While it may still be one of the best-kept secrets on the national girls high-school volleyball scene, on the other end of the spectrum Minooka is the state of Illinois’ worst-kept one.
Minooka, a village of about 11,000 residents located in Chicago’s south suburbs, was the Class 4A (Illinois’ largest classification) runner-up a year ago, losing in the state-title match to 2016 Lucky Dog Volleyball/VolleyballMag.com girls high-school team of the year Chicago Mother McAuley.
A year later, Minooka, with almost all its entire roster back from 2016, are a year older and a year stronger. Through last weekend, Minooka was 25-1, fresh off winning the St. Charles East Mizuno Scholastic Cup (defeating perennial suburban Chicago power Benet Academy for the title). The team’s lone setback was earlier in the season to Chicago Marist.
Minooka is ranked 18th in the country in the most recent high-school poll by our friends over at PrepVolleyball.com. The Indians have won 21 matches in a row (as of Tuesday) since losing to Marist, ranked No. 2 in the country currently.
“I couldn’t say anything better about them,” said third-year Indians coach Carrie Prosek. “They have a deep love for one another. They are sisters and they are a family.”
They also are pretty darned good volleyball players. Senior outside hitter Alli Papesh (committed to Dayton) recently notched her 1,000th career kill and is leading the team with 236 kills to go with 118 digs, 38 aces and 41 blocks. Right-side hitter Holly Bonde (a Kansas State recruit) has 159 kills to go with 125 digs and 80 blocks, while senior outside Raquel “Rocky” Perinar (a Tennessee recruit) has 209 kills, 138 digs and 58 blocks. Senior middle blockers Sammi Hermann (Ferris State) and Olivia Klank (Missouri-St. Louis) also will play at the next level.
“We probably have the best three pin hitters in the state of Illinois,” said Prosek, who played at Charleston (S.C.) Southern University. “They are phenomenal jumpers. The three of them can hit every angle and every option. Our back-row attack is probably one of the strongest in this area and our blocking is very strong. Our offense is amazing.”
Prosek coached five of the seven current starters at the Chicago south-suburban Uno Volleyball Club and noted the majority of them have been playing together since the sixth grade. Four players have been on the varsity since their sophomore season. Minooka is 88-19 over the last three years.
And then there is the defensive aspect. Minooka’s back row is anchored by senior libero Taylor Baranski, an Iowa State commit, who has 313 digs and recently notched her 1,000th career high-school dig.
“Taylor can pick anything up,” Prosek said. “She’s all over the place. We have so many different options out there. We have a good four or five players on the court that we can switch with serve-receive at any time. If someone is having a tough time, we can hide them and pull another person back. It’s a nice option to have. We’re not limited to only three primary passers.”
The only newcomer to the team this season happens to be the individual who has taken over the rather important setting duties. Sophomore Zoey Seput (572 assists through mid-week) is drawing rave reviews for her work this season.
“She’s the only newbie on the team,” said Prosek. “She has great hands and she jump sets. She does everything. You would think there would be some nervousness and intimidation walking onto the court with girls who were runners-up in state last year. She has the confidence. She gets it out to the pins on both ends. She’s a really good setter.”
Baranski gives Minooka’s new signal-caller high marks.
“Zoey is an amazing athlete. She fits in very well with all the juniors and seniors. She’s a really good high-school setter and I think she can definitely move on and play volleyball in college.”
Perinar stressed Minooka’s offensive prowess isn’t possible without other elements falling into place.
“It all comes from our passing in the back row,” she said. “We also have a setter who is able to put the ball to all parts of the court.”
Bonde added: “We’re not a one-dimensional team. We have great hitters, passers and setters. A lot of us have played together for a long time and have been around each other basically our whole lives. We have similar personalities.”
And this from Baranski: “People recognize us for our offense, but that’s not what we want to be known for. Our offense is extremely strong with great front-row players, but the rest of our game is right there.”
Baranski said the team-first mantra is no common sports cliché with this group.
“This team is what makes us great,” she said. “We have a shared love for the game and for each other. This wouldn’t work without the personalities we have on the team. We’re very special.”
In talking about the team’s closeness and familiarity with each other, Papesh brings up an earlier conference match this season against Joliet West.
“They were defensively sound and served very aggressive,” she explained. “I was impressed how we handled some situations we haven’t been put in before. We were able to make the plays we needed and that helped us win the match. Our experience kicked in and we were able to win.”
While the Indians have the cache of having brought home the second-place state trophy in Illinois’ largest classification last year, Prosek is making sure it stays locked in the storage room this season.
“We’re real big on one game at a time,” she said. “We don’t talk about the end of the year. It’s all about the team and family and getting along on and off the court and being supportive of each other. We’re focused on the things we need to do to improve the next day.”
Perinar added: “One of our main goals is keep charging ahead instead of thinking about the postseason. We put the team first instead of individuals. That’s always one of our main focuses. What matters right now is what we can improve on that will help us continue to get better.”
Baranski provided plenty of candor when talking about the 2016 season.
“It (state title) was something we all wanted but we didn’t get it,” she said. “We have to leave the past in the past and focus on the things we can accomplish this year.”