Selecting Mother McAuley as the preseason No. 1 in Southland volleyball pretty much was a no-brainer.
I mean, how much do you really have to think about it when you’ve got a defending state champion returning six regular rotation players?
There was only one hole to be filled in the Mighty Macs lineup. But it was a huge hole. A heart-and-soul hole.
McAuley lost one of its best all-around players when setter and 2013 SouthtownStar Player of the Year Courtney Joyce graduated and moved on to Western Illinois.
Meet hole-fillers Amber Casey and Jane DeJarld.
In a few ways, they’re different. Casey is a senior, DeJarld a junior. Casey was on the varsity team that won it all for the first time since 2004, while DeJarld set for the JV squad. Casey is most valuable in the back row, DeJarld in the front row.
Both, however, are set for the near future, DeJarld at Boston College and Casey at St. Francis in Joliet. And both have minds united on one goal: to take the 2014 Mighty Macs where Joyce did in 2013.
The juggling act belongs to Macs coach (and Jane’s mom) Jen DeJarld, who runs a modified 5-1 offense where the two sub in and out for one another.
“They both bring different things to our team,” Jen DeJarld said. “Amber definitely brings experience. That kid is calm, cool, collected under pressure. I put her in the state championship match for right-back defense and she did a great job.
“Jane is tall (5-9) and lanky and she can save tight balls at the net. She is doing a great job connecting with our middles (Kelsey Clark and Kayla Caffey), giving them a higher ball.”
Both of their individual talents were on display Wednesday in McAuley’s 25-12, 25-12 win over Providence.
In the front row, DeJarld worked the offense with precision and efficiency, dishing the ball on either side to her older sister, Ryann, or to Kennedy Arundel and Maggie Scanlon.
The most jaw-dropping results of her sets came in the middle, where Caffey and Clark whaled away on quick-sets for some monstrous kills. One in particular, by Caffey, went straight down with such a boom it brought gasps from the crowd and some wide-eyed looks on the other side of the net.
“That one, that was awesome,” Jane DeJarld said, laughing. “Kayla and I have been playing together for a long time, probably seventh- or eighth-grade club season. We have a really great connection in the middle. That’s my favorite set to set.
“Her and Kelsey both get in the air fast. My middles are what I feel most confident in. I know they can get the job done.”
Casey, aside from playing solid defense, has an effective serve as well. Going in late in Game 2 against Providence, she fired back-to-back aces to start the final Macs push to victory.
“(Jen) DeJarld has been my coach since I can remember, and I’ve had that technique that she taught me for a while,” Casey said. “It’s progressed and gotten good.”
Both give credit to Joyce for being a mentor, of sorts.
“Amber and I both learned so much from her,” Jane DeJarld said. “She was always supporting her teammates. She was the go-to player on the team. Everyone could look to her in times of stress. I really looked up to her, and that’s the player that I would like to be like.”
I’m pretty certain Joyce would be proud.