Bendell sets up title for SandburgSandburg's Jason Fox spikes the ball past Marist's Jim Mead.
Sandburg's Nick Bendell admits he gets nervous before games. Maybe that's because he has one of the toughest jobs in high school sports making his teammates look good.
Saturday at the Tiger Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South, Bendell did more than just make his teammates look good. He made them look like champions.
Bendell, a 5-foot-10 sophomore setter, had 30 assists and two kills to lead Sandburg to a 25-20, 22-25, 25-17 victory over previously unbeaten Marist and the title of the prestigious 24-team tournament.
No. 2 Sandburg (8-2) used a 17-5 run in Game 3 to pull away from Marist, which closed Game 2 on an 8-1 run to force the tiebreaker.
If Bendell was nervous, he did not show it.
"The seniors on the team really help me," he said. "We work hard together in practice. I have a good relationship with them."
Bendell, who is filling in for the injured Scott Fifer (torn meniscus), used all of his hitters against Marist. But it was his own tip kill early in the third game that sparked the Eagles on their long run.
"Nick did a great job this weekend," Sandburg coach Sean Airola said. "It's tough rolling with a sophomore setter. But the guys are adjusting."
Marist (10-1) made some adjustments of its own trailing 21-17 in Game 2, namely turning to 6-foot-5 senior Jim Mead. After a Sandburg service error and a kill by John Yerkes got Marist within 21-19, Mead had three consecutive blocks to help the RedHawks grab the lead for good.
But Mead was a non-factor in Game 3 as Sandburg picked up the tempo from the service line and limited the RedHawks' middle blocker to just two kills.
"We fought hard and showed flashes," Marist coach Bob St. Leger said. "But they had two servers who hurt us. We couldn't handle their two jump-servers. But we'll get back at it and get better."
Mead finished with 11 kills and four blocks, and Kevin Morrison and Yerkes each had seven kills for Marist. Garrett Dempsey added 25 assists. Andrew Muys had nine kills, Jason Fox added seven kills and Kevin Groeper had six kills and two aces for Sandburg.
Meanwhile, Bendell knows he is playing on borrowed time.
"I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunity," Bendell said. "I'm trying to hold it together until Scott gets back."
Lincoln-Way East (9-2), which beat Glenbrook North (7-3) 25-17, 17-25, 25-22 in the quarterfinals before losing to Marist 25-19, 27-25 in the semifinals, defeated New Trier (5-2) 25-20, 25-23 for third place.
"Marist is very good," Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said. "You can't give them a lot of opportunities. Mead dominated Game 2 (6 kills, 3 blocks). He is a blocking machine. We did not have answer for him. He's a monster."
Preseason No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (9-2), which lost to Lincoln-Way East in pool play Thursday, won the Silver Bracket 20-25, 29-27, 25-21 over Lake Park (9-2) behind 12 kills from Eric Luhrsen and eight kills and five blocks from 6-6 junior Thomas Jaeschke.
"We needed to salvage the weekend," said WW South coach Bill Schreier, whose team will be back at full strength when 6-6 sophomore Michal Stefanski returns from spring break. "I'm excited about the regular season. We're putting the band back together."