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Baranek: With Hopkins, positive energy flowing at Marist

New Marist coach Julie Popp Hopkins speaks with her team recent practice. | Tony Baranek~Sun-Times Media

New Marist coach Julie Popp Hopkins speaks with her team at a recent practice. | Tony Baranek~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 27, 2013 6:29AM



High fives won’t win you a point.

Pats on the back won’t beat Mother McAuley.

Saying “Good job” won’t capture you a state title.

All of the above, however, goes a long way toward bringing a group of players together. And if they happen to have enough talent, it can make for a pretty special combination.

Julie Popp Hopkins is a firm believer in positive energy. She wasn’t just trying to make new friends and influence people with it on her first day of “Camp Positive’’ this summer as the new head girls volleyball coach at Marist.

“I think part of the game that’s missing is that vocab, that language between you and your teammate,” she said. “It’s missing that verbal communication with volleyball knowledge and just being a solid teammate.

“The girls … it was funny. We get into camp and right away I was ‘High fives, high fives, high fives.’ And they were looking at me like, ‘OK, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ ”

It didn’t take long for senior Carolyn Yerkes, the only returning starter from last year’s team, to get it.

“After every drill we’d give high fives to every person in the program … varsity, sophomores and freshmen,” Yerkes said. “The atmosphere was very positive, loud, energetic, fun. Everyone was happy.”

They most definitely seemed to be happy at a recent practice, where upbeat music filled the gym and players were drilling and high-fiving and smiling.

Whether any of this will make Hopkins popular if Marist doesn’t get off to a good start this season remains to be seen. But for now it looks like the second head coach the program has ever had is making her points, getting the kids’ attention, and finding reason to be optimistic about 2013.

Hopkins has some big shoes to fill.

In 11 years at Marist, Natalie Holder posted a 314-80 record. Her teams won eight regionals, two sectionals and one supersectional. In 2011, the RedHawks finished 37-3 and fourth in Class 4A.

Holder had supporters but also naysayers who often questioned her decisions on who played and who didn’t and accused her on message boards of being, well, less than positive.

They’ll have a hard time putting the latter tagline on Hopkins, at least for now. But personality isn’t why the Marist community should really be excited about Hopkins.

She’s got leader written all over her.

During high school at Queen of Peace and college at UIC, Hopkins was a team captain and the team MVP in both her respective senior seasons. Injuries curtailed her development as an outside hitter, but she refused to quit, becoming a solid back row defender.

Her first head coaching job, at Latin, brought success in the form of back-to-back conference titles in the Independent School League in 2011 and 2012. She was Coach of the Year in conference both seasons.

Hopkins was a member of the staff at Jen DeJarld’s very successful Chicago Michio Volleyball Club and also has been an assistant coach at St. Rita.

She’s ready for this.

“I’ve been pretty blown away,” she said of her early experiences as the new RedHawks coach. “I knew Marist was a great school and had a great volleyball program, but the whole volleyball aspect of it, and the dedication that these kids put in, I can’t believe it.

“Just as long as they come in the gym every single day and work hard and understand where we want to be … it’s going to take time and there are going to be bumps, and we get that. But it’s going to be how you recover from it.

“What I’ve seen so far, they’re going to do an amazing job.”



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