Halfway through the first set of the Lyons Township High School boys volleyball team’s state quarterfinal match Friday, senior setter Elijah Medlock withstood a direct spike to his face courtesy of Sandburg 6-foot-11 senior outside hitter Jake Hanes, an Ohio State recruit.
“That was pretty fun,” Medlock said.
Medlock’s enthusiasm typified the attitude of the Lions this season.
LTHS (30-9) lost to Sandburg 25-16, 25-23 at Hoffman Estates High School but made great strides in reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2005.
“We were going into (the match) with a lot of energy. We fought back a little, did get some momentum back,” Medlock said.
“We still had a great season. We had a lot of fun. We found a lot of success throughout the years playing some very intense matches that people didn’t necessarily think we’d be at and we came out on top several times.”
Medlock had 12 assists with five kills from junior Drew Callahan and four each by junior Matt Slivinski and sophomore Sean Ryan. Senior Sam Bugaieski had five digs.
The Lions led the second set 10-7 and for the last time at 18-17. Bugaieski served the Lions into a 23-23 tie, but Hanes responded with a sideout kill and then served an ace to end the match.
The Eagles (38-4) finished third Saturday.
“We do like our chances when we get down to five points tied. But in the end Sandburg played well, played hard,” LTHS coach Joann Pyritz said. “I felt like this team was consistent to begin with and became more consistent as the season wore on. I feel (our team) was playing its best at the end.”
The Lions achieved the next step after losing to Hinsdale Central in the 2015 sectional final in a 25-23 third set. In their rematch at the St. Ignatius Sectional final May 31, the Lions beat the Red Devils 34-32, 25-17.
“I definitely thought about (2015) a lot during the sectional finals. We wanted it so much more because we knew it was so close,” Medlock said. “Ultimately we found our success and that was largely because of last season.”
Even with their typically difficult schedule, the Lions won 30 matches for the second time over the past eight seasons. Four losses were in three sets, including to Sandburg 22-25, 25-13, 16-14 April 30.
Most Valuable Player Bugaieski and team captain Medlock were all-conference. Bugaieski led LT with 441 digs and Medlock had bests of 621 assists and 62 service aces. Along with Mike Catrambone, Matt Miller, Nick Cooper and Connor Hankins, all six seniors earned all-conference academic honors.
Slivinski (255 kills, 43 blocks) and Ryan (206 kills, 53 blocks) were 1-2 for LT in kills and blocks. Also playing Friday were juniors Caleb Moskowitz and Adam Zimmerman and Ryan Barker, another sophomore starter.
Many seniors spent years together dating back to club volleyball before high school.
Medlock will continue playing at Benedictine University. Bugaieski is headed for Michigan.
“We were able to find success by focusing on our strengths and what we could do to beat teams,” Bugaieski said. “I was very driven (this season). It was my last shot. I’m very happy to have gotten top eight in state. It’s a very meaningful and great experience.”