jones head coach Howard Hu knew early on in the season, just how key a player like LaGiglio would be if the Eagles were going to make it to the championship game.

“From the beginning of the season, [I said to her], I know you can slam a 10 foot line, I know you can get great kills, but I need you to do the little things… the little things that will inspire your team, the hustle plays, diving, playing defense, no excuses and she truly embodied that this season,” said Hu. “Anytime I asked her to do the little things, she did it, no complaints, no excuses, she just did it.”

While the junior and senior helped lead Jones to the victory, it was freshman Suraya Hadden who proved that she belongs on the varsity level, despite only being in her first year of high school.

Hadden finished the championship match with six kills and two blocks, an impressive statline for a freshman in a varsity championship game.

Hadden views herself as the energizer of the team and her energy was contagious throughout the whole match.

“My big thing is to never get in my head and I love just being positive on the court and being seen, “ said Hadden. “And I just love that my team is seen because my team is so amazing and we deserve it all. We were excited to win it.”

The dynamic of veterans and young talent proved to be the perfect mix for Jones’ championship run. 

“From the jump, we were really connected… we’re all family. That’s such an important part of why we ended up where we ended up,” said Wheeler.

Jones hopes to build off this success as it looks to the future behind a young and exciting core to build around, with many of them now already having playoff and championship experience under their belt.

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