The early season goal for Oak Park-River Forest girls volleyball coach Don August is to find a way to make maximum use of his best player.
That’s why 6-foot-3 Symone Speech is starting the season as an outside hitter despite having never played there. As an outside hitter, Speech will have far more hitting opportunities than at her previous middle hitter position.
In preparation, she worked out this summer with professional volleyball player Arielle Wilson, a former Proviso East standout who won national titles while at Penn State and played professionally in Azerbaijan. Speech has known Wilson, a Broadview resident, since the seventh grade.
Huskies’ junior teammate Ariel Hamby joined them for informal practice sessions.
“We spent two days with Wilson when she was here to see her family,” Speech said. “We blocked a lot and worked on hitting. She is so good. You can’t get over how good she is.”
August is banking on the return of 6-2 senior Meg Valenti and the addition of 6-1 junior Abby Zarosl to fill the middle spot vacated by Speech.
“It has been terrific. [Speech] has an outstanding personality and is willing to contribute,” August said. “She’s a nice person and has a pleasant personality. At practice every day, she does every drill.”
The Huskies are off to a slow start with losses to St. Ignatius and Trinity, but it would be hard to criticize OPRF for switching Speech’s role, based on her performance in the season opener. She had a team-high eight kills in the 25-23, 25-22 loss to the Wolfpack Aug. 26.
August, a former coach at Illinois-Chicago, knows the transition for Speech will take time, perhaps weeks. Speech devoted the offseason to developing chemistry with new setter Natalie Haber.
“You have to learn how to adjust to things that you are not comfortable with,” said Speech, who verbally committed to Georgetown in the offseason and plans on making an official visit in September or October.
Speech participated in OPRF’s team summer camp and played with Nazareth’s Wisconsin-bound Julia Saunders and Lyons libero Toni Saracco on the 1st Alliance 17 Silver club team at USA Junior Nationals in June in Minneapolis.
The toughest part of Speech’s transition to the outside has been the raised expectations on defense. As a middle, she rarely played a full rotation, but coaches cannot sub for outside hitters as easily.
“My digging is picking up,” Speech said. “My serve receive is a little rough, but I think it will pick up. Allie Nelson, our libero, has helped me a lot on how to drop back [on defense].”
Riley Burchett, Nazareth
The West Virginia-bound defensive specialist/libero will be expected to replace former Linnea Rohren.
Lauren Fuller, Hinsdale Central
Verbally committed to San Diego, the 6-foot-3 middle has unfinished business after the Red Devils went 11-19.
Hannah Juley, Lyons
After two surgeries, the Wisconsin recruit hopes to help Lyons challenge Glenbard West in the WSC Silver.
Toni Saracco, Lyons
The senior libero has already set school records for digs in a career and for a season.
Julia Saunders, Nazareth
Behind the 6-2 Wisconsin-bound senior, the Roadrunners hope to challenge Benet in the East Suburban Catholic.