Emmy Barnhorst took the road well-traveled to her volleyball career.
Well-traveled by her mom, that is.
“I played soccer for 11 years and I did club soccer for four years,” she said. “I started doing club volleyball my 14's year. Giving up soccer was a bummer, but my mom couldn’t take it anymore. I was doing soccer and volleyball and she was driving me to six practices in four days or something like that. It was unbelievable.”
Her mother convinced her to choose between soccer and volleyball.
“On the weekends, I was missing either soccer or volleyball, and she didn’t want me to bail on one team,” Barnhorst added. “At that point, I was kind of soccer-minded, but at the end of my 14's year I knew I was a fit for volleyball. I was 6-feet tall and looked like a dork on the soccer field. I miss it, but I like volleyball a lot better.”
One of the benefits of volleyball?
“Practices don’t get cancelled because of the weather, which is nice,” Barnhorst said.
Wheaton North and some fortunate high-profile Division I college are grateful that Barnhorst, now 6-foot-2, made the choice to focus on volleyball. Thanks to her skills and leadership on and off the court, the Falcons are 15-6 after upsetting illprepvb.com’s No. 4-ranked Benet on Thursday.
“Emmy's a little bit of a late bloomer and she’s just coming into her own,” Wheaton North coach Carol Kristensen said. “She was a middle last year, but one of the reasons we switched her to the outside was so that she could be on the court more. She’s able to place the ball, she sees the court well, she’s a great server and she’s doing a lot better passing.”
Wheaton North is also benefitting from her work ethic and the leadership she brings to the court, at practice, in the classroom and just around school in general.
“She's a great kid,” Kristensen said. “I know that's very trite, but she's one of those kids who anybody can go to. She's easy to talk to, she's a very smart girl, she flourishes in the classroom, and she’s always encouraging, from the player who doesn't play all the time to the player who is right up there with her.”
Barnhorst was not an instant volleyball sensation despite her size, however.
“I started later than most kids,” she said. “I started my 14's year. Everyone else started as 11's or 12's. I was definitely behind.”
As a 14-year-old, Barnhorst started on the fourth team at Sports Performance. She then moved up to the second team as a 16-year-old (although she played most of the season with 16 Elite) before finally breaking camp last year with Sports Performance’s historically dominant 18 Elite squad.
With Barnhorst roaming the middle, Mizuno 18 Elite overcame injuries and defections to place second at the AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships in Orlando, Fla., last June.
“Last year was really good,” she said. “We had a lot of ups and downs. We made a lot of switches. One girl had to leave because her father passed away. Our lineup changed a lot. But we held it strong until nationals. We made it to the championship game before losing to Munciana (Ind.). “
Munciana Samurai dealt Mizuno 18 Elite a heartbreaking 29-27, 22-25, 15-10 defeat. But the experience gave Barnhorst the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of competition on a national stage.
“Getting second is pretty cool,” she added. “We got to wear special jerseys, (Sports Performance director Rick Butler) lets us wear special jerseys if we get to the championship game. Just putting that on, the feeling was unbelievable. But losing that match was the worst thing in the world. I hated that. Working all year for something then falling like a foot short.”
Next year, she hopes to lead her college team (she is expected to make a decision in the very near future) onto the big stage.
“I want to help my team win a conference championship and get into the NCAA tournament,” she said. “That’s my dream.”
But Barnhorst, who plans to major in business, has set other goals for her college career in addition to volleyball.
“I want to find the right fit academically and athletically,” she said. “I want be able to call myself a ‘student-athlete.’ I don't want to be just an athlete in college.”
The big question Saturday was how former No. 1-ranked Marist would respond following its disappointing loss Tuesday at Mother McAuley.
Marist’s 5-foot-10 outside hitter Maggie Meyer provided the answer.
“We spend a lot of time just being very disciplined in everything we do,” she said. “Staying focused, making sure we're one unit, focusing on ourselves rather than who's across the net from us, and just trying to improve ourselves.”
There was little need for improvement in Meyer’s game Saturday. The senior had a team-high 12 kills to lead Marist (15-1) to a 25-22, 20-25, 25-23 victory over Benet in the championship game of the 11th annual Wheaton Classic.
