Caitlin Piechota comes from excellent volleyball lineage, but there was nothing silver-spoonish about the trajectory of her volleyball career.
Piechota, whose, mother, Kim, was a Division I player at Illinois State, was cut from the volleyball team as a seventh-grader at Rotolo Middle School. She made the team the next year, but remained on a modest track for the next couple years, failing to crack Batavia’s varsity until her junior year.
Two years later, the left-handed thumping outside hitter has a Division I future of her own, and is the Kane County Chronicle’s Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.
“My senior year, I felt like every game, it had to be the ultimate, best game I could play,” Piechota said. “I just didn’t want to leave this season with regret, saying ‘If I did this, this would have happened.’ I just wanted to keep out those ‘Woulda, coulda, shouldas,’ and play my best every game.”
Greatness resulted, both individually and for her team. Piechota was the most dynamic weapon for a Bulldogs team that went a program-best 32-6 this season, and won its second regional championship ever. Her 298 kills led the team, and Piechota’s 237 service points – including 50 aces – were a program record.
Best of all for the Bulldogs, their go-to senior was typically at her best in tight scenarios and against quality opponents.
“I love that feeling,” Piechota said. “I want to be the go-to hitter. I pushed myself so I am the go-to hitter because I think I can handle that pressure. From my experience, I play better under pressure. I hit harder and I just play smarter. I like having that role where I can push my team to the end, and be a really strong leader out on the court.”
Piechota enjoyed a strong debut season on varsity as a junior, but it was this season when she became truly dominant. Piechota said “everything just connected so well this year,” as she steadily clicked with setters Mary Kate Bryant and Mary Nilles.
Her weight room-enhanced power spiked, allowing the 5-foot-9, Western Carolina recruit to pound balls in just as menacing fashion as rivals across the net who stand on the other side of 6-foot.
Bryant credited Piechota for her willingness to embrace the challenge at make-or-break junctures of the match, and on those few occasions when things did not break right for the Bulldogs, Bryant said Piechota was quick to shoulder blame.
“She took complete responsibility for the team,” Bryant said.
Left-handed outside hitters are a rarity, especially since it can take longer for southpaws to line up their kill attempts as sets cross their bodies, but Piechota’s left-handedness might have worked to her advantage in some instances, at least until blockers could adjust. Interestingly enough, her mom, who also was an outside hitter, is the only member of the family who is not left-handed, Piechota said.
Lori Trippi-Payne expects Piechota to continue the Batavia program’s tradition of successful transitions to the college level at Western Carolina.
“I think she definitely will,” Trippi-Payne said. “College is so big on the consistent players, that’s so huge for them. All of the college coaches you talk to will say ‘Oh my gosh, we need a player who can be consistent day in and day out,’ and Caitlin is going to be able to provide that.”
Piechota still has moments of melancholy in the aftermath of Batavia’s loss to York in the 4A Bartlett Sectional semifinals, prompted by an R Kelly song that reminds her of the season, a replayed match on BATV or even just bumping into a teammate in the hall.
But a brief volleyball breather until Dec. 1, when her Sports Performance club season revs up, is not entirely unwelcome. After the way she closed her Bulldogs career, Piechota certainly earned one.
“I’m loving it,” Piechota said. “It’s just weird coming home right after school and not having to do something, but I know it’s not going to last long, so I’m going to do what I can now to relax.”