Guerin’s Kathleen Sweeney was able to get some pretty good volleyball lessons growing up without ever leaving her backyard.
The senior setter’s mom, Eileen Sweeney, was a setter at Guerin and then at Loras College in Iowa.
“She definitely was the biggest influence on me playing volleyball,” Kathleen said. “She introduced me to the whole lifestyle. We always played in the backyard when I was first starting out. We would pepper and she would teach me the right way of how to pass the ball and set the ball.”
Eileen was taken aback at how quickly her daughter picked up the sport and that she seemed to have a knack for being a setter.
“I was more surprised that it was something you could inherit,” Eileen said. “She has the same skill set I did, only she’s a better player than me. She has nice hands. She has a nice soft set and she continues to develop her quickness.”
Kathleen also played basketball growing up, but volleyball always was the main sport. She was on North Sideout, a club team in Chicago, in seventh and eighth grade. She then joined FOCUS, which is based in Elk Grove Village.
Sweeney, who is a Gators co-captain with Becky Bartnicki, was brought up to the varsity as a sophomore and became a full-time starter last year.
The Gators, young and a little inexperienced, took a 13-14-1 record into the playoffs. They were scheduled to meet Vernon Hills Tuesday in the 3A regional semifinals.
The 5-foot-5 Sweeney has stepped up in an important way.
“Whenever we’re looking for someone in a tough situation, she’s the one to step up and take charge,” said Guerin coach Paul Bartnicki. “She is definitely the most spirited and vocal person on the court. She can come across as strong-willed and she commands the most out of the rest of the team.”
Sweeney, who is mild-mannered off the court, has no trouble flipping the switch come game time.
“I don’t want to sound too cheesy but I just play the whole game with my heart,” she said. “I get so into it mentally and physically that I want to win. I get so amped and excited and I just want everyone to do what they’re supposed to do.”
With her ability to lead and teach on the court, coaching volleyball might be in her future. But her main goal is to become a special education teacher. During the summer she works with the Chicago Park District at a special needs camp in Norwood Park.
Sweeney doesn’t know where she’ll go to college but playing volleyball is definitely in the cards. She’s already received offers from Concordia and Eureka College.
Her younger sister Colleen plays volleyball on the lower levels at Guerin and is primed to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. Colleen already is a few inches taller than Kathleen and is showing promise. But Kathleen is leading the way right now for Gators. Entering this week, she has 289 assists and 64 aces.
“She’s not always been getting the best passes from her team but she busts her butt to make solid plays to put us in position to score,” Paul Bartnicki said. “Last year we were a really strong team, but with seniors who graduated. This year we’re a little bit inexperienced so she’s made that transition to take over and help those guys.”