Right now, Lakes is so far ahead of schedule, that you can’t even see “schedule” in the rear-view mirror.
With five straight wins and the championship of its own tournament last Saturday, the Eagles improved to 9-0 on the season, with a roster of almost entirely new players and a new coach.
Katie Cheek moved up to coach the varsity after Molly May completed a very successful three-year run that saw the Eagles win the North Suburban Prairie title in 2011 and tie Vernon Hills for the title last fall.
May stepped down to give more attention to her life outside of varsity volleyball. She continues to teach Spanish at Antioch High and is coaching the Sequoits’ sophomore team this fall (Lakes and Antioch are in the same school district).
But, as Lakes athletic director Troy Parola said, “Molly would not have stepped away from our program if she didn’t believe it wasn’t in very good hands.”
And right now, those capable hands belong to Cheek, who was a volleyball standout at Antioch (Class of 2005) when her surname was Hofeldt.
“I started with the freshman team, and Molly brought me up to the sophomore program. There are a number of girls I will have had all four years of their high school career. That’s really rare,” said Cheek. “It’s kind of exciting, because I know how they play as players, and how they play as a team.
“We graduated seven seniors last year, and five out of our six starters, but these girls are doing so well. Their whole focus is on team chemistry.”
That chemistry has been crucial as Lakes has senior players working right alongside freshmen and sophomores.
“I have the big outside, [sophomore] Megan Behrendt, who is our captain and is really stressing that. Haley Halberg, our middle, is our other captain, and she’s done a great job pushing the girls as a senior leader,” Cheek said. “Our other outside, McKenna Lahr, is just a freshman. She works so hard and already gets along great with the girls. I’m really excited that I get to have these girls.”
Behrendt is a club player, as the 5-9 thumper plays for Wisconsin Juniors, which won a 14-under national title last year.
Her take on Lakes’ strong start with almost all new players?
“I think our chemistry. We get along on and off the court. We’re always talking. We communicate very well. It’s truly a team effort. It’s not just one person carrying the team.
“Our goal is to be the first Lakes team to go downstate. We’re in the gym, working hard every day, and really pushing ourselves,” Behrendt said.
As a senior, Halberg is the one player with varsity experience.
“It’s really exciting to be off to such a good start. We have great chemistry. We know how to finish a game. It’s really refreshing, because we graduated a lot of seniors,” she said. “To have a lot of underclassmen with so much talent is amazing. Everybody on this team has a great attitude. We’re always picking each other up.”
Many coaches will say that it can be challenging, particularly in the case of girls sports, to get upperclassmen to work well with underclassmen. At Lakes, that has not been a problem.
“We have some really good young players, so as seniors we try not to think of ourselves as superior. When they’re playing well, we all feel good,” said Halberg. “We obviously want to have a great senior year, but to do that, we need everyone to be on the same page.”
Despite the 9-0 record heading into Monday’s match against Class 4A Carmel, the team’s coach knows there’s work to be done.
“The goal for us is figuring out what we can do as a team to become better. It’s not even about the individual wins and losses, but how we can work together to have a great season,” Cheek said. “If we can do that, hopefully it will show up as wins in our record. So far, it has. We’re on a roll.”
As for the hot start, Cheek clearly wants Lakes to be the “big dog” in the sport.
“Hopefully [winning] sets a high standard and ends up giving us a little intimidation factor,” she said. “I want other teams to come in and think, ‘Oh boy, we’re playing Lakes. We’re going to have to play our best to have a chance.’ We’re not big, but we play really well as a team, and I want other teams to know that.”