Saunders continues pipeline to Wisconsin

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New Wisconsin women’s volleyball coach Kelly Sheffield hasn’t directed his first Badgers match yet, but already has a couple of top Chicago area players committed to Madison.

Lauren Carlini of West Aurora, the Chicago Sun-Times player of the year and the Gatorade national player of the year, will set for the Badgers this fall after winning an AAU Junior Olympics title last month with Sports Performance.

Nazareth junior Julia Saunders, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter, will eventually join Carlini after making a verbal commitment to the Badgers in May.

Saunders, a La Grange Highlands resident and the daughter of Nazareth coach Wayne Saunders, chose the Badgers over Michigan State and Ohio State. After she visited Wisconsin earlier in the spring, Saunders heard a simple request from Sheffield — remain patient.

“He wanted to see me play more,” Saunders said. “He had not see me play often.”

A few trips to club tournaments did the trick. Sheffield liked what he saw, made an offer to Saunders and by Memorial Day Saunders agreed to join the Badgers.

“I’m really happy. I’m still really happy,” Saunders said.

She is reportedly Wisconsin’s first recruit from the Class of 2015. Former Badgers coach Pete Waite actually extended a scholarship offer to Saunders in November, but Waite unexpectedly resigned Nov. 26 and Sheffield was hired Dec. 28 from Dayton. Wisconsin’s recruitment of Saunders started all over again.

“Wisconsin was my No. 1 choice even before the coaching change,” Saunders said. “When I was offered (by Sheffield) it took me 48 hours to commit. Maybe not even that.”

She was one of five area players on Western Springs-based 1st Alliance 16 Silver, which placed sixth July 5 at the USAV Junior Nationals 16 Open division in Dallas.

High school teammate Riley Burchett, a libero, was named to the all-tournament team. Saunders earned highest honorable mention honors and Lyons setter Hannah Juley and Oak Park-River Forest middle hitter Symone Speech were named to the all-tournament third team. Lyons defensive specialist Toni Saracco also competed for Alliance 16 Silver.

Speech has received offers from Coastal Carolina, Florida State and Maryland. The Huskie competed with USA Volleyball’s Junior A1 National Training team July 18-28 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The former right-side hitter appears to have adjusted to her new position, which she first took over last fall.

“In general, I have not been a middle for long,” Speech said. “I think I have improved a lot. I’m getting used to the position. Overall, my goal for nationals was to bring it all together.”

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