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Baranek: St. Xavier volleyball coach ‘battles’ to keep locals

Desiree Aramburu St. Xavier volleyball. | Supplied photo

Desiree Aramburu, St. Xavier volleyball. | Supplied photo

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“For me, the battle is getting the local kids to stay and believe it’s OK because we’ve got a good program and believe it’s OK to be close to home because you can still live in the dorm and not go home.”

Bob Heersema,
St. Xavier women’s
volleyball coach

Updated: October 15, 2012 9:29AM



Just in case you didn’t know it, they play more than football at St. Xavier. These days, in fact, they’re playing women’s volleyball pretty darned well.

In 2010 the Lady Cougars were 23-14, won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the NAIA Tournament. They followed with a stellar 30-5 campaign in 2011.

This year they got off to a 9-1 start, the best in coach Bob Heersema’s 26-year career, before losing on the road Wednesday to unbeaten St. Ambrose.

One might say what’s the big deal? SXU sits next door to one of the most storied high school volleyball programs in the nation in Mother McAuley and down the street from Marist, one of the most successful programs in the state over the past 10 years.

It should be a recruiting gold mine. Even if Heersema can’t get the Division I plums from the starting lineups, most of the talent on the benches is as good, if not better, than many starters at other schools.

But a glance at this season’s roster shows just two former McAuley players (Desiree and Dominique Aramburu), and both of them started their college careers at other schools. Before that, the previous McAuley player to suit up for St. Xavier was Kim Prohaska, who helped the Cougars get to the 1999 NAIA championships.

As strange as it might seem, a Marist graduate never has played women’s volleyball at St. Xavier.

I talked with Marist coach Natalie Holder about that, and she pretty much said that SXU’s location, while on the surface would seem ideal, is anything but. Her kids want to travel.

“This is my battle,” Heersema said. “I’ve been here for a long time. I coached club ball in the area for a long time. But it’s very hard for somebody at McAuley, and they’re good, to want to just walk 50 feet from their old classroom into a new classroom. Everyone wants to get out of Dodge.

“And there is a pressure, and nobody ever sees it unless you’re really into the club stuff, where it’s like a duel between players where they are going. For me, the battle is getting the local kids to stay and believe it’s OK because we’ve got a good program and believe it’s OK to be close to home because you can still live in the dorm and not go home.

“(Lately) I’ve been working a little harder on the McAuley kids because I can probably sell them a little bit more.”

Desiree Aramburu transferred to SXU after her sophomore year at Radford University. Dominique Aramburu, now a sophomore, attended UIC as a freshman before joining her older sister.

“I really loved Virginia. The program was great and the players and coaches were great, but I was homesick,” Desiree Aramburu said. “I think when you’re a senior in high school you think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I want to escape the South Side. I just want to go away.’ And then you go away and you find out that it’s not all it cracked up to be.”

When Desiree Aramburu arrived, she beat out two varsity setters and a freshman whom Heersema had just recruited. As a junior Aramburu had 802 assists. So far this season she’s at 291.

“She just had kind of an aura, an attitude that was missing,” Heersema said. “She just kind of took over, and we’ve done well.”

Heersema works the angles when he can, recruiting-wise. One of them is accommodating potential prospects’ educational needs.

“Three of my seniors (Christine Bowe, Kelly Knudsen and Colleen O’Hara) are nurses,” Heersema said. “Big colleges don’t want nurses because (the nursing course load interferes with) their practice time. I’ve had some other nurses over the past couple of years that I’ve been able to work around their schedules, and they’ve become very productive volleyball players.”

Knudsen, an Oak Lawn graduate, is one of his best. She’s second on the team in kills (96), and was the CCAC Volleyball Player of the Week for a seven-day period ending Sept. 2. O’Hara, who played at Lemont, has 64 kills.

“Kelly has developed a ton over the past four years,” Heersema said of Knudsen. “Every year she has become technically better, physically stronger. She has done some good things. Now I’m talking to her and a few other ones about having a good week every week.”

For future Cougars, that would be the best sales pitch of all.



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