Geneva student sections serenaded Grace Loberg with her share of “SHE’S A FRESH-MAN!” chants this past school year.
Before long, the words seemed silly as Loberg persistently put her stamp on breakthrough seasons for the school’s girls volleyball and girls basketball teams.
Turns out those four syllables held true in at least one respect. Although she didn’t always look the part, Loberg, the 2013-14 Kane County Chronicle-St. Charles Bank & Trust Female Athlete of the Year, admitted to the jitters every so often.
“Once the game starts, I’m usually OK, but just warming up,” Loberg said. “I think when there’s people there, I always get really nervous because, I don’t know, it just scares me a little bit. But once I get on the court and I start playing, it’s better. I just have to calm myself down.”
Loberg inspired frenzies throughout the fall and winter, a 6-foot-2 volleyball outside hitter and basketball center whose teams advanced to one state tournament with another supersectional appearance.
Once, when her sports overlapped, the forces of nature conspired to help Loberg back to the lineup. OK, so it was Vikings girls basketball coach Sarah Meadows hauling ice to Loberg’s classes after a club volleyball injury threatened to keep her out of basketball regionals, but if that doesn’t illustrate her value to Geneva, what does?
“We needed that ankle to heal as quickly as we could get it,” Meadows said.
Although Loberg missed the Vikings’ regional semifinal, she returned for the rest of a stretch run that saw the Vikings barrel through a wall of higher seeds en route to a fourth-place finish in Class 4A. Loberg averaged a team-high 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds in 24 games after an early-season call-up.
A little more than three months earlier, Loberg almost helped Geneva to the volleyball state tournament as the Vikings lost in a supersectional. She had 312 kills and 179 digs as the Vikings claimed the program’s first sectional title.
Earlier this week, Loberg left with her Fusion South volleyball teammates to represent the Batavia-based club at the national tournament in Florida. She admits volleyball is her primary focus, and has discussed with her mother, Colleen, and Meadows the likelihood of re-evaluating her basketball participation before each season.
Loberg began playing basketball in third grade, and one of the reasons she tried out for Geneva speaks to the cut-out collage on display in the family’s front lawn: A basketball and volleyball attached to a post beneath a Viking helmet.
“It would have been weird to stop playing,” Loberg said.
So she didn’t. She opened the basketball season with the sophomore team – alongside volleyball running and swinging mate Ally Barrett – before Meadows promoted her to the varsity in December after point guard Michaela Loebel’s knee injury.
Another reason those “FRESH-MAN!” chants bordered on the out-of-place: Loberg often blushed at the sound.
“She is the most humble kid with so much talent, and I don’t know what it is,” Meadows said. “I don’t know if she doesn’t realize how talented she is or she just doesn’t care. It’s never about Grace Loberg. It’s about the team. And to have that attitude at such a young age is cool.”
Loberg is the second of four sports-loving siblings born to Greg and Colleen, who met as Indiana undergrads. Matt, the oldest, plays football and will be a Geneva senior in the fall. There’s a pigskin cutout below a Viking helmet on the lawn, too.
The family lovingly calls Greg “crazy volleyball dad” for his penchant for the sport, especially on the busy club scene, a passion he cultivated while dating his future wife. Colleen Loberg was a Hoosiers middle hitter in the early 1990s, with St. Charles East coach Jennie Kull serving as an Indiana assistant.
Kull’s daughter, Morgan, plays alongside Grace Loberg in club ball these days, and naturally, the moms reminisce. Colleen Loberg finds herself celebrating points all over again, and sometimes has to work to contain herself.
Her oldest daughter, slightly taller, owns an upper hand there.
“You know what, they’re growing up and everyone says, ‘Well, won’t that be exciting?’ ” Colleen Loberg said. “The first time I remember when she was in sixth grade and playing in a tournament. ... I remember sitting there watching and going, ‘Huh.’ I mean, she’s just quick and natural and never gets flustered. That’s the thing that I think really helps her. No matter how exciting the game is, how low or high, she kind of stays even, which I think is good, because it’s hard.”
Grace Loberg is eager for another run in 2014-15. There will be different casts around her in both sports, beginning in volleyball, where longtime coach K.C. Johnsen has stepped down. Assistant Annie Seitelman, a former Indiana player who taught Loberg in PE class this year, takes over.
“[Johnsen] was really great to give me a shot and let me play varsity with them,” Loberg said. “He helped me.”
In the next breath, she describes her excitement to play under Seitelman, who’s brimming herself after implementing recent open gyms.
Regardless of her year in school, the gym doesn’t figure to close on Loberg’s watch. That would just be weird.