‘Valley’ teams respond to coach’s cancer diagnosis

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District 204’s volleyball rivalry takes a back seat to a common cause this week.

The programs of Neuqua Valley, Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley are collaborating on an event “Three Valleys, One Fight” to raise money and awareness about breast cancer.

It’s personal.

Neuqua coach Kelly Simon was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this fall. A routine mammogram during tryouts led to a second test, an ultrasound and biopsy. Simon received the call with the diagnosis Friday morning of the Benet Invite.

She underwent a lumpectomy procedure and was out of school a week, returning to her team for the Warrior Blast.

Metea coach Dave MacDonald, who taught with Simon at Neuqua and was on her staff for a year, first heard the news the night of the Neuqua-Metea match.

“It affected me. Kelly’s been an influence in my life,” MacDonald said. “I consider her a good friend.”

MacDonald and Waubonsie coach Kristen Didier came up with the “Three Valleys One Fight” T-shirt and 808 shirts have been ordered. Proceeds will go toward the Side-Out Foundation, which contributes funds to organizations that serve breast cancer patients in the form of research, medical services or patient support.

Both Neuqua and Waubonsie will wear the T-shirts at Tuesday’s match at Neuqua. Metea will also wear the shirts at its match that night.

“This was a surprise to me and a really awesome collaboration by the District 204 communities,” Simon said. “I was so moved.”

Simon feels fortunate that her tumor was found early. A health teacher, she knows that raising awareness is essential.

“I want them to know that you need to be proactive about your health,” Simon said.

Redhawks on upswing

Asked if his team has met expectations up to this point, Naperville Central coach Jeff Danbom paused.

It’s complicated.

The Redhawks have been beset by injuries and illness. Middle Claudia Wozniak was out a week and a half with an ankle sprain. One of his setters — freshman Brenna Hess — was just cleared for a return from mononucleosis.

“You always have the feeling that you’d be ahead of where you’re at, but different things come up,” Danbom said. “The girls are resilient.”

Important is having a strong force at the net, and Central has it with middle Phoebe Havenaar. Outside Sam Herron has also come alive.

“I think these girls are on an upswing,” Danbom said. “Two weeks ago was a low spot, but we’re battling to get past that.”

Libero puts in the time

Waubonsie coach Kristen Didier doesn’t have to set up a system of rewards and punishments for Warriors libero Sydney Slevin.

She’s got it covered.

“She puts goals on herself,” Didier said of Slevin. “She’ll be like ‘If I miss this many serves, I have to do this kind of drill the next day.’”

It’s paid dividends. A reserve defensive specialist who barely saw the court last year, Slevin has taken the expanded role and run with it. Slevin, committed to Division I Sacred Heart, had 17 digs in each of Waubonsie’s recent wins over Metea and St. Charles North.

“It was a pretty big role for her to take on, but she just works her butt off,” Didier said. “She’s willing to put in the time, works hard in the weight room and with sprints. She’s just a coachable kid.”

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