Girls Volleyball: Benet system pays dividends for players
BY NEIL SHALIN For Sun-Times Media February 21, 2013 5:48PM
Benet players celebrate their second straight state title after defeating New Trier during the Class 4A championship in Normal last November. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Jess Jendryk earns Illini award
Former Benet star middle hitter Jessica Jendryk was a highly coveted recruit when she committed to play at Illinois five years ago.
But a series of injuries, including a torn ACL and MCL during the club national championship before she ever played for the Illini, virtually wiped out her college career.
She continued to fight back from injuries and finally got to play on the varsity in the last three matches of her senior year. She even started on senior night.
Not only did Jendryk win the “Tough as Nails Coach’s Award” for the senior who demonstrates athleticism, spirit, leadership and scholarship, the school announced that beginning this year the award will be renamed the Jess Jendryk Coaches Award.
Jendryk will enter Saint Louis University in May as a grad student and she has earned an internship in the athletic department. — Neil Shalin
Updated: March 23, 2013 6:07AM
In January Cara Mattaliano and Abby Willett, members of Benet’s two-time state volleyball champions, announced their college commitments.
Mattaliano chose Princeton, while Willett will continue her volleyball career at Rollins.
The commitments were the latest chapter in the incredible success Benet has experienced the past six years under coach Brad Baker, that includes 4A state titles the past two years and a second-place state finish in 2008.
The Redwings, who have been nationally ranked all six years, have a record of 221-23 for the period, 79-5 over the past two years. And they have a regular season tournament record of 113-7, winning 17 of 24 tournaments, including the last nine in a row.
“Winning a tournament in-season is a very difficult thing to do,” said Baker. “But the girls on our team this year don’t know what it feel like to lose in a tournament.”
Mattaliano and Willett are the sixth and seventh players from this year’s state champions to commit to a college, bringing the total to 32 over six years — 26 at Division I schools.
Others who have chosen their colleges are: Nichole Barnes (Marquette), Naperville Sun Player of the Year Sheila Doyle (North Carolina), Hannah Kaminsky (Southern Illinois), Caileen Moran (University of Chicago) and junior Brittany Pavich (Boston College).
“The kids who come to Benet are coming for the academics,” said Baker. “It’s a great institution. If you can get through Benet you can be successful in college. Playing winning volleyball is just a bonus.”
While Benet has had fine girls volleyball teams in the past, it has in the past six years developed into the dominant 4A team in the state.
“The success of the program goes hand-in-hand with the coaching staff,” said athletic director Gary Goforth. “Brad is very organized and objective in practices and in his choice of players. He and his staff prepare for each game. They have increased the number of girls going out for the program, and they have gotten their message across that to be successful in this area, which is a hotbed of girls’ volleyball, you have to play all year-round.”
The Benet volleyball staff, which also includes sophomore coach Kyle Reid and freshman coach Kim Sayers, works together to get everyone in the program on the same page.
“Kyle and Kim teach and stress what we need the girls to learn so they’re ready to go on to the varsity level,” said Baker. “Our system of play includes doing the little things that are the difference in winning close games.”
The coaches stress the program’s general philosophy of volleyball, and such specifics as communicating on the court and what to do with the ball when they’re out of system.
“Add these up and they give you 25 close wins instead of 25 close losses,” Baker said.”
The 2012 Redwings team was not expected to challenge for the state title after losing 10 members from the previous year.
“The girls worked hard to put themselves in position this year,” said Baker. “But the fact that we weren’t expected to win motivated them to work even harder. They used that perceived disrespect as their rallying cry all season.”
The girls come in knowing that the Redwings are playing to compete for the state championship every year.
“We try to set high standards and high goals,” said Baker. “We won’t always reach them and it hurts when you don’t. But you always have to have the focus and put in the hard work that makes that possible.”
Baker said the coaches know that everything the team does is geared toward peaking at the end of the year when it matters most. “We try to instill an environment of competitiveness, which helps give them the ability to play under pressure. They learn how to play in the big moments, so when those moments come around they’re used to it.”
Baker had high praise for Goforth and the Benet administration.
“Gary and the school give us everything we need to be successful,” said Baker. “And, in turn, we try to do things to make the school proud.”