A lack of consistency — in a sport where it’s harder to achieve consistency than most others — plagued the Evanston girls volleyball squad for the past two years.
Following back-to-back losing seasons, head coach Pam MacPherson and the 7 seniors and 6 juniors on the varsity roster are eager to reverse that trend starting with Tuesday’s season debut at home against Lane Tech.
MacPherson welcomes back 10 players who started at least one match a year ago when the Wildkits stumbled to a 16-19 overall record. The fact that all of those players rotated in and out of the lineup, however, was part of the problem, not part of the solution.
MacPherson may close that revolving door this fall and will stick with the players who produce the most consistently, day in and day out, in practice and in matches. Competition within the squad will remain fierce, but now the starters won’t be constantly looking over their shoulders waiting to be yanked when they make a mistake.
The coach will also be able to keep her own focus on her spikers after helping to grow the student activities program at ETHS as the head of that department. She decided last spring to step away from those duties to concentrate on her family, and on turning the Wildkit volleyball fortunes around.
“I’m proud of the fact that we were able to grow the department and I took on a lot more responsibilities than the person who had the job before me. But I haven’t been able to give the volleyball players the focus they deserve, and I’m excited that I’ll be able to focus more on them and on my family,” MacPherson said.
“I think we’re a more disciplined team than we were last year. I think there’s a new intensity, a new energy in the program. We have 7 seniors who are ready to take charge. They’re all competitors and they didn’t like the results we had last season. They don’t want that kind of losing to be their legacy here.
“Last year we played too many people in multiple positions, and we had a lack of consistency because of that. This year we’re going to have a strong starting lineup and we’re going to use more specialists.”
All-Central Suburban League South division selections Tess Brieva and Christine Covode head the list of returnees. Brieva, a senior setter, will share the playmaking duties with classmate Keegan Joyce as both players figure to be on the floor at the same time instead of substituting for one another.
Covode, a 5-foot-11 senior who has Division I hitting ability, began to emerge as a “go-to” player at outside hitter over the second half of last season despite Evanston’s passing and setting inconsistencies as a team.
“Christine is so good academically that I think she’s looking more at playing Division III in college, but I feel she’s a Division I player,” the coach said. “She’s really a powerful hitter and her passing has improved a lot, so now she can play all around and help out hitting from the back row, too.”
Joining those three in the rotation will be middle blockers Wali Deutsch (6 feet, 2 inches) and Ruby Smith (6-2), plus outside hitters Ehize “Ze” Omoghibo (6-0), and Stasia Litinsky (5-8). At libero, senior Clara Gruger won a three-way battle with Caroline Bulf and Aliana Alanguilan to emerge as the starter.
Deutsch used an impressive off-season to move ahead of the squad’s best blocker, the athletic Smith. The spindly senior has built up her strength and conditioning to rank as one of the team’s most improved players since last fall.
“I really think Wali will be an impact player for us this year,” MacPherson said. “She’s gotten physically stronger and she really wants to be the best she can be.” Deutsch will serve as a co-captain along with Brieva and Alanguilan.
Omoghibo has already been recognized as one of the top 50 players in the area by the Chicago Sun-Times, and after earning a starting spot for the prestigious Sports Performance club team, the rising junior has already made a college commitment to Central Florida University. “We always knew that Ze was athletic and could really jump, but her ball control is a lot better now, too,” MacPherson pointed out.
Gruger’s play at libero flew under the radar last year, perhaps because she was also in the mix at setter. Now she’ll focus more on defense and passing.
“The biggest fight we had in training camp was at the libero position. We have three girls who could start at a lot of schools,” MacPherson said. “All three of them are phenomenal players. I think it’s very important this year that everyone knows their roles, and that everyone is ready to put the team first.”
Also challenging for playing time are junior middle blocker Naydiia Gary, junior outside hitter Sarah Bogan and junior outside hitter Sheridan Cleave.
The Wildkits will compete in tournaments at Libertyville/Warren, at Maine West and at Wheaton Warrenville South. Another schedule highlight is the addition of a match against Wheaton South set for Sept. 11 at Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“When you look at our record last year, it really wasn’t bad except for the tournaments,” the coach said. “We’ve got to play better there.
“I’m really excited about the season. On the back of our (practice) T-shirts this year it says ‘Don’t Wish For It, Work For It.’ That’s what we have to do.”