BATAVIA – Shea Thayer’s Batavia girls volleyball teammates heap high praise upon her, which delights Thayer all the more considering how recent back troubles might have affected her vertical.
A stress fracture in her back sidelined Thayer for most of her sophomore club season, and she was unable to return to full action until the first day of 2012 tryouts.
Thayer started at middle hitter throughout the fall and remained healthy during her most recent Sports Performance club season. Her stamina gradually returned, but Thayer made sure to take out an insurance policy to support the Bulldogs’ bid for a solid season this fall.
“I feel so much stronger. I’ve been working out every day. I’ve definitely gained a lot of strength and muscle,” Thayer said. “Definitely gotten bigger.”
Now a senior, Thayer admits another inch or two to bolster her 5-foot-10 frame wouldn’t hurt, especially as the Bulldogs size up an Upstate Eight Conference River Division that includes its share of height at the net.
Short of some miracle overnight spurt, however, Thayer happily brings strong leaping ability she’s always felt confidently about.
The Bulldogs, too.
“I love working with Shea because she touches very high, so it’s easy to work with her because she’s such a talented player,” senior setter Audrey Faulhaber said. “We really, even this year, just connected so much, more than ever.”
Outside hitter Heather Meyer – like Faulhaber and Thayer a third-year varsity player – sees the benefits of Thayer’s “ups” elsewhere, too.
“Her block is huge,” Meyer said, “so that’s definitely going to help us this year.”
Shackled by a back brace for only about a month after learning of her condition in the winter of 2012, Thayer eagerly attacked her physical therapy.
She continued her recomittment to strength training and enters her final high school season rejuvenated.
“It was tough sometimes. I was out of shape, so it was tough coming back, but, I mean, I feel good now,” Thayer said. “I feel like I’m definitely back to where I was and I’m getting better.”
Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne knows her team must be fortified all-around to make a run in the UEC River.
Geneva, St. Charles North and Larkin are receiving most of the preseason buzz, but a nonconference schedule that includes defending state champions Benet (4A) and St. Francis (3A) only figures to help the Bulldogs’ growth before league play opens Sept. 17.
Thayer credits Trippi-Payne’s cheerful personality for helping her stay focused.
“She’s really positive all the time, so she doesn’t let us be negative, so it’s easier to have a positive outlook on stuff,” Thayer said.
Injuries or not, optimism always adds up in this see-saw sport. Now that she’s replenished her own supply, Thayer is jumping for joy.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sam Dubiel, St. Francis, Sr., L
Florida recruit backed up St. Francis’ deep core of net players during another special season for the program and veteran coach Peg Kopec.
Ellie Dunn, Kaneland, Jr., OH
New coach Kerri McCastland inherited a good talent base when she took the reins of the program this summer. Dunn might be at the top of the list.
Audrey Faulhaber, Batavia, Sr., S
Established a new single-season program record with 715 assists in 2012. “Just great to work with,” middle hitter Shea Thayer said.
Maddie Haggerty, St. Francis, Sr., OH
Smacked a team-high 300 kills for the 3A state champion Spartans as a junior while also ranking among the digs leaders with 163. Committed to Nebraska.
Carly Jimenez, St. Charles East, Sr., S
Jimenez, a High Point (N.C.) recruit, has worked to establish quick rapport as the team welcomes a handful of younger offensive options.
Taylor Krage, St. Charles North, Sr., OH
Northern Illinois-bound Krage keeps enjoying big offseasons. She’s a two-time AAU national champ after her Fusion 17 Black team won a title in June.
Grace Loberg, Geneva, Fr., RH
The MVP of her age division after a national championship season for Fusion South’s 14 Red program, Loberg stands 6-foot-2, just like talented classmate and fellow right-side Ally Barrett.
Jenny Lubic, Kaneland, Sr., S
Returned to form after concussion last season in time to help Knights to strong farewell season for former coach Todd Weimer.
Taylor Marmitt, Geneva, Sr., MB
One of just three seniors on the roster, Marmitt looks to help compensate for the Vikings’ youth with her size and defense.
Heather Meyer, Batavia, Sr., OH
Third-year starter contributed a team-high 235 kills last season and looks to lead what the program hopes is another resurgence in 2013.
Allie O’Reilly, Burlington Central, Sr., L
BC’s career leader in digs is getting NCAA Division I looks. She’ll look to support a strong and seasoned returning group of hitters.
Alex Seavey, St. Charles North, Sr., DS
Had 12 digs in her varsity debut last fall and didn’t really stop motoring. Or digging. Or communicating from the back line.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Vikings aim to be their own club fusion – note the lowercase letters – as promising newcomers Ally Barrett and Grace Loberg mingle with veterans such as Courtney Caruso and Taylor Marmitt. “We expect to be able to compete with just about anyone on our schedule and improve with experience as the season progresses,” coach KC Johnsen said. Junior DS/libero Kelsey Wicinski should keep the family contributions coming to Geneva volleyball.
Knights hope to help aptly named new coach Kerri McCastland fit right in, as they project as contenders in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East race behind returners such as Ellie Dunn and Jenny Lubic. Freshmen Alex Anderson and Hannah Nauert also are vying to fit into the rotation for McCastland, who previously had varsity jobs at Oak Forest, Andrew, Plainfield South and Plainfield North.
ST. CHARLES NORTH
Want an indication of North’s talent? Coach Lindsey Hawkins describes the team’s biggest question marks as how to rotate four quality defensive specialists and which offensive style will be most effective. Alex Seavey is the top-billed DS, and there’s plenty of marquee talent at the net flanking her, including Taylor Krage and Claire Anderson.
Defending 3A state champs return plenty from last year’s title team, led by a trio of Divison I recruits in Sam Dubiel (Florida), Maddie Haggerty (Nebraska) and Natalie Murison (Alabama). “We are setting the sights high,” said coach Peg Kopec, who will make a bid at her 10th career state title.