CALUMET CITY | As a member of Meteor Mentoring this year, T.F. North junior Devin Luster has enjoyed watching the freshmen under her guidance understand what she's trying to teach them about being a high school student.
The same can be said of T.F. North volleyball coach Peg Haney, who this season has enjoyed watching Luster blossom in her new role as middle hitter.
Luster was brought up to varsity in the middle of last season as a temporary fill-in at setter, the position she played for the sophomore squad. The varsity assignment was expected to last a week, but Lester was never demoted.
When summer workouts started, Luster switched her own role from setter to middle hitter. Haney green-lit the experiment, and now Luster leads the team in blocks, attacks and kills.
"We needed a middle, so I took it on," Luster. "I figured during summer workouts at the high school, why not learn it now so that when season comes I'd be prepared? And I enjoyed it."
The move was born in part out of necessity. Luster is the tallest player on a squad that features a pair of 5-foot-7 outside hitters. Though the Meteors frontcourt is short compared to other teams, Haney said the size of her squad is not much different than other teams she has coached during her five years at T.F. North.
"We've talked about the fact that height doesn't make a difference if you can be quicker and smarter," Haney said. "We just have to use our skills and ability to combat the height we play against. And we're doing that in spurts, just not on a consistent basis."
The Meteors won just their fourth game of the season on Oct. 12 against Rich South. Luster contributed five kills, a block and a team-high eight digs in the three-game match. The victory snapped an eight-game losing streak that had weighed heavily on the minds of the players, Haney said.
"We put too much pressure on ourselves," Haney said. "The girls want to win, but they start to question themselves. Nobody goes out there to lose, but they get too tight because they don't want to make a mistake. They are not playing relaxed enough to let things flow."
Haney described Luster as level-headed and extremely intelligent. Luster is in the top 10 of her class academically, and is taking four accelerated classes in hopes of attending an elite college when she graduates. On court, that intelligence has helped her make the transition to middle hitter easier.
"I think I've made giant strides this year," Luster said. "Every time we play a new team, I watch the other team's middle to see what they do and reflect that in my own game."
Luster said playing on an undersized frontcourt has forced her and her teammates to try and play smarter. Coincidentally, the one team the Meteors have matched up against size-wise this year is Eisenhower, which will be their opponent when the playoffs begin Monday in the Providence 4A Regional. The Meteors are the Andrew Sectional's 19th-seeded team, while Eisenhower is 14th.
"I think our season is going to get a lot better," Luster said. "I think when we get to the playoffs, teams will see a different T.F. North."