SOUTH HOLLAND | On a geographical scale, there's really not much latitude that separates the south side of Chicago from the north side.
But for some reason, the volleyball seasons have always been much longer for those up north.
"The teams there tend to be more competitive," Andrea Martin said of north-side programs. "There are a lot more leagues to compete in ... longer leagues with more games and more teams to play against."
Martin is the grade 5-6 volleyball coach for Marsh Elementary School, which has been a part of the Seton Academy Girls Grade School Volleyball League since it began in 2011.
"We play in other leagues after the school season, but there is nothing quite like this around here when it comes to length of season," Martin said of the SA league, which spans from February to May. "That's helped a lot of teams around here improve."
The league had grown rapidly since its inaugural season, reaching 20 teams last season. This season, the league has dropped to 19 teams despite the recent additions of St. Walter and Sacred Heart schools last year, and St. Joseph and Walsh schools this season.
"We continue to be a diverse league that brings public and private schools, and city and suburban schools together all in one location," said league and tournament coordinator Laura Carrillo.
Carrillo and her sister Elena Carrillo coached volleyball at Our Lady of Guadalupe for more than 15 years. For last season, they took a break from coaching.
"But we decided to continue to work with (Seton Academy athletic director) Deon Tolliver on the league because we enjoyed working with all the teams and coaches," Laura said. "(We) knew this is something special."
After a year away from coaching, both Laura and Elena have returned to the bench, now leading Marsh's grade 7-8 team.
"We realized we had missed coaching and took the opportunity to (again) do what we loved," said Laura, who aside from coaching her team and coordinating the league, had to serve a referee and lineup rotation checker on March 29 due to sickness depleting her staff that weekend.
The season will conclude with all-star games on May 5.
As of March 30, Our Lady of Guadalupe is leading the grade 7-8 division; Burnham is leading the grade 5-6 division.
Carillo's Marsh team is in second place in the grade 7-8 division.
"We have had our ups and downs this season," Carrillo said, "but our girls continue to work hard and remind us what we love so much about the game."
OK, so this is never going to happen. Still, why can't we dream?
Tradition and different climates in a corn-fed state will keep things the way they are. But boy, just the thought of a simple change makes a lot of sense to this old yellow baller.
It's the middle of March and Al Gore is still wearing leg warmers, ear muffs and an eight-inch thick cardigan. It is time to make a change in the IHSAA sport seasons.
Softball should be moved to the fall season. Volleyball should be moved to the spring season. Then, I swear, all will be right with the world.
"I think it should be done," former Andrean softball coach Russ Serrato said. "Honestly, I don't know why it wasn't that way from the beginning."
Serrato coached at Andrean for nine years, making it to state three times. Two times he was an assistant, when the 59ers won it all in 2007. Then, in 2009, as head coach Andrean was the Class 3A state runner-up.
From Broadway he went to Crown Point where he was on staff when the Bulldogs won their last sectional in 2011. The guy knows his stuff. It's amazing he isn't coaching at a local high school right now.
But Harry Reid keeps getting elected in Nevada so go figure.
"The first point is the weather, late summer and fall are perfect around here," Serrato said. "Most of the girls are coming off their summer seasons so you wouldn't need a lot of tuning up.
"It makes a heck of a lot of sense to me."
Volleyball, on the other hand, is played in hot, sticky gymnasiums in August and September. An average person starts sweating just reaching for a roster. If that game was played indoors in April and May such a thing wouldn't happen.
Start the softball season the first week of August. Play through September and start your postseason. You could have your state finals in middle October in Indy, where the weather is almost always great.
Frozen bats and girls playing softball in three layers of clothing is common in "Da Region." Wiping away snowflakes while tracking a fly ball is a regular thing. But why?
Jason Wille of the IHSAA knows our weather. He grew up in Crown Point. But he said there has never been a serious chat about changing seasons. He said the IHSAA's sports try to coincide with the college sports seasons.
There's strike one.
The other factor is that much of Indiana doesn't get the rain, snow and cold that we do. Evansville wouldn't want this. It's probably 70 there today. The Tell City softball team has already broken out the sun screen.
There's strike two and three.
Serrato also brought up the savings for maintenance crews at schools. Once this deep freeze thaws the hours of shovel and rake time is going to be gargantuan.