Savannah Thompson’s kill ended the marathon match, but it was Meyer who guided Marist to its second tournament title in two tries.
“Benet's got a great defense,” she said. “It’s definitely hard to score against them. My passers and setter did a great job of opening up the court for me so I could see the court and get some openings. That's all to my teammates.”
Marist trailed throughout much of the first two sets, falling behind 9-5, 13-9 and 19-15 in the first and 19-13 in the second. But the RedHawks rallied in Game 1 and finished on a 10-3 run capped by a Grace Green ace and a Benet hitting error.
“We just toughed out some points, which is really good,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “It's hard to simulate those situations in practice, which is why these tournaments are great for us.”
But nothing feels better than beating a bitter East Suburban Catholic Conference rival.
“We know there's always a little bit added to the game whenever these two schools play each other,” Vidovic said. “That's really built up over the last couple years, which makes it really fun. You really wouldn’t expect anything less.
“It doesn’t matter who’s got who, when we play each other it can be really, really tough,” he added. “It goes back and forth and you have to gut out some points and that’s what we did. Both sides are really strong on defense and both teams made each other sweat a little bit. We carried our momentum a little bit through in that third game.”
Vidovic said that he was glad to see some of the things he talked to his team about following the loss at McAuley translate onto the court Saturday.
“Probably the best part of this match is that we knew we were going to be right back up against it,” he said. “(McAuley and Benet) are similar style teams. We talked about things for two days, and in those situations we had to be better and mentally we had to be a little bit more even keel. We saw that first hand today in the points.
“Not just talking about it, not just saying we had to do better but actually seeing us score points that we didn’t score that night by changing our mental state a little bit, being a little bit more prepared that we needed to be defensively,” Vidovic added. “So it was good to see that right away. It was a good bounce back for us.”
Benet, meanwhile, is trying to plug a hole in the middle of its lineup (5-9 junior Anna Paoni, the only middle listed on the roster, has missed all of the season with an injury) with a sophomore outside hitter and a junior outside hitter playing just her fifth match in the middle Saturday. Marist exploited Benet’s inexperience in the middle.
“It’s the little things they’re not used to seeing,” said Benet coach Brad Baker, whose team coasted past Wheaton North (25-9, 25-19) and Sandburg (25-16, 25-13) to reach the title game. “You can't really blame them because they're so new. It's a brand new position for them.
“(5-10 junior) Caitlin McKee never played middle in her life,” he added. “There's a huge learning curve. She feels bad about it, but she shouldn't. There's a learning curve and she’ll get better, which is good. If we shut some of that down this is a different match.”
Marist got 41 assists from Molly Murrihy, 8 kills and 3 blocks from Katie Hogan, 8 kills from Camryn Hannah and 23 digs from Green.
Alli Van Eekeren had 36 assists, Hattie Monson had 18 digs, Lilly Johnson had 13 kills and Claire Byrne added 11 kills for Benet (14-1).
“It’s frustrating that we lost,” Johnson said. “It’s bittersweet. We’re going to come back fighting. I know we are. We’ll work hard in the gym. We’re going to sleep. We’re going to eat right. We’re going to do everything we can so the next time we can get them.”
Johnson is a four-year varsity veteran who has watch Benet drop its last three matches against its conference counterpart.
“Losing to Marist really gets to me,” she said. “I fired everybody up for the second game and I guess I didn’t get them up for the third game. I take that on myself.”
As she stood among the hundreds of fans that flooded the floor following Mother McAuley's victory over Marist, Mighty Mac senior Charley Niego was asked to reflect on the moment.
"Marist and McAuley, it's just a fun match," said Niego, who was the 2017 Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois for volleyball. "It's amazing to play in this atmosphere. It's really good preparation (for the state tournament) and we had so much fun.
"Mentally we were just a little stronger. We didn't let anything get in our heads."
After being held down a bit in the opener, Niego was strong in the second set as she helped lead the Mighty Macs to a 25-20, 25-17 victory over Marist in a tussle of top teams Tuesday at McAuley.
Mother McAuley (9-1) continued its mastery over the RedHawks (9-1). Niego is now 5-0 in her three-year varsity career against Marist.
"Charlie wasn't on her stride in the first set," McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. "Sometimes I worry she thinks that she has to do too much. But she found it in the second set."
