LIBERTYVILLE — The Libertyville girls volleyball team qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 2012, but last year’s squad, including standouts Julia Smagacz, Kristen Webb, Taylor Zant and Cindy Zhou, is history.
A new chapter has begun for the Wildcats, and their success will depend a great deal on how senior outside hitter Rhiannon Prentiss performs and leads her teammates.
“I’m just trying to be as positive as I can,” Prentiss said. “We have a bunch of not necessarily new players, but a lot of the seniors that didn’t see the court much last year, and we have a sophomore and a freshman. I still think we’re still kind of nervous, and we’ve had a tough schedule so far. I’m just trying to keep them positive and show that mistakes aren’t the end of the world.”
Prentiss and junior Alex Basler were key contributors last year, but they have a lot of inexperience around them.
“We lost a lot of thumpers, so it’s a new game plan,” Wildcats coach Greg Loika said. “It’s pretty exciting because we’re tinkering and toying with what fits where. Defense is our key, and if we play that well I think we’ll be OK.”
Loika expects a big year from Prentiss.
“As one of our captains, she has a leadership position along with the experience of last year and seeing how the state playoffs go,” he said. “She has good knowledge of the game, and the girls respect that part of her.”
At 5-foot-7, Prentiss is small for an outside hitter, but she has excelled at the position for three years.
“It’s not like I’m a straight-down hitter, and not many people on our team are,” she said. “The fact that we can push through and be a good team is pretty exciting because I don’t think people expect much comparing us to last year. Stevenson was bigger than us in every single compartment, and we showed we could beat them.”
A good game IQ has also allowed Prentiss to shine.
“She knows how to find what’s open without trying to do too much,” Loika said. “That’s going to be key for our team all year. If they take that mantra from her we should be in a good spot.”
Prentiss’ interest in volleyball began 10 years ago after attending a Nike camp in Connecticut. She has been playing ever since relocating to Illinois.
“I really like the sport because it feels like every play is different,” said Prentiss, who hasn’t decided yet whether she will continue playing in college. “I really like the team aspect of everyone working together, and it obviously feels good to get a good kill or dig.”