Baseball would be another sport better served in the autumn. But many baseball players also play football so that will never happen. Strike four.
"I also think it would generate more fans for the softball teams," Serrato said. "Who is going to go out and watch a game when it's 35 degrees? If it was 70 I think fans might go out on a nice fall afternoon to watch."
It's a great idea. It makes a ton of sense. But it will never happen.
So warm up the thermos, get out the mittens and get ready for this softball season. My guess is it will start on April 26.
Now that he's a part of the training staff at Eastern Illinois, Brandon Platt can talk with professional and personal experience about the dangers of repetitive stress injuries.
The pain in Platt's elbow began around age 10. It flared up as he played baseball at Munster High School, and then went away with the chill of fall when he stepped onto the football field as a long snapper.
He was always involved in one activity or another growing up. As a teenager, it never occurred to him that the variety of muscles used participating in multiple sports was the reason his elbow pain disappeared.
When Platt graduated high school in 2005 and earned a spot on the Franklin College baseball team, he stopped playing other sports. It wasn't long before the repetitive motion of throwing the ball from behind the plate to the pitcher's mound or second base flared the pain in his elbow again.
He was playing in a summer league after his freshman year when he was asked to pitch.
"I had caught a nine-inning game before and someone asked me to come in to relief to pitch," Platt said. "Now I can say it, that a doctor has told me that everyone has X number of pitches in their arm. You can push that number backward and forward through strengthening, but eventually you're going to reach that number, whatever it is. That's when the powers that be tell you it's time to stop playing."
That summer was the first time Platt stopped playing. While pitching in relief, he tore the ulna collateral ligament in his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. He was out of commission for 18 months. It was another year before he could play at 100 percent.
Then his junior year he tore his labrum. His baseball career over, Platt dedicated himself to his major: athletic training.
The era of specializing in a a single sport has shortened the careers of athletes, says a doctor at Loyola University whose research focuses on how concentrating on just one sport impacts young players.
In a paper presented to the American Academy of Pediatrics in October, Loyola medical director of primary care sports medicine Neeru Jayanthi said that lower back injuries are the third most common injury among young athletes, and it comes from overuse and specialization in sports.
Some of what helps athletes improve in college is playing multiple sports through high school, Jayanthi said.
"We did some of our research here at Loyola, and talked to our athletes about how much training they did 10 years prior to college, and found that most of them played two or more sports for most of their career," Jayanthi said. "There is a risk of sports specialization. It's healthy to be diversified, to unload the body of focusing on one group of muscles."
While football, soccer and cheerleading are blamed for concussions, baseball, volleyball and tennis are the culprits of repetitive stress to muscles in the shoulders, elbows and back, according to research.
"You're also seeing it more in soccer players, and a lot more lately of overuse problems in legs in soccer players where they'll get stress fractures because they never stop running," said John Doherty, an athletic trainer and physical therapist at Munster High School who writes a regular column for The Times. "Soccer players finish their high school season and go to indoor soccer then to spring league.
"As bad a rap as football is getting at the high school level, and some deservedly so with too much hitting ... but at least those guys get a break. Their body gets a break in the winter. Football players spend their winter and spring in the weight room and running, not the same motions as during the season.
"The day of the three-sport athlete is done and it's a shame."
Though head injuries have drawn more attention in the last five years as research continues into the long-term impact of concussions, the effects of sports specialization create different risks to athletes, Jayanthi found.
In a paper presented in May to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Jayanthi's research noted that the risk of stress fractures are higher in athletes who specialize in a single sport.
"If you do more than twice as much organized sports than fun play, you are at a higher risk," Jayanthi said.
"Unstructured play" can help combat this, Jayanthi said, because of the use of other muscle groups.
In the case of Platt, his pain at age 10 flared up in his late teens because it didn't have time to rest.
As a rule, Jayanthi recommends that athletes not participate in organized sports for more hours in a week than they are old. For instance, a 13-year-old should spend no more than 13 hours on a single sport, an 8-year-old, no more than eight hours.
"There will always be the examples of a Tiger Woods, who dedicated a lot of time to a sport and became famous," Jayanthi said, "but what you don't see are all of the players who burned out trying to do the same thing."
Sports specialization, however, has been cited to help athletes secure scholarships and professional contracts.
Keeping athletes healthy means working those muscles in other ways off the playing field.
