For Standout Volleyball Setter Brandys, Decision to Attend Sandburg Was Right on Target
Stephanie Brandys chose to play high school volleyball at Sandburg and led the Eagles to the Class AA state title in 1998.
When it came to picking a high school to attend, Stephanie Brandys couldn’t decide between Sandburg and Mother McAuley.
So she figured out a tie-breaker.
“I decided I wanted to wear regular school clothes,” Brandys said with a laugh.
Brandys’ decision to pass on the pleaded plaid skirts in favor of Sandburg couldn’t have worked out much better.
While Mother McAuley remains the state’s premier girls volleyball program with 13 state championships, Brandys got to be part of history. She led Sandburg to its only state crown in 1998.
“It was a tough decision to make,” said the now 30-year-old Brandys, whose family moved from Chicago to Orland Park prior to her freshman year. “I tested (at McAuley), I played club volleyball for 2nd City from when I was 8 until 18 and a lot of the girls were from the South Side.
"I just decided to take a different direction, and I don’t regret my decision at all. Winning the championship just kind of reminded me that it was meant to be, and I did make the right decision.”
Ironically, Sandburg played Mother McAuley four times during its championship run.
The Eagles beat the Mighty Macs early in the season, but then lost to them at the Rich East Tournament and Nike Challenge before meeting again in the Oak Forest Supersectional, where Sandburg pulled out a 14-16, 15-9, 15-2 victory to earn its first state berth since 1981.
“Beating McAuley definitely meant quite a bit,” Brandys said. “I played club (ball) with quite a few girls from McAuley, including my best friend today, Katie Brasher. Mother McAuley is always one of the top teams in the state and the team everyone is gunning for, so for us to accomplish that twice says a lot about our team.”
Brasher and Brandys became friends when they were in eighth grade and were teammates for five years with the 2nd City Volleyball Club.
Brasher helped Mother McAuley win a state championship in 1997 and take second with her sister Aimee in 1996.
“I consider Stephanie to be part of my family, so it’s hard remembering a time when we competed against each other,” Brasher said. “I think Steph made a great decision going to Sandburg. I would have liked her to play at McAuley, but Sandburg was so close to her and it’s a great school.”
That doesn’t mean losing to Brandys and the Eagles was easy her senior season.
“I coached at Marist this year and the girls lost to (state champion) Lyons (Township) to get down state,” Brasher said. “I looked at their faces after the loss and it really hit home. When you are a senior and you are so close, you feel devastated. I was happy for Stephanie, but it seems like another lifetime ago.”
Sandburg's Road to Volleyball Glory
When Sandburg beat previously undefeated Naperville Central 15-10, 14-16, 15-12 for the Class AA title, it was the first state championship for any female team in school history.
The Eagles (38-5) beat Lake Forest (39-1) 15-11, 15-7 in the quarterfinals and Jacksonville 15-10, 15-6 in the semifinals.
“What stands out the most was the togetherness we had,” Brandys said. “Everyone on the team contributed and made what we accomplished possible. We couldn’t have done it without every single player.
“We knew we’d be a force to reckon with because the core group had been playing together for three seasons and just had excellent teamwork. I don’t think we realized until we actually went to state that the championship was within our grasp. I’m proud to say I have a state championship ring. I still have my state championship tape that I throw in every once in a while to remember the good old days. It’s a great memory.”
Brandys, who was a four-year starting setter for the Eagles, set a then-state record with 45 assists in the final.
She earned all-state honors that season and made the AP All-Tournament Team at state, along with teammate Katie Engel.
“Stephanie just had a lot of personality and was a high-energy player,” said Joann Holverson, who coached the Eagles from 1989-2002. “The setter is comparable to being a quarterback in football. She knew how to run an offense and she was part of every play.
"She could read the opponent on the other side of the net and had a good grasp of patterns. She could deliver the ball accurately from any position on the court and knew the different needs of all the hitters. Stephanie was also a phenomenal defensive player.”
Sandburg Volleyball: Was It Meant to Be?
Sandburg’s championship team was led by Brandys, Engel, Erika Lange, Sarah Kustok, Amy McMahon and Megan McDonough, while the rest of the Eagles’ state roster included Kelly Anderson, Annie Raggio, Mary Cassidy, Lindsay DeAdam, Nicole Kwasigroh, Kim Melinauskas, Caryn Pehr, Anne Williams and Jenny Yarmoska.
Brandys and McMahon were the captains.
“It was special,” said Holverson, who also guided the Eagles’ boys program to back-to-back state championships in 1999 and 2000. “We had good chemistry and very competitive girls. It was like a dream team, and they all got along on and off the court. These girls had no fear, and they believed they were the best team in the state.”
While the Eagles were in the locker room at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena waiting for the championship match to begin, Kustok, who is now a Comcast SportsNet reporter, made a surprising discovery that the Eagles viewed as an omen.
“She flipped a chalkboard around and her face looked like all of the blood had drained from it,” Holverson recalls. “Sandburg’s girls basketball team (including Kustok) had gone downstate (to Redbird Arena) the winter before us and all the girls signed the board.
"We didn’t see it until 10 minutes before our match, but there it was, untouched. The girls saw all of their friends’ names on it and it said, ‘Go Eagles.’ At that moment, we thought the stars were aligned with us.”
COMING THURSDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Thursday to find out what former Sandburg volleyball standout Stephanie Brandys is doing nowadays.