Representing public schools at the state tournament has become a source of pride for McHenry County-area volleyball teams.
Winning a state title is always the No. 1 priority, but given the area’s recent success during the state tournament, schools such as Richmond-Burton have been eager to prove they can contend with Illinois powerhouses, which are predominantly Catholic schools.
Since 2004, 13 area volleyball teams, from seven different schools, have advanced to state in their respective classes. Last year, Cary-Grove’s state final appearance for a third consecutive season was a first for a public school since Downers Grove South (1992 to 94). This year, it became Richmond-Burton’s turn, playing at Redbird Arena for the first time in school history.
While the area has historically produced state-caliber teams dating to the early 1990s, the volleyball talent is no longer limited to one or two teams in part because of club volleyball.
“Club definitely helps you in the high school season,” said R-B junior outside hitter Ali Frantti, who plays for Club Fusion. “They prepare you for the high school season, basically. You develop a lot of your skills during club and as the high school season goes on, you notice that.”
Sky High, in Crystal Lake, and Club Fusion, in Marengo, have provided an outlet for some of the area’s best volleyball players to compete at a national level. Those experiences against some of the nation’s top talent and the ability to play year round have impacted high school teams – for the better.
“There’s certainly a bigger pool of athletes now playing club than ever before,” Sky High executive director Scott Harris said. “I feel like the last two Olympics had a huge impact with that. ... These kids that are playing six or seven more months out of the year aside from the high school season, you can imagine how much better they’re getting.”
Playing volleyball year round and competing in national tournaments has raised the level of play at the high school level. And those experiences are no longer limited to the bigger high schools in Crystal Lake or Cary. Volleyball programs at R-B and Marian Central, though a private school, have reached the grandest stage in the state tournament through development on club teams.
“I think what you are seeing now in the last five to seven years is you’re seeing some of the smaller communities, kids and players from some of the smaller schools like a Richmond-Burton, really flock to the sport more so than they did 10 years ago,” Club Fusion general manager Eric Schulze said.