"These are the kinds of things that athletic trainers can look at and assess when they see it in players," said Audric Warren, athletic trainer at IU Northwest and former athletic trainer with the Gary RailCats minor league baseball team. "What an athletic trainer would usually recommend is functional training, or working on multiple planes of motion. ... With the RailCats, I'd usually recommend for them yoga. You're using your postural muscles and it helps with overall general flexibility."
Seven years after his injury, Platt says that he is seeing the results of studies like Jayanthi's put to use.
"At the collegiate level, we're already seeing an influx of the importance of prevention," Platt said. "It limits the incidents of tendonitis and rotator cuff tears."
CROWN POINT | Alyssa Kvarta has a simple explanation for her excitement after every point she scores.
"It's really important to show how much you care about the game by showing your emotions," the Crown Point junior setter said. "If somebody gets a really big kill, there's no way you can't just jump up and down and scream for that person and pick up the whole team."
"When you see her reaction to points earned, it's always a big celebration," Bulldogs volleyball coach Alison Duncan said. "Every point matters. We don't take any one of them lightly. Volleyball is a game of momentum. She is a momentum stopper, in part because of her celebration. Other teams see that excitement, especially after she makes an ace or a block or a kill, and it's huge."
Kvarta had a lot to cheer about this season: Crown Point won its first sectional title in 21 years; Kvarta was named the Duneland Athletic Conference's MVP; she picked her college, set to attend East Tennessee State, and the junior was named the Times volleyball player of the year.
After a sophomore season that garnered attention from Division-I schools from across the country, Kvarta's junior year included a role change. After the graduation of another setter, the Bulldogs opted for a 5-1 offense, one that pulled Kvarta away from the option as a prominent hitter.
That didn't necessarily stop her from racking up the kills. She recorded 199 kills and 26 of her 116 blocks were solo. Her biggest stat -- 922 assists -- came because of her soft, accurate hands.
"She was extremely aggressive when she was in the front row, attacking on the second ball, putting those second balls over," Duncan said. "She had double-digit kills from just setting that second ball over in that front row in multiple matches.
"The interesting thing about Alyssa is that she asks a lot of questions, she asks for critiques about what she's doing and what she's doing wrong. She doesn't have the personality that thinks she knows she's perfect. She wants to get better."
In addition, Kvarta became a multifaceted server. She can send her top spin or overhand float from the right or left side of the back line, taking out opportunities that a defense has to try to slow her down.
All of the numbers are secondary to Kvarta. Ask her what she remembers most about the season, where she played her best game, and the words "I" and "me" are nowhere in her answer.
"Against LaPorte in the sectionals, the whole team played so hard, and we wanted that so bad," Kvarta said. "The love we have for each other, that's how we won sectionals."
After scaling the 21-year-old wall with a sectional trophy -- especially after losses in Kvarta's freshman and sophomore years in five games by two points -- there's a hunger for more. She was one of four Crown Point players named to the all-star team, with seniors Courtney Covaciu, Meagan Fajaman and Abby Kvachkoff on the Class 3A/4A North team as Kvarta was on the North Junior squad.
"I would like to continue our streak on sectionals and eventually make it to regionals my senior year -- that's really weird to say, senior year," Kvarta said. "Now we're just focusing on the team and trying to win conference, and after that we're going to roll into sectionals with that same feeling we had this year."
That she'll be an asset to the Bulldogs for another season gives Duncan a chance to learn how Kvarta molds as a leader.
"Alyssa is not the freshman that came in and never got better. She got better every year, and this is what she's been able to accomplish because of a lot of hard work, a lot of desire and drive and that wantingness to take that next step," Duncan said. "Next year, my hopes for her are to be that senior role model that every other kid in our program can look up to and have her not just physically lead the team but in many capacities mentally and emotionally lead the team."
Carly Cappello, Bishop Noll
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 1149-1258 (564 kills), 307-329 serving (41 aces), 50 blocks (17 solos), 355 digs.
Analysis: On the North junior all-star team, Cappello was a huge asset to the state runner-up Warriors this season. She has big-game experience and knows when to let others shine. That Noll has her skill, jumps and leadership for another season should worry opponents.
Noelle Eveland, Valparaiso
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 301 kills, 391 digs, 19 aces, 19 blocks.
