Familiarity fueling Kennedy’s historic run

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They don’t come from every part of the city. Most can walk to school. A handful play club and a few play two or three sports.

Although a freshman may be Kennedy’s most versatile player, the core of the team is four seniors who have been playing together since their grammar school days.

The Crusaders (16-1) are trying to make a little history this fall. Kennedy is trying to become the first non-selective enrollment school to win a Chicago Public League girls volleyball title in nearly a decade.

It has already secured the top seed in the CPS tournament, defeating both four-time defending city champion Young and three-time city champ Payton — two selective enrollment schools which in recent years have dominated the city’s volleyball landscape — within three days of each other.

Kennedy did it without much depth, without much size and without much fanfare.

“The best way to describe it is that the girls are volleyball players,” Kennedy coach Tim Laughlin said. “We don’t have any six-footers. They just get the most out of their ability. Everyone has been playing the same system for four years, so they know where they’re supposed to be.”

Seniors Grace Jurevis, Nebal Algoleh, Dana Majerczy and Sydney McCarthy played together at Mark Twain Elementary School. Seniors Melissa Mazur and Morgan Paske joined the core of the team as freshmen at Kennedy. Johanna Hoefling, a freshman whose sister played for Laughlin, started with the group this fall.

“They work really well together,” Laughlin said.

Their ability to anticipate each other on the court is uncanny, Jurevis said.

“We were talking about this the other day,” she said. “It’s hard to explain. For example, I can feel when Dana’s going to come to the net. I can feel when she’s really on her game. I just set the ball and she’s right there to pound it down.

“It’s unbelievable, that sixth sense that we get from playing so long. I can even tell the other players’ emotions because we’ve been together for so long. You can tell what makes people mad and what they need when they get mad. You can tell what they need when they’re happy.”

Success has followed the Kennedy team on every level. The six seniors won the city title at the freshmen level, and when Laughlin brought up Mazur and Jurevis to the varsity as sophomores, the other four still managed to finish second in the sophomore tournament.

Last year, the Crusaders gave Elite Eight qualifier Oak Park-River Forest all it could handle in a 25-20, 25-19 regional semifinal loss, and the team’s only setback this season was a 25-23, 28-26 decision to Bradley in the finals of the Rich South tournament.

Kennedy will also play at the IMSA and Bishop McNamara tournaments this fall.

“(Coach Laughlin) set those tournaments up to show us that we’re not the best volleyball team in America,” Jurevis said. “Obviously, the suburban schools do have an upper hand on us. But it’s also fun to go to those tournaments and show them that a city school can actually do something.”

Like make a little history.

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