Hinsdale Central, South, OPRF liberos will have a say at Wheaton Classic
Hinsdale Central's Rachael Lenderman bumps the ball against Moline during the 30th annual Benet Invitational at Benet Academy. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:54PM
WHEATON — After a slow start to the season, Hinsdale Central will try to rebound at this week’s Wheaton Classic. That might be harder than imagined against some of the Chicago area’s toughest teams.
The annual 24-team tournament at Wheaton Warrenville South, which ends Saturday, features three teams ranked in the Chicago Sun-Times Top 10, including No. 1 Marist, defending Class 4A state champion Benet and undefeated Sandburg.
The Red Devils lost all five of their matches in the season-opening Benet Invitational Aug. 24-25, where senior libero Rachael Lenderman was Hinsdale Central’s top player. The Wheaton Classic should be even a tougher task, scheduled to begin with pool play Wednesday at Wheaton North.
The Devils (2-6) enter the pool with fifth-seeded Libertyville and Wheaton North.
“We’ve been in the gym training really hard,” Lenderman said. “Obviously, we want to do good. We’ve known there will be a lot of good teams there.”
Liberos don’t get a lot of publicity when it comes to a team’s success, but completing the first pass is a big factor in determining winning or losing. Lenderman is one of three talented liberos from five West Suburban Conference teams at the Wheaton Classic.
Hinsdale Central, Hinsdale South and Oak Park-River Forest join conference foes Downers Grove North and South in the tournament.
Senior Emily Mihalkanin led Hinsdale South (7-2) to a No. 4 seed at the Wheaton Classic. The Hornets are off to an even better start than last season when they earned a No. 2 preseason ranking by the Sun-Times. Hinsdale South finished second in last year’s Wheaton Classic after losing to Benet 25-16, 25-22, falling to 10-5.
“She is a terrific kid with nerves of steel and should be awesome by the end of the season,” Hinsdale South coach Lisa Martinez said of Mihalkanin.
Hinsdale South opens pool play against Prairie Ridge and Downers North.
“I think last year’s (Wheaton Classic) helped us,” Mihalkanin said. “Two years ago when we played, we were the underdogs. Last year, we were ranked second. This year is a wake-up call. We’re back to playing as underdogs.”
The Hornets’ last loss was 25-21, 25-22 at Joliet Catholic Aug. 28. Hinsdale South defeated Marist 24-26, 25-22, 25-21 to open the season and could meet the RedHawks again in the Wheaton Classic semifinals.
“I definitely feel like with Marist that we can show what we can do,” Mihalkanin said. “We did not play our best in that first game (against Marist) too.”
One of the Wheaton Classic’s surprise teams could be OPRF (8-3), which was to host West Suburban Silver favorite Glenbard West at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Huskies were to return to action Wednesday and play in the same pool with Marist and Waubonsie Valley at Wheaton North.
OPRF opened the conference Sept. 4 by knocking off 2010 state champion Lyons 25-19, 26-24 for the first time in 16 years behind the blocking of middle hitters Kiley Nelson and Symone Speech.
“We are playing solid. We are playing very well together,” OPRF senior libero Ellie Herner said. “Our blocking has been phenomenal lately.”