Analysis: Eveland made quite the impression in her two years at Valparaiso. As a senior, the Michigan Tech commit led the Vikings in kills and digs while being named Academic All-State.
Shannon Farrell, Munster
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 450-482 passing, 417-438 serving (64 aces), 671-762 hitting (304 kills), 29 blocks, 474 digs.
Analysis: The senior picked up every set and pass made to her, and did it with aplomb. As well as a tough stop up front, she was easy to put in the back row as her determination and drive made her an asset everywhere on the court.
Tori Gardenhire, Lake Central
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 213 kills, 39 aces, 101 blocks.
Analysis: A member of the all-conference team, Gardenhire helped make the Indians the Duneland Athletic Conference champs. She can make herself taller than her frame with a jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism that is tough to stop.
Asya Hobbs, Bishop Noll
Position: Middle hitter.
Stats: 894-1017 hitting (395 kills), 343-405 serving (62 aces), 281 blocks (205 solo), 260 digs.
Analysis: Hobbs led the area and the state in blocks, showing how much a dedicated offseason can pay dividends. She was key to the Warriors in their trip to the Class 2A state finals as she was tough to block around.
Elizabeth Kloos, Munster
Position: Middle hitter.
Stats: 367-392 serving (37 aces), 564-609 hitting (245 kills), 151 digs, 120 blocks.
Analysis: The quintessential middle hitter, Kloos improved her game this season for the Northwest Crossroads Conference title holders. She led a tough line up front for the Mustangs, and couldn't be stopped as a hitter.
Abby Kvachkoff, Crown Point
Position: Middle hitter.
Stats: 219 kills, 123 blocks (48 solos), 52 digs.
Analysis: On the North Class 3A/4A all-star team and the DAC all-conference team, Kvachkoff made the perfect all-around player for the Bulldogs. Her height and tenacity were tough to defend, and she has an eye for finding the ball.
Alyssa Kvarta, Crown Point
Stats: 319-378 serving (59 aces), 199 kills, 922 assists, 116 blocks (26 solo), 282 digs.
Analysis: That Crown Point has another year with the Times Player of the Year should have opponents concerned. She's a total team player, as well as the complete setter package. She doesn't want to stop learning, and made a front-line impact despite not taking as many hits this season as she has in the past.
Madeline Johnson, Washington Township
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 372 kills, 71 blocks.
Analysis: Changing positions did nothing to slow Johnson this season as the senior moved to the outside and helped lead the Senators to their second regional title in school history.
Ally Rohn, Calumet Christian
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 1,450-1,531 hitting (711 kills), 376-403 serving (77 aces), 88 blocks (40 solo), 250 digs.
Analysis: The junior led her team in nearly every statistical category, and in areas she didn't, she was second. She is a vital part of the program that surprises a few IHSAA teams every year before making a run through national tournaments.
Kellie Wojciechowski, Andrean
Position: Outside hitter.
Stats: 343 kills, 211 digs.
Analysis: The senior was integral to a prolific front line and tough to defend. Her hops and leadership were vital to Andrean's success this season.
Kaylyn Anderson | Whiting
Sr. | MH
Stats: 403-454 hitting (268 kills), 243-273 serving (68 aces), 28 blocks.
Kate Bontrager, Valparaiso
Jr. | OH
Stats: 195 kills, 218 digs, 19 aces, 36 blocks (team captain, All-DAC team, Michigan City All-Tournament Team).
Courtney Covaciu, Crown Point
Sr. | OH
Stats: 235 kills, 56 blocks (28 solo), 45 digs, 56 blocks (28 solo), 203 digs.
Toni Dallecarbonare, Munster
Jr. | OH
Stats: 432-473 passing, 353-381 serving (32 aces), 701-782 hitting (351 kills), 42 blocks, 451 digs.
Danielle Ellis, Lake Central
Jr. | DS/L
Stats: 516 Digs, 30 aces.
Meagan Fajman, Crown Point
Sr. | MH
Stats: 234 kills, 43 assists, 138 blocks (61 solos), 49 digs.
Carissa Jones, Bishop Noll
Sr. | OH
Stats: 593-678 hitting (245 kills), 115 aces (led team), 253 digs, 65 blocks (15 solo).
Nicole Malouhos, Boone Grove
Sr. | MH
Stats: 248 kills, 108 blocks.
