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Baranek: Super sophs not unprecedented at Mother McAuley

Junior setter Courtney Joyce (center) has had plenty cheer about this seaswhile playing with five sophomores — including (from left)

Junior setter Courtney Joyce (center) has had plenty to cheer about this season while playing with five sophomores — including (from left) Ryann DeJarld, Kelsey Clarke, Kennedy Arundel and Maggie Scanlon — at Mother McAuley. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Medi

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:37AM



It was pretty easy for Mother McAuley volleyball coach Jen DeJarld to remember the last Mighty Macs team to make it to the state finals with as many sophomores contributing as the one competing this weekend at Redbird Arena.

She played on it.

It was 1984 and she (as Jen Rees), Traci Broadway, Mary Beth Sutcliffe, Janet Moylan, Colleen Boyle and Tricia Tadin — sophomore starters all — completed a 38-4 season by winning Mother McAuley’s fifth state title.

They were, as so many Mother McAuley players are, grammar school stars. In eighth grade, they were part of a team that won a national title.

As sophomores, they weren’t fearful about playing against girls a couple of years older than them.

“I don’t remember being intimidated,” DeJarld said. “But I think for the most part we were sophomores who didn’t know any better. We kind of went in doe-eyed and excited for the experience.”

There is nothing doe-eyed about this year’s super sophs — Carla Cahill, Maggie Scanlon, Ryann DeJarld, Kelsey Clarke and Kennedy Arundel. At least from the competition aspect.

When their season was on the brink of ending in Set 3 against Sandburg, they had nerves of steel and captured the Lincoln-Way Central Sectional semifinal in dramatic fashion. In the sectional final, they thrashed Stagg as no other team had this season. In the McAuley Supersectional, they ran into a mountain of height called Hinsdale Central and found a way to hit around it.

It isn’t an accident that the Mighty Macs made it to the Class 4A Final Four.

“You know, you always hope that the sophomores can handle the varsity level,” DeJarld said. “Sometimes it’s a crapshoot when you pull them up. Sometimes they’re intimidated by the upperclassmen. Sometimes they second-guess themselves.

“With this group, I didn’t have much doubt that they’d be able to handle it.”

She did have a nervous feeling in her stomach as she unveiled the varsity roster in August.

There are no easy decisions made after what former Mighty Macs coach Nancy Pedersen once called “Hell Week.”

Just about every kid who walks into the gym is a grammar school superstar. At least that’s what the club coaches tell their parents.

A lot of these parents believe there should be a pecking order when cuts are made and later when playing time is determined.

In their minds, it should be age over talent. Pedersen never subscribed.

“I always put the best players on the floor, the ones who work together the best and are the best athletes,” she said. “That one year (1984), they were dynamite sophomores.”

McAuley’s current “super sophs” made a big splash in July. Playing for the Michio Chicago Volleyball Academy 15s squad, they captured the USAV Junior National Championships Open Division.

It was not a shock to DeJarld, a coach at Michio.

“I’ve coached a lot of them since fifth grade, and when they came to me, even then they had a very high volleyball IQ,” she said. “They’re very athletic kids, and that helps. But their court awareness is what makes them what they are.

“John Dunning, the Stanford volleyball coach, once told me, ‘When we look for a great player, we look for kids who have world vision.’ World vision, in his terminology, meant that they’re able to see and anticipate the play before it happens. They have a vision of the court while the ball is in play, while they’re in motion.

“These five sophomores have the ability to do that.”

DeJarld kept them together and brought them up to the varsity.

“I don’t know that I’d say I was nervous, but I had a pit in my stomach before the start of the season,” she said. “I know that starting sophomores over juniors and seniors is a hard pill to swallow, especially how talented my juniors and seniors are.”

Comments were made, some on public message boards, charging that DeJarld was playing favorites by keeping her club kids.

“I know there were people who were unhappy, but I really don’t care how old my players are,” DeJarld said. “I do feel like that in the first two to three weeks of the season I risked continuity by playing them all. I played all 15 kids more than I have ever played any group of kids.”

As it turned out, the Mighty Macs became a nice mix, with a large helping of sophomores and a dash of older players.

Among the kids, Ryann DeJarld was the team leader in kills, Cahill the best defender. Arundel had a wicked serve, while Clark hit a mean quick-set. Scanlon led in nothing, but had solid numbers across the board (kills, assists, blocks, digs, aces).

Meanwhile, senior Kelly Clarke was key in the supersectional win over Hinsdale Central with six kills and five blocks. Junior setter Courtney Joyce was a steadying influence for the younger kids. Another senior, Michelle Konecki, really stepped it up defensively in the postseason.

A team of the future became today’s headline-maker.



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