Niegro is certainly the leader, but DeJarld was especially happy that her younger players came up big in the huge match.
"We had four sophomores out there on the floor, and I'm especially proud of them," DeJarld said. "We're asking them to do a lot and they handle it with such grace and poise. That has surprised me. This is the best match we've played all year."
Sophomores Amia Owolabi (5 kills, block), Alena Pedroza (5 kills), Niego's younger sister Grace Niego (7 digs) as well as Lexi Warfield (7 digs) all contributed. So did junior Nancy Kane (23 assists, 9 digs, kill) and senior Casey Macander (18 digs).
"We couldn't do it without the crowd," Grace Niego said of the standing room only throng. "They helped push us through."
Mother McAuley led nearly the whole way. The RedHawks scored first and the teams exchanged points until their last lead at 3-2. But the Mighty Macs started pulling away to a 15-11 lead.
Marist fought back to tie it at 18-18 on an ace by senior Molly Murrihy (22 assists) and then 19-19 on a kill by sophomore Camryn Hannah. But Charley Niego responded with a kill to give McAuley the lead for good.
With the Mighty Macs ahead 21-20, Marist committed a double hit. That put McAuley back on serve and Charley Niego served out the set, including an ace for the 24th point. On the other side, the RedHawks committed five of their seven service errors in the opening set.
"We practice serving to those seams every day," Charley Niego said. "We knew after winning the first set we had to play our game and not let up."
In the second set, Charley Niego had 6 of her kills, including one to open it as the Mighty Macs led the whole way. Ahead 9-8, Mother McAuley went on 6-0 run to take control. Charley Niego had a pair of kills in the spurt, including one that happened after a ball struck her sister’s face, but was dug back up to continue the volley. Warfield also added an ace in the run.
The lead grew to 21-12 on a kill by Owolabi. Marist came back with a 4-0 burst, capped by an ace from Hannah, but couldn't get closer than the 5-point deficit. The Mighty Macs scored the final 3 points of the match, including a kill by Pedroza to end it.
Maggie Meyer led Marist with a match-high 10 kills and added 12 digs. Fellow senior Grace Green (13 digs) also contributed for the RedHawks.
"We've known each other basically since we've come out of the womb," Meyer said of Niego. "We've competed against each other for years. It's always great to play against her. She's a tremendous player."
The two teams could meet again at the ASICS Challenge on September 29-30 at McAuley. And, although the sectional assignments aren't going to be released until later this week, the two teams will once again likely be in the same sectional.
-- contributed by Randy Whalen
You cannot argue with Lilly Johnson’s logic.
When the 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter for No. 4-ranked Benet was asked why she chose Bradley University in downstate Peoria as her college destination, Johnson simply said, “No hurricanes.”
Johnson had the anemometer working overtime Wednesday, whistling 10 kills past St. Charles defenders to lead Benet to a 25-14, 25-20 victory in a matchup between two of the top five teams in the illprepvb.com rankings.
Confidence played a big part in the contest, Johnson said, particularly in the first set when the Redwings breezed to a 14-6 lead.
“Our team really had that confidence once we started beating them by a lot,” she said. “Being in system all the time and really focused, I think that really helps. We were getting perfect passes for perfect sets and I was able to put the ball down.”
Johnson has been on varsity for four years and served as understudy to a litany of outstanding outside hitters. She tries to emulate much of what she saw and learned from her predecessors.
“During practice, I think about the girls who came before me,” Johnson said. “They would hit this shot, they would do this. So I try to use that for me.”
“Since freshman year, all the seniors had that fighting mentality,” she added. “Last year, I had it, but not as much as I have it this year. I just always want to win. I hate losing. I despise it. So I want to be the best I can every match.”
Benet coach Brad Baker said that Johnson’s impact goes beyond measurable statistics.
“It’s more than just volleyball,” he said. “We want our seniors to take on leadership roles whether they’re playing or whether they’re not on the court. We hope our seniors are not only our best players and scoring points for us, but also our leaders.
“We talk about what we have done well in the past and what we can improve upon every year,” Baker added. “Lilly's been around the longest, so we asked her what has she seen that we can incorporate throughout everything for this year so we can be great.”