Gabby Martin, Kankakee Valley
Sr. | OH
Stats: 385 kills, 307 digs, 63 aces, 40 blocks.
Jordyn Moleski, Chesterton
Jr. | L
Stats: 557 digs, 97.7 serve percentage, 92.8 serve receive percentage.
Lauren Stazinski, Andrean
Sr. | MH
Stats: 239 kills on 600 attempts hitting (.260), 98 block solos, 116 block assists.
Morgan Switalla, Munster
Sr. | S
Stats: 805 assists, 474-501 serves (58 aces), 193-199 attacks (66 kills), 19 blocks, 310 digs.
Duneland Athletic Conference
CHESTERTON: Sammi Ostrom, Jessica Urycki, Emily Marcus. LAKE CENTRAL: Brooke Renner, Megan Malatestinic. LAPORTE: Shaina Perry, Danielle Plank. MERRILLVILLE: Myranda Harris. MICHIGAN CITY: Brooke Westphal. PORTAGE: Mariah Wright. VALPARAISO: Monroe Olsen, Rachel Bontrager.
Great Lakes Athletic Conference
CLARK: Krysta Syler, Tique Woods. GAVIT: Vanessa Skierkiewicz, Amber Earl, Brianna Mangerson. HAMMOND: Precious Perkins. MORTON: Amanda Colvin.
Greater South Shore Conference
BISHOP NOLL: Emily Johnson. CALUMET: Maranda Jackson. HANOVER CENTRAL: Savanna Zakman, Samantha Guglielmo, Kristen Roper. LAKE STATION: Joanna Dwyer. MARQUETTE CATHOLIC: Camille Burnett, Sabrina Brown. NORTH NEWTON: Bethany Bober. RIVER FOREST: Caylyn Bellar. WHEELER: Belle Bravo, Jordynn Parks. WHITING: Bri Blackwell.
Northwest Crossroads Conference
ANDREAN: Marija Nicksic, Marisa Beemsterboer. GRIFFITH: Lisette Roldan. HIGHLAND: Brittany Fowler, Morgan Lenhart. HOBART: Geena Lammertin, Caylie Pruitt. KANKAKEE VALLEY: Lauren Stokes, Danielle Ruesken. LOWELL: Mallory Slavis, Hunter Jusevitch. MUNSTER: Tori Foster.
Porter County Conference
BOONE GROVE: Kennedy Starcevich. HEBRON: Natalie Kaczmarski. KOUTS: Ivette Muzquiz. MORGAN TOWNSHIP: Courtney Maxwell, Alexa Kartje. SOUTH CENTRAL: Kaitlyn Jackson, Briana Satoski. WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP: Emily Holcomb, Caitlyn Lembke. WESTVILLE: Samantha Albers, Ashley McClintock.
CALUMET CHRISTIAN: Kaylie Obinger. E.C. CENTRAL: Bianca Krol. RENSSELAER: Maddie Gehring.
With three region volleyball players and a local coach, the North pushed the large school IHSGCA all-star volleyball match to three games before falling as the South swept the three match series.
The Class 3A/4A match, led by Bishop Noll coach Dave Rodriguez and with Crown Point trio Courtney Covaciu, Meagan Fajman and Abby Kvachkoff, lost in three games, 28-26, 25-22, 25-14.
The Class 1A/2A match, with Bishop Noll's Asya Hobbs and Whiting's Kaylyn Anderson, lost 25-20, 25-21.
"That was some outstanding volleyball," Rodriguez said. "Those girls can really play. They picked up balls that I had not seen. It was like coaching college players.
"I think (the 3A/4A team) looked pretty fluid, and I was going to get that with those kids. I watched the 1A/2A game and they came out and in the first 10 points they weren't sure who was right-back, who was outside hitter, playing middle. They had some versatile interchangeable parts. They had a good plan, but the kids weren't on the same page for the first 10 points. When my team when out there, I said, 'Here is what you're doing, here is who is going where, let's start strong.'"
Rodriguez said that each of the Crown Point players in the Class 3A/4A match played in the second game and picked up two kills each.
In the smaller class match, Hobbs had a kill with two blocks and Kaylyn Anderson made five kills.
The North Juniors, with Bishop Noll's Carly Cappello and Crown Point setter Alyssa Kvarta on the roster, also lost in two games to the South.
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