WHEATON – The pull of playing volleyball at St. Francis is powerful.
For Annemarie Jagielo, so was the draw of carving her own athletic path.
Consequently, Jagielo opted to play volleyball for the powerhouse Spartans program as a freshman, distancing herself from her family’s tennis heritage. Her older sister, Emily, was a four-year tennis stalwart for the Spartans.
“It was really difficult because my whole family played tennis but I’d played volleyball since fifth grade (at St. Patrick in St. Charles), and I loved volleyball, so I thought I would give it a try because my sister played tennis, so it was something different,” Jagielo said.
If she’d sprouted a few more inches, the Wayne resident still might be working her way up the St. Francis volleyball program after splitting time between hitter and libero for the unbeaten Spartans’ freshman team last year.
“I’m not that tall,” Jagielo said. “I [was a hitter] freshman year, and I didn’t think I’d continue hitting. And I decided I didn’t really want to play [volleyball] in college, either, so that played a big part in my decision because I spent so much time in club with a goal of playing in college, and I didn’t really want to do that anymore.
“And I’d played tennis my whole life, so it was something to fall back on, for sure.”
After consulting with family members – especially Emily, now a student at Elon University – Jagielo opted to relaunch her high school sports career under veteran Spartans girls tennis coach Marcia Bussey.
Immediately, Jagielo ascended among the Spartans’ top players, and partnered with fellow sophomore Alexis Langley. The two were slotted at No. 1 doubles, where Emily Jagielo spent most of her Spartans career before switching to singles as a senior.
Despite dropping a Suburban Christian Conference match to Wheaton Academy on Tuesday, Jagielo and Langley are enjoying a winning debut as partners, including an impressive win on Monday against St. Charles East twins Alexa and Carly Huskisson.
Both girls have singles approaches by nature, so coaxing them to aggressively play the net is a continual challenge. Otherwise, Bussey likes what she sees.
“Both of them have a lot to learn in doubles but they are both very fast and they have a real passion,” Bussey said. “Neither of them wants to lose. They really, really do try hard. They move all over the court.”
Langley is a lefty and Jagielo a righty, but otherwise it can be tricky to tell the blonde partners apart – especially in opponents’ peripheral vision.
That’s not a bad intangible in the girls’ favor.
“When you have two people that look alike playing doubles, there isn’t one just standing out more than the other, it doesn’t necessarily give the other team a target,” Bussey said. “... A lot of times I’ll ask at the start of [a doubles match], who is the weaker player? They’ll say ‘the tall one’ or ‘dark-haired one’ hair, but you can’t identify so much when they look so much alike.”
Jagielo played tennis extensively growing up, and said it was easier than expected to chip away the rust once she resumed tennis workouts in the spring.
A chunk of her youth was spent at St. Francis tennis matches, watching her big sister compete.
Following in those footsteps was a natural progression – even if it took a hiatus from the sport to convince herself.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.