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Lincoln-Way East could again face Sandburg in the Marist Sectional. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

Brother Rice coach Br. Paul Ickes refers to it as a “bloodbath.”

Others from the Southland have called it “brutal” and “insane.”

It’s that time of year again.

The area’s annual volleyball sectional is once again pitting a few of the state’s premier teams in a battle for a single berth to the state quarterfinals. This year, it’s called the Marist Sectional.

“Regardless of how it pans out,” Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said, “we’re going to have to beat some great teams in order to advance.”

No kidding.

East, at 30-1, would be the top seed in any of the state’s eight sectionals. The next three seeds — Brother Rice (24-2), Lincoln-Way North (28-3) and Sandburg (21-8) — could also make viable claims. Instead, they get to beat up on each other.

“Those guys are the powers and some of the best teams in the state,” said Oak Forest coach Lee Rucinski. His Bengals, the top team in the South Suburban Conference, checked in at No. 8.

East, Brother Rice, North and Sandburg have a stranglehold on the sectional, accounting for all eight of its regional titles in the last two years. With seasoned veterans leading their respective rosters, it could be a three-year sweep for the quartet.

East’s Austin Royer, North’s Jake Walenga and Brother Rice’s Mitch Weiler are leading the pack as prospective SouthtownStar Player of the Year candidates. Sandburg junior Paul Chmura, a returning All-Area selection, is a sly hitter that could also make his way into the mix.

If the cards fall in place, East would face Sandburg and Brother Rice would meet North — likely the state’s most compelling sectional semifinal of the year.

“Hopefully we didn’t jinx ourselves with getting the top seed,” Fiore said. “The last few years, the No. 1 team hasn’t made it out.”

Sandburg was the last top seed to advance out of the Southland sectional. The Eagles, under head coach Sean Airola, dropped just one postseason set in 2011 en route to the state title.

Looking beyond the top four

Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way West are strong fifth and sixth seeds, respectively. Richards, Oak Forest, Andrew and Eisenhower round out the top 10.

“I think we were placed properly; we’re happy where we’re at,” Oak Forest’s Rucinski said. “Our guys want to see what we have against the best in the state, and you gotta beat them to win it, so we might as well beat them early.”

Oak Forest’s Jeff Sprayberry, Andrew’s Sanil Thomas and Lincoln-Way West’s Michael Wexter might be the three best players not playing for one of the top four seeds.

Sprayberry and Thomas will go head to head in what should be an exciting first round matchup. Oak Forest is 2-0 against Andrew this season.

Wexter and Lincoln-Way West could face a tough out in No. 11 Marist in another regional semifinal. Senior opposite Jake Moran can rip it with the best of them and the RedHawks have a few marquee wins to their name.

It’s not a bracket for the faint of heart.

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