Alexis Viliunas, the heart of the Lyons11/05/2011 Darien Lyons Township senior Alexis Viliunas (22) setts the ball during the super sectional volleyball game against Marist at Hinsdale South on Saturday, November 5, 2011. Marist defeated Lyons Township in 3 matches and will move on to state. | michael jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 9, 2011 6:31PM
Lyons could have fallen out of the spotlight this fall after graduating 10 seniors from its 2010 state championship team, including 6-foot-3 Illinois recruit Jocelyn Birks.
But Alexis Viliunas was not going to allow that to happen.
Viliunas guided the young Lions to within two points of a third straight state semifinal appearance. After finishing the regular season with 272 kills, 551 assists, 43 aces and 278 digs, the 6-1 senior had 13 kills and 18 assists in a 25-22, 21-25, 25-23 loss to Marist in the Class 4A supersectional at Hinsdale South.
For her efforts, Viliunas has been named the 2011 Sun-Times Player of the Year.
“Alexis led not only with her skill, but also her poise and confidence,” Lyons coach Joann Pyritz said. “She is knowledgeable about the game, but more importantly, brings out the best in her teammates. She is a skilled player, but she is most concerned with the performance of her team and has never been concerned with her own accolades.”
Viliunas was a four-year starting setter at Lyons including an injury-plagued junior campaign that still produced a state championship. Yet the 2011 campaign may go down as her favorite despite the loss to Marist.
“I enjoyed running a 5-1 as a senior, taking control, because I’ve never really been able to do that except my freshman year,” she said. “But that’s when I was afraid of all the older girls, so I let everyone else be the leaders. This year, I was able to step up to get the team as far as I could. I didn’t want to end on a bad loss.”
That Lyons was in the state title picture at all was testament to the leadership and skill of Viliunas and classmates Meghan Miller and Laura Williams.
“To be honest, I did not expect to be there just because we lost 10 seniors,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. But as the season went on, I realized a lot of the younger girls were stepping up, filling bigger shoes that they needed to.”
But none of Lyons‘ accomplishments, including a third straight sectional title and a 31-9 record in 2010, would have been possible without Viliunas.
“Alexis’ influence on the team’s performance and on their will to win was tremendous,” Pyritz said. “I will miss her leadership as well as her fun personality on the floor.”
Lyons’ loss, however, is Illinois’ gain.