Southtown Player of the Year: Lincoln-Way North’s Jake Walenga

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If clutch players have ice running through their veins, then Lincoln-Way North junior Jake Walenga is a glacier.

Time and again, the 6-foot-1 outside hitter delivered the biggest kills in the biggest moments, helping propel North to a 38-4 record and runner-up finish in the state after navigating the toughest sectional in Illinois.

“Guys like Jake Walenga,” North coach Matt Lawrence said, “they don’t come along very often.”

Walenga, who owns a 42-inch vertical jump, was nearly unstoppable in the postseason.

He blasted 16 kills to down Lincoln-Way East for the sectional crown, had a stunning 26 kills in a state quarterfinal slugfest against Minooka and ripped off 19 more in the semifinals against Glenbrook South. His 13 kills in the state finals was a match-high against champion Downers Grove South.

“Every team I’ve ever been on has looked at me late in games to get a kill,” Walenga said. “You have nothing to worry about and nothing to lose when you know the ball is coming to you in tight games.”

Walenga, though, is much more than just his kill total. The team captain is one of the top passers in the Southland and widely recognized for his volleyball acumen.

He’s also the 2013 SouthtownStar Boys Volleyball Player of the Year.

“Outside of California, I feel our area is the top volleyball area in the country, and I’m extremely gratified to earn the honor,” Walenga said. “I’ve had to change positions to give my knees a rest and really look out for the team’s aspect and not much of my own by playing libero. I didn’t think I’d get any individual awards.”

Walenga notched 309 kills, 241 digs and 37 aces on the season. His kill total is remarkable considering he played two major tournaments and a handful of other games at libero to help save his explosiveness for the playoffs.

“I really enjoyed taking a leadership role, and I was extremely pleased with the way my team handled a lot of changes,” Walenga said. “Losing our middle, Hawk Skrodal (torn ACL), and me going from outside to libero and back, I thought we handled adversity really well.”

Lawrence noted Walenga as a force anywhere on the floor and said his on-court ability isn’t the only factor that separates him from other players in the state.

“He’s the type of guy who excites people about playing the sport,” Lawrence said. “He would go out and recruit athletic kids from P.E. class to join the team. He doesn’t have to say much. He just acts and kids look up to him.”

All-conference setter and teammate Matt Burke said Walenga’s mental game is unmatched.

“He’s the smartest volleyball player I’ve ever been around,” Burke said. “This isn’t to slight our coaches because we have great coaches, but Jake is just as smart and can teach you something at every position.”

Walenga earned all-tournament honors playing outside hitter at the Brother Rice Smack Attack and all-tournament honors playing libero at the Lincoln-Way East Invite.

The senior-to-be is considering a permanent switch to libero in college, but he and his coach recognize attacking the net is where he belongs next season.

“When the game gets tight, you know he’s going to be clutch no matter what,” Lawrence said. “Just give No. 4 the ball.”

That’s because he’s cold as ice.

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