GENEVA – Geneva junior libero Kelsey Wicinski absorbs her opponents’ best shots during every match.
It all started when she sponged up much of her older sisters’ early volleyball careers.
The youngest – and shortest – of three siblings to play for Vikings coach KC Johnsen, Wicinski provides a variety of services for the top seed in the 3A Addison Trail Regional. She knows she also could set or provide back-line attacking during tonight’s regional semifinal against Addison Trail. Wicinski doesn’t just dig digging.
“I’ve played every position, but I like libero. I like how I play,” Wicinski said. “It’s given me a higher volleyball IQ, definitely, and made me a smarter player.”
Johnsen often tells people the 5-foot-8 Wicinski is as tall now as her oldest sister, Lauren, was during her freshman year. These days, Lauren Wicinski is pushing 6-2 as a top senior outside hitter at Michigan State.
Middle sister Jess Wicinski is a 5-10 freshman right-side/outside hitter at NCAA Division II Quincy. The girls’ mother, Gina, was an outside hitter at Northern Illinois from 1983 to 1987.
While Kelsey Wicinski wouldn’t trade her sisters for anything – she traveled to Aurora’s Great Lakes Center to watch Jess in a Division II tournament Friday – she’s also eager to forge her own path.
“I think she’s handled it well,” Gina Wicinski said. “The good thing is, she plays a different position than they did. Being a defensive person is a different ballgame, so that’s been kind of unique for her.”
Wicinski especially set herself apart during a three-game victory Sept. 24 against visiting St. Charles North.
A week after sprawling to a then-program record 48 digs against Batavia, Wicinski narrowly outdid herself with what Johnsen called a “pretty ridiculous” 49 digs. Kelly Dalheim established the previous standard of 41 digs during last season’s sectional final loss to Glenbard West.
Wicinski was in her first varsity season at that point, and by then had taken to watching and learning from Dalheim, much as she did at her own sisters’ practices and matches from an early age. Naturally, the Wicinskis had a volleyball net in their backyard growing up, and the youngest member of the family couldn’t help but begin embracing the sport.
The key to success at libero?
“Read,” Wicinski said. “Read the hitter’s hand and read where you’re going to put the block and read where the seam is.”
And speed read at that.
“Yeah,” Wicinski said. “You can’t think about it too much. You just have to go.”
Gina Wicinski is glad her daughter is a voracious reader, of course, but also beams about how the libero role has grown since her playing days. It only has helped her daughter and others wearing different-colored jerseys than their teammates.
“They don’t always just have to be a setter, because even know setters are 6-foot, too,” Gina Wicinski said. “It kind of opens an avenue for a lot of kids who think volleyball is just for tall players.”
Johnsen stresses the importance of versatility in players’ development. Drills early in practice are designed to get every player working at each basic skill, just in case a match comes down to a non-setter setting or a non-libero passing.
If she keeps playing at her current rate, Kelsey Wicinski knows her list of college suitors will grow, too.
“She’s taken our libero position to a whole new level,” Johnsen said, “and that’s good.”