When we last checked in on Chicago Marist coach Jordan Vidovic, he was busy directing the RedHawks girls team to a 41-1 mark and the 2017 Illinois Class 4A state title—regarded as the toughest classification in the state, a meat-grinder of elite high school teams filled with club standouts and future college players.
Two years later, Vidovic is at it again and in an even bigger way.
Last fall, his girls team repeated as Class 4A state champions. And a few months later, his Marist boys team did the same, going 40-2 and winning the Illinois boys state championship — the program’s third overall and second since 2010. The girls program has two state crowns, both with this coaching heavyweight at the controls.
For Vidovic’s efforts, he’s an easy choice as the 2019 VolleyballMag.com national boys high school coach of the year. Vidovic is believed to be the only if not one of the very few coaches to win the prestigious national honor as both a boys and girls high school coach. Vidovic won the top VolleyballMag.com girls high school coaching honor after the 2017 state-title run.
On a state level, according to Illinois High School Association online records, he’s the second coach to win state titles with both genders during the same school year, joining Orland Park Sandburg’s Joann Holverson who did it in the 1998-1999 school year.
“He probably had the biggest hand in this out of anybody,” Marist junior setter Gene McNulty said. “If he wasn’t our coach, I don’t think we would have been in the spot we were and I don’t think we would be state champions.”
Senior outside hitter Marty Jepsen added: “He meant everything to us if I’m being completely honest. This was a team effort, but he pushed us. He has such high expectations for his players. I know I wouldn’t be the player I am today without him as my high school coach. Sometimes it was not fun with all the work we put in, but that’s how the best players become the best players and the best teams win. He put it in our minds that if you aren’t going to work 110 percent you will not achieve your goals.”
Vidovic, who played at Lewis University in nearby Romeoville, Illinois, (where Fab 50 recruit and VolleyballMag.com All-American first-team selection Jepsen is headed), has enjoyed wild success since he set foot on the Marist campus. With the boys, he has a career mark of 160-35. This was the fourth year in a row the team blew by the 30-win barrier. The year before Vidovic took over the boys program, the RedHawks posted a meager 12 wins.
His girls resume is even more impressive. He’s 110-13 there and 80-4 over the last two seasons.
“It was a crazy one for us from start to finish,” said Vidovic of the boys season. “It was pretty cool to see them do that. The end of the season at state was wild, especially the championship. The way the guys’ tournament is set up is different from the girls. You have to go through the quarterfinals instead of just the semifinals like the girls do. With the girls, it feels like you are killing time all the time, with the boys tournament because there are more matches it’s more faster-paced. We played tough teams. It was a sweet finish for the guys, especially the seniors who had some tough finishes before and got over the hump.”
Vidovic said one difference-maker this season was the team’s depth.
“We haven’t had this kind of depth on the guy’s side,” he said. “We expect it on the girl’s side with more players on the lower levels and teams with more experience. We worked really hard to expand the lower levels. Because we were a deeper team, practices benefitted and definitely were more competitive. Our practices were intense.”
Vidovic wanted to see his team take things to the next level in the postseason and it did exactly that. Marist was 7-0 in the Illinois playoffs and beat familiar state powerhouse Glenbard West in the finale by a combined six points.
“We put ourselves on the map as one of the elite teams that definitely had a chance,” said Vidovic, whose squad ticked off 23 wins in a row to end the season and took care of business in two sets in 22 of those contests (the one 3-setter being a win against Glenbard West, which was reduced to a 2-set win in the subsequent title meeting).
“We pushed ourselves. After playing well during the regular season, the guys really pushed even more to give themselves the best chance at the end. The goal at the end was to create some separation. We showed that in the tournament.”
One of those playoff wins was against Lincoln-Way East, which won the state title last year. That victory pushed Marist into the state quarterfinals. The RedHawks also gained a measure of revenge in the state quarterfinals when it beat Minooka, a team it had lost to in the regular season.
“It’s a credit to the guys,” said Vidovic. “It’s a credit to the way they practice. That put us on another level. We played against the best and it wasn’t going to be in question.”
McNulty added Marist definitely had a leader in Vidovic. “Everything he does, he does with a purpose,” he explained. “He’s a great leader who gets players to follow him. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially with teenage boys. We trust him and he leads us. We count on him.”
Vidovic attempted to downplay his significance in the program’s success. “I’m lucky to be at a great school—that’s first and foremost,” he said. “All the support we get and all the energy in the school helps our program. We feed off that. And then there is the momentum we’ve built with both the girls and the guys programs. That has given us something extra.”
Vidovic is a big proponent of the two programs interacting with each other whether it’s playing sand volleyball together or participating in strength training as a large group.
“We look at this as Marist volleyball. Period,” he said. “There are no boys or girls. Everybody is working toward the same thing. The kids take the lead with that philosophy and we’ve established that program-wide. It’s passed on from year to year. The players are in control of it. I’m not the one on the court.
“We have great leaders who make sure the little things are taken care of such as being on time and doing things the right way. I’m lucky to be around this. These are awesome kids on and off the court who have all the intangibles and max out their skill on the court. They have put themselves in the best position to be successful.”