Whatever suggestions Johnson made seemed to have worked. Benet improved to 8-0 with the win and will be favored to meet No. 1-ranked Marist in the finals of the Wheaton Classic next weekend.
Lending support Wednesday were Claire Byrne with 8 kills and an ace, freshman Rachel Muisenga with 4 kills, a block and an ace as part of a long service run in the second game after Benet fell behind 13-8, and 18 assists and 5 kills from junior Allison Van Eekeren.
Benet also got stellar play from its backcourt anchored by sensational sophomore libero Hattie Monson, who follows a long line of Division I defensive whizzes produced by the Lisle school. Van Eekeren rarely wandered beyond the 10-foot line to set up her outside hitters.
“Last year, Lauren Barnes groomed me into who I am today,” said Monson, who is committed to Notre Dame and was named to the 2017 Ultra Ankle JVA All-National Team this summer. “I try not to think about it too much, I just go out there relaxed and play my game.
“I just love passing ,” she added. “Serve receive is awesome. I love diving for balls. I've always loved that. I also like being a leader in the backcourt. Since I'm the libero, I get to guide everyone and be that leader in the backcourt.”
St. Charles East (9-1), coming off wins over St. Francis on Saturday and Glenbard East on Tuesday, got 7 kills and 6 assists from Mckenna Slavik, 4 kills, 5 digs and 3 assists from Kyra Slavik and 7 digs from Anna Skryd.
“They (her players) were completely nervous in the first game,” coach Jennie Kull said. “I'm not saying anything negative against anybody that we’ve played. But this was the first match that we've seen multiple hitters, seen aggressive serving, seen all the things we've been telling them about, and they froze.
“I was pleased with the second game,” she added. “We started to get it together. We made some adjustments and every single kid played. It’s going to take us a while. We have a lot of work to do. But isn’t that what the whole season is about? Getting better?
“We have a lot of players who can do a lot of things. We just have to get them confident to do that.”
One might think 6-foot-2 sophomore outside hitter Anna Calcagno would feel more pressure this year as the No. 1 offensive option for the storied St. Francis volleyball program.
But you’d be wrong.
“I feel like last year I was under a lot of pressure,” Calcagno said. “I was a freshman coming in, there were four state titles before me and that was a lot. I didn't play a lot, but it was a lot of pressure. This year, it's a younger team and I feel more comfortable with the girls.”
St. Francis’ kill leader did not get many opportunities to show her stuff Tuesday against visiting Marist. But the young hitter still led the Spartans with 5 kills in a 25-19, 25-21 loss to illprepvb.com's No. 1-ranked team.
“Marist is a great serving team,” St. Francis coach Lisa Ston said. “They serve aggressively on every ball and we struggled on serve receive. When your setter is setting from the 10-foot line 70 percent of the game, you can't run your offense very well.
“But when our setters could set who they wanted to, she (Calcagno) did not back down,” the coach added. “She was definitely our kill leader tonight She went after that big block and scored a lot of points for us.”
Calcagno was named MVP of the 15 Premier division at the AAU Junior Nationals in Orlando, Fla., last summer after leading her Club Fusion 15 Red team to a national title. She said that experience gave her a lot of confidence coming into the high school season.
“Last year and this year a lot of my game has changed mentally,” Calcagno said. “I've become a more confident player. I've become more aggressive. I've seen a lot more higher level play in club and brought it to the table this season.”
Of course, being 6-2 helps.
“I was a 15-year-old, 6-1, 6-2, and a lot of the girls were not as tall I was,” she said. “I was always one of the better players. Blockers were not as tall as I was and I was able hit over them. I came into the high school season knowing I can do this and I'm going to do this.”
Marist (8-0) certainly knew who it had to control to keep its perfect record intact.
“We were ready for (Calcagno) and their other big hitters,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “In that sense, we executed some things pretty well.
“Both teams were trying to take each other out of their rhythm, which I think both teams did,” the coach added. “I don't think either of us were in rhythm as much as we would like to be. In one sense, that’s something we have to clean up.
“But in another sense, you’re happy that you were still able to make it work and still find ways to score points. We feel like we can rely on different things to win and today it was more of our defense, more of our making some plays. Our fast-paced offense wasn't quite there today.”
