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."