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Sandburg girls volleyball eyes 19th straight regional championship

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By Randy Whalen
Correspondent

David Vales said it wasn’t a “win one for the Gipper” moment.

But it was still special for the Sandburg coach.

After a first half of the season spent in mediocrity, the Eagles got going and rolled to their first conference championship in five seasons. They defeated Lincoln-Way East, 25-18, 25-21, on Oct. 19 in Orland Park to capture the SouthWest Suburban Blue.

It is the 12th time Sandburg (22-13, 8-1) has won at least a share of a SWSC championship since the league began play in 2005. All but one of those titles have come under Vales, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in August.

“It was exciting, a good experience for the girls, and I’m proud of them,” Vales said. “They embraced my situation and I appreciate all the support.

“There was no ‘win one for the Gipper’ in my pregame speech, but it’s nice to have my own little part.”

The support has come from others across the volleyball community. On the Eagles’ visit to Homewood-Flossmoor on Oct. 17 (a 25-14, 18-25, 25-18 Sandburg win) the Vikings players wore special jerseys in support of home. Lincoln-Way East presented him with a card before the match that decided the conference title.

And his players were fired up for him after the Eagles defeated the Griffins.

“With everything going on for coach Vales, it was a big deal,” libero Reilly Chausse said. “We had a lot of seniors coming back this year and we all wanted to do something special for him.”

Chausse is one of 11 seniors on the team and one of four — along with setter Kiera Fitzgerald and middle hitters Molly Fox and Elise Sterling —who has played on varsity for three seasons.

“Where he’s at, playing for him adds another level,” Sterling said. “He’s made me into the player that I am.”

Against East (20-15, 6-3), Sterling and senior outside hitter Kate Walsh each finished with eight kills, senior setter Maya Rihani had 14 assists, 10 service points and three aces, and Fitzgerald had 13 assists. Chausse finished with 10 digs and senior defensive specialist Karina May had eight.

Sandburg headed into their own Class 4A regional semifinal Oct. 26 against T.F. South as winners in 13 of its past 17 matches. A victory over the Red Wolves would match them up against either Homewood-Flossmoor or Bloom for the regional title.

The Eagles are the No. 5 seed in the Mother McAuley Sectional. If they extend their streak of 18 straight regional titles, they will likely face the top-seeded Mighty Macs in the sectional semifinals.

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