Chicago Marist High School girls’ coach Jordan Vidovic had high expectations entering the 2017 season.
Having those expectations is one thing, but fulfilling them in the cauldron known as Class 4A Illinois girls’ high-school volleyball is an entirely different deal.
But that’s exactly what Marist did.
Under the deft leadership of Vidovic, the 2017 VolleyballMag.com girls’ high-school coach of the year, the RedHawks went 41-1 en route to winning the Class 4A state crown, the program’s first. Marist, making just its second appearance in a state final, defeated a talented Minooka team in the 4A title match on the grounds of Illinois State University in Normal.
“It definitely was a special year,” said Vidovic, who completed his second season as girls’ coach at Marist and is in his fourth season as boys head coach at the Chicago Catholic private school. “We did have high expectations coming in. We had nine seniors, which is a huge senior class. It’s been a long process for that group and they built something together. It was nice to see that growth.”
And Vidovic, who achieved a first in 2017 by being named both the East Suburban Catholic Conference boys and girls coach of the year in the same school year, empowered his large senior class.
“We put a lot on the seniors leadership-wise,” he said. “It was up to them to take the next step and establish an intense and competitive environment early on.”
Senior setter Molly Murrihy, one of the team’s co-captains and a Memphis recruit, said Vidovic’s vision for success was contagious.
“His sense of motivation toward you translated into pushing yourself to the limit,”Murrihy said. “He changes you in a positive way. He has made us work hard. We had this big senior class with nine of us and we knew freshmen year this would be the year to succeed. In order for us to do well the seniors needed to be leaders of the team and the hardest workers on the court.”
Vidovic, the 2007 USA junior beach player of the year, played at nearby Brother Rice High School (and was named state player of the year in 2005) and was a setter at Lewis University for Flyers coach Dan Friend. Murrihy has learned more than a few tips on the art of setting.
“His experience as a setter helped me,” she said. “He knew what I was going through firsthand. He helped me mature as a setter and run the court better.”
Vidovic noted the team’s regular-season schedule helped get it ready for the 4A postseason. Marist won the ASICS Challenge that included Louisville’s Assumption and also won the Michelle Smith Catholic Classic tournament, racking up wins against five teams from Missouri and Kansas.
Marist’s only loss came in September to perennial power Chicago Mother McAuley. The RedHawks returned the favor with a sweep in the supersectional on McAuley’s home court to earn the berth in the state semifinals (Marist lost to McAuley last year in the sectional final). Vidovic’s team finished the season winning its last 32 contests and swept its first six playoff matches before going the distance with a Minooka team it had beaten earlier in the season as well.
“We played in probably the top conference in Illinois (East Suburban Catholic) and played some top non-conference teams,” Vidovic said. “We played in four high-level tournaments. We had a tough time getting over the hump and winning those tournaments. But that gave us the experience we needed heading into the postseason. The seniors led us and carried us through to the end and helped us beat a physically imposing Minooka team in the championship.”
Vidovic, who also coached in the Michio club program, noted the RedHawks ramped it up tempo-wise this season and reaped the rewards.
“We went up-tempo because Molly could handle it and we had the backcourt to do it,” he said. “That took us to another level. We also had a gritty mindset as a program and that put us over the hump against teams with physically talented weapons. The mental toughness also put us over the edge.
“We created that in practice. We went 18-deep in practice and that got us ready for the tough teams and it got us ready to come back whether it was down 1-0 in sets or coming back from 9-10 points down or being at match point a couple times during the season. The mental side paid off and that’s a credit to our captains, Molly, Grace and Savannah.”
Grace is Grace Green, who is headed to Radford, while Savannah is Savannah Thompson, an outside hitter who is headed to Central Michigan.
Murrihy directed a RedHawks offense that had five players with at least 100 kills, headlined by Thompson and senior Maggie Meyer, who both were north of 300 in kills and were primary passers from their outside positions.
Green, who had more than 500 digs, puts Vidovic in an elite coaching echelon.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” she said. “He cares about every person as individuals. It’s not just about skills. He wants us to succeed in life. He made me a better person and taught me so many life lessons throughout the year.”
Green said the players appreciated the balanced approach Vidovic displayed regardless if it was in the practice gym during a routine drill or when things were going off the rails in an intense match.
“He’s even-keeled,” she said. “A lot of coaches have a cardboard cutout of what a team has to be. He let the seniors put a spin on it and let us take control.”
Vidovic, who has a 71-10 record in his two seasons with the Marist girls, tried to downplay his role.
“My goal was to hold them to a high standard in practice and prepare them strategically as best I could for the tough games,” he said. “But the girls needed to lead this team, particularly the seniors. I let them be themselves and let them put their imprint on this.”