Schwab: Tri-Cities teams net AAU volleyball crowns

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For now, Fusion South director Mike Bui is loving what he’s seeing on the volleyball court from Grace Loberg and Ally Barrett.

The towering tandem – both taller than 6 feet, and likely still growing – helped propel Fusion South’s 14 Red team to an AAU national championship this week in Orlando, Fla.

Barrett and Loberg are incoming freshmen outside hitters at Geneva High School, meaning at some point, Bui – an assistant coach at St. Charles East – will be on the other side of the net from who he predicts will be “two of the best players to walk out of the Tri-Cities in a very long time.”

“They’re going to be tough to beat down the road,” Bui said. “There’s a lot of talent at that school right now.”

The 14 Red team was one of two teams out of Fusion South in Batavia that were crowned AAU national champions in Florida. The other was Fusion South’s 18 Silver squad, and both teams had a trio of players that were designated All-Americans.

Loberg was named MVP of her division, and was joined by Barrett and incoming St. Francis freshman libero Katie Koehler as All-Americans.

“I can only imagine what they’re going to look like in about a year or two,” Bui said of Loberg and Barrett.

While the 14 Red team was undefeated on the week, Fusion South’s 18 Silver team “peaked at the right time,” Bui said, and avenged a pair of bracket losses to claim its division championship.

Geneva product Hannah Buck and Rosary product Kate Stefanski were two of the team’s three All-American designees.

“We knew they had a chance,” Bui said. “That’s a team that’s loaded with a lot of kids from the Tri-Cities … We knew if they were going to click at the right time, they could play some good volleyball, and they did.”

Fusion South has only been in operation for two years. Club Fusion’s flagship location remains Marengo, but club leaders wanted to launch the Batavia facility to make it more convenient for younger players in the Tri-Cities to give Fusion a shot at an earlier age.

A few of the Tri-Cities’ elite players still compete out of Marengo, including rising St. Charles North senior Taylor Krage, who also won an AAU national title in Orlando this week at the highest level – the open division with Fusion 17 Black.

That team’s title came Tuesday and was streamed online via ESPN3.

“Taylor had to step in as full-time starting right side on that team while Brianna Stewart moved into the middle to fill the role of [an injured middle blocker], and Taylor had an outstanding tournament starting full-time,” said Eric Schulze, Club Fusion’s general manager. “She had been kind of sharing time as they were tuning up and using different lineups going into the tournament, but Taylor ended up playing every set of every match at nationals, and was a key component to their success.”

Krage, a Northern Illinois recruit, and her 17 Black teammates flew straight from rainy Orlando to Dallas, where they will begin play today in the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships. Schulze said “they’re chasing what would basically be a historic, double national championship.”

Bui is gratified that Fusion South already is producing such accomplished teams, and the success has caught the attention of Schulze, who oversees the entire program.

“We were excited but certainly not expecting the numbers that came in these first two years across the board,” Schulze said. “To see our 14 Red team win a club national championship is exactly how we envisioned this working out, to really get these kids started at a young age and get them acclimated to a national level of volleyball. 

“And even the 18 Silver Championship is exactly what we need. That group of kids came from an area that wouldn’t make that kind of drive to Marengo to play in our national level but still had an opportunity to play at a very good level of volleyball and compete at a national level as well. We couldn’t be more thrilled with the job going on down there and the job Mike Bui is doing in that area that he takes so much pride in.”

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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