Baranek: Ready? Set? Erika Lange, Lockport girls volleyball win from get-go
Tony Baranek email@example.com | (708) 633-5947 August 2, 2012 10:14PM
Erika Lange is the new girls volleyball coach at Lockport. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
At both Sandburg High School and Northwestern University, Erika Lange carved out a legacy as a volleyball player. At Sandburg, she set school records for career solo blocks (284), and single-season (362) and career (901) kills. As a junior middle blocker, she helped Sandburg to the 1998 Class AA state title. Lange went on to be a record-setter at Northwestern in both blocking and hitting, and became the school’s first AVCA All-Mideast Region selection.
Updated: September 4, 2012 6:11AM
New head coach Erika Lange is predicting a much brighter future for Lockport girls volleyball.
In fact, she was ready to guarantee it the first day of summer camp.
“They redid the lights (in the gym) before camp,” Lange said. “When I walked in I had a moment where I thought, ‘Wow, this just looks awesome.’ ”
There also will be a shiny, new floor in the Central gym when the Porters open their home season Aug. 30 against Stagg.
Julia Hudson, who?
OK, so it’s also a guarantee that one of the Southland’s most successful and popular coaches won’t be forgotten any time soon. An inscribed boulder that sits in front of the Wellness Center over at the East campus always will be a visual tribute to Hudson’s legacy. The numbers — 857 victories, 23 regional and 11 sectional titles and one state championship — are only an IHSA.org click away.
Hudson herself has retired as a teacher and now is living in her native Indiana, where she’s the new coach at Evansville North High School.
Lange, Hudson’s protege for the past six years, is flying on her own. And she’s doing fine, thank you.
The Porters, led by standout hitter Aubrey Ficek, won the Palos Courts Girls Volleyball Summer League title July 26, defeating Lincoln-Way East in the championship match in three games.
“I’ve never really placed a whole lot of emphasis on summer league,” said Lange, who was a star hitter in her own right at Sandburg in the late 1990s and after that at Northwestern. “But I think it is representative of how tough our conference is going to be this year.
“The final four teams were Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way Central, Sandburg and us. We kind of built up to it all summer long, and by that last week we were starting to click. I was pleasantly surprised at the heart and fight they showed in a summer match.”
The Porters had a great summer overall, going 12-1. Beyond the winning, Lange put her first real mark on the program as its leader.
“It’s going really well,” Lange said. “Hudson and I met a lot during the school year because she was my department chair as well. She gave me basically everything I’d ever need to keep the program running smoothly.
“Given the magnitude of her program, this is definitely not comparable to anything I’ve ever done. She obviously built up a long tradition here. It was overwhelming at first, but once I started to make it my own and got in the gym with the girls I started to feel comfortable in this role. Actually, I love it.”
You just can’t get much newer than Lockport volleyball is this season. Every coach in the program is in a different role.
Lange moved up from her role as sophomore head coach. Her assistant (April Keim) is moving up from freshman “A.” Her sophomore coach (Lindsey Penwitt) is moving up from freshman “B.” Jennifer Splant and Jill Albright also are new on the freshman level.
“Really, the biggest challenge for me right now is making sure everybody knows their roles, what’s expected, what we’re all about,” Lange said. “It’s brand new for everyone.
“I haven’t had any of those moments yet where I’ll have to say, ‘No. Listen. This is what I want. This is what I need.’ But we all have a very good respect for each other, so I don’t anticipate it’s anything I’ll stress over.”
Make certain of this, though: she isn’t Julia Hudson.
Hudson was a very intense, very demanding individual who wore her heart on her sleeve.
“She was very coach-driven,” Lange said. “She had an intense way of getting out of you what she wanted to get out of you and what she knows you’re capable of.”
Lange? Well, let’s put it this way. When she played at Sandburg, her father, Rich, was very noticeable while cheering for his daughter. Erika was not exactly a chip off the old block.
“Yeah, I was more of a quiet leader,” Lange said, laughing. “I’m not saying I lack intensity, but Hudson had a more straight-on way of being a motivator. I’ll have a more subtle way of bringing it out of the players.”
Just remember, Porters fans, it doesn’t mean she isn’t digging.
“I think enough people in this volleyball community know me well enough to know to that I’ve earned it,” Lange said. “I don’t think there will be anything negative for people to say. I’m ready for this.”