Vernon Hills volleyball cuts out ‘fluff’

SHARE Vernon Hills volleyball cuts out ‘fluff’

VERNON HILLS — There haven’t been many victories for the Vernon Hills girls volleyball team this season.

There hasn’t been much fluff, either.

“We coined the term ‘fluff’ as the ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it next time [attitude],’ ” senior setter Victoria Smith said. “[Coach Ray Rugebregt] doesn’t like that, and we don’t either. There’s no meaning. No purpose behind it.”

The Cougars are light on fluff, heavy on accountability. It’s all part of the program’s rebuild. First-year coach Rugebregt is in charge of instilling a new culture at Vernon Hills.

“We’re pushing to have that grit mentality,” said Rugebregt, a former assistant at Cary-Grove. “One thing we stress in practice is when one person makes a mistake, everyone gets affected. They can’t hide on the court.”

The change in culture has brought along some growing pains. Vernon Hills hosted the Cougar Classic Saturday, earning five losses in five matches. The Cougars lost in straight games in all but one match.

Timeouts are called frequently during matches. Conversations between Rugebregt and his players — as well as those between captains Smith and senior Kasey Firnbach and teammates — take on an instructional tone.

“We focus on small things. Games of five, scoring in a certain zone, hitting at a certain position,” Rugebregt said. “How to pass, how to read the hitter, where the ball is coming from. We want to shorten the game up instead of focusing on the end result.”

Added Firnbach, “We can’t just say, ‘OK, good job.’ We have to say, ‘Keep your platform.’ People need specifics.”

People also need rewards. On Friday, the Cougars earned one when they defeated NSC foe Antioch 25-14, 25-16. A good start to the match carried over to both games as Vernon Hills won for the third time this season.

“We weren’t going into it thinking, ‘Oh, we are going to win.’ We knew we had to work hard,” Smith said. “Once we came out and were playing well, everyone was pretty relaxed.”

Even during Saturday’s losses, signs emerged to indicate the Cougars are improving. A five-match total of 248 digs revealed a tenacious defense. Vernon Hills’ 230 combined block and attack kills showed it can play an aggressive offense that includes a formidable block. Junior libero Jade Goldufsky played well Saturday, as did sophomore middle blocker Jenna Joyce. Senior Val Barybina, another middle blocker, provides depth.

Vernon Hills is in full-scale rebuild mode. Patience is the program’s currency. Coaches and players admit to that reality.

“You are not going, in Day One, to step on the volleyball court and everything’s going to be perfect. It’s not going to happen that way. It’s a process and it’s going to take time,” Smith said. “We don’t want to get to October saying, ‘I wish I could have done this or that.’

“We want to make those changes now so we don’t have to live with that regret.”

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