Abby Gilleland and Sky High Volleyball Club’s 18 Black team have played through the pressure of big tournaments.
The two-time defending AAU national champions have been watched by college scouts and competed against the top talent in the nation. Now in their last tournament as a group, they’re out to play for themselves and their club.
“It’s a big deal to everyone on the team that’s in the county,” said Gilleland, who will be playing volleyball at Ohio University next year after graduating from Marian Central in May. “It’s at a point where we want to give one last thank you to our coaches and play great. Thank each other for being on the team.”
The 18 Black team, ranked 14th in the nation by USA Volleyball, is one of 12 teams from Sky High that qualified for the USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships next week in Columbus, Ohio. Sky High’s 12 teams are the most sent by any volleyball club in the nation.
Sky High also will be represented by 12 squads at the AAU Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships this week in Orlando, Fla., though 18 Black decided not to participate.
After winning consecutive championships at the AAU Nationals the past two years, the 18 Black team will be playing in the Open Division of USA Nationals this year. They earned a spot by winning the Mideast qualifier in Indianapolis in March and also placed third at the Northeast qualifier in April, making them one of the few teams in the nation to qualify twice.
“The USA nationals is much deeper in strength because it’s a qualifying tournament,” said Scott Harris, executive director at Sky High. “It’s the absolute best teams in the nation.”
In addition to Gilleland, the 18 Black team features a number of local athletes who recently graduated, including Cary-Grove’s Ashley Rosch and Melanie Jereb, Huntley’s Sam Boesch and Amy Dion, and Crystal Lake Central’s Amelia Anderson.
All six were named to the Northwest Herald All-Area first team last season, and they are part of the only group in Sky High’s club history to win two national championships.
“They’re extremely gifted athletes,” said Harris, who has coached the team over the past two seasons. “Once you get a taste of winning at a high level, you want that every time you step on the floor.”
Gilleland said a core group of three or four girls have played together since they started at Sky High in middle school. Now they will play their last tournament together before heading off to college.
“It’s sad to see everyone start going,” Gilleland said. “We’re all kind of excited for that one last thing. It’s that last time to really put it all out there.”