Savannah Thompson led Marist with 10 kills and 14 digs, Molly Murrihy added 15 assists, 5 blocks and 3 kills, sophomore Camryn Hannah contributed 6 kills and 3 blocks and libero Grace Green had 15 digs.
Madison Wilkens had 7 assists and 3 blocks and junior Skylar Lukowych added 4 kills for St. Francis (5-2).
“We’re a young team,” Calcagno said. “We’ll see what we did wrong. We had a lot of unforced errors. We dug a little bit of a hole at the end that kind of messed with us a little bit. We had to keep climbing up.
“A lot of the girls are new to the varsity,” she added. “But it's the level of the play that matters and I think we’re doing really well with that.”
Top-seeded Crystal Lake Central never panicked trailing 15-10 in the first set and 23-20 in the second against unheralded Batavia in the championship match of the Jacobs invitational Saturday in Algonquin.
“We didn't underestimate them coming in,” said Crystal Lake Central’s 6-foot setter Megan Kelly, who had 9 assists, 8 kills and 3 blocks in the title match. “When we were down in the first, and again in the second set, we were never scared. We were never too nervous.”
Maybe Kelly’s courage was buoyed by the presence of hitters like her twin sister Emily, who contributed 5 kills and 3 blocks, and 6-foot sophomore outside hitter Madde Blake, who added 7 kills and 3 blocks.
But it was Megan Kelly who put the exclamation point on the championship with a rocket putaway of an overpass at 25-24.
“That’s my favorite ball,” Kelly said. “They're the most fun.”
The win was the eighth in a row for Crystal Lake Central (8-1), which lost its opener to Fox Valley Conference rival Huntley.
“We only had a week of practice before that game,” Megan Kelly said. “Since then, we've been able to come together as a team more. The first match (against Huntley) we were nervous because of last year. But we just really like playing together. We have a lot of fun.”
And what about playing with your twin?
“I’ve been playing with her my whole life,” Megan Kelly said. “Sometimes we’re out there yelling at each other. But I’m the setter and she’s a hitter and we always know where we need the ball to be. We just know each other.”
Nobody knew what to expect from Batavia (8-4), a latecomer to the field after Hersey dropped out. But the Bulldogs made their presence felt by dispatching Jacobs, Marian Central Catholic and Rockford Boylan in pool play and Waukesha Catholic Memorial in the semifinals.
“This shows us that we have a lot of potential,” said 5-foot-6 junior outside hitter Sam Juarez. “We only have four returners from last year, so we have a brand-new team. It just goes to show so early in the season how well we’re doing.”
Juarez led Batavia in the championship match with 9 kills and 8 digs and added an ace that gave the Bulldogs a 22-19 lead in the second set.
“We’re not particularly big,” Juarez said. “A lot of teams underestimate us because of that. But we’re really smart. We put the ball in the right places. And we are scrappy. We pick up a lot on defense. That really helps us in the long run.”
Ultimately, however, Batavia was done in by Crystal Lake Central’s refusal to lose its cool when the Tigers fell behind in each set.
“I really liked our composure today,” Crystal Lake Central coach Lisa Brunstrum said. “When we were down 5 or 6 points in the first set, I took and timeout and we talked about some changes we needed to make. Our setters really took those changes to heart.
“They ran some different plays to get the momentum going on our side and we were able to push ahead from there. And Blake and Kendall Lownds in the back row really stepped up big time to make sure they were doing everything they could to help the setters out.”
Batavia also got 18 assists and 2 aces from all-tournament selection Jenna Garrett and 8 digs from freshman Cordelia Smith. Olivia Doak added 14 assists and Camryn Huster had 5 kills for Crystal Lake Central.
Marian Central Catholic (5-3), playing without leading hitter Issy Nick who was attending her brother’s wedding, defeated Waukesha Catholic Memorial 19-25, 31-29, 25-18 to finish third.
“We don’t have any experience of playing with each other so we’re still trying to figure each other out on the court,” Marian Central coach Patty Brummond said. “I’m super proud that we had such a great tournament and was very happy to be in this bracket.”
Five-foot-8 outside hitter Mae Novakoski stepped up to fill nick’s shows, Brummond said.
“She had an amazing day,” the coach said. “It was great to see her and our setter, Kate Messino, our two veterans, bring everybody together. They showed their leadership out there today.”