They're one of the boys, now.
Geneva's boys volleyball team has rounded into form in its second season as a varsity program. After understandably struggling in 2011 to a 3-12 record, 1-4 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division, the Vikings entered Thursday with a 12-8 mark and at 3-1 in the River are vying for a conference title.
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"At some point during this season we moved past being a new team and now we feel pretty much like any of the other schools," Geneva coach K.C. Johnsen said over the phone Thursday while seeking dry spots among the 40 miles of corn and soybean crops on his family farm on the outskirts of St. Charles.
"You can just sense the difference in the boys -- and the opponents -- that we've gotten past the question of what it's like to be the new kid on the block. We really feel like we've established ourselves, maybe not as a power but certainly as a viable opponent for anybody else."
The group of boys who two years ago approached Johnsen about starting a boys program -- Johnson had already established a successful girls program -- initially took their lumps.
In 2010 they played one junior varsity match amid a practice schedule, just getting loose. Geneva's varsity feet got wet in 2011 without the benefit of club experience that predominates on many successful programs.
After that, some of the boys did join Johnsen's Kane County Juniors club. While they didn't tear up that circuit the added experience has shown this spring.
"It's been significantly better than last year," said senior outside hitter Brett Quillen. "I think the same goes for everyone else -- we had a lot of fun last year, but it's not much fun if you're not winning many matches."
Now seeded 10th out of 23 teams at the Elgin sectional, seniors Quillen, fellow outside hitter Nick Caruso, right-side hitters Alex Kimball and Jack Donnelly, libero James Fanella, setter Kemp DeMaris have laid a foundation that juniors like Mason Stierwalt and Dominic Bondi will continue.
"There's been some low times but we always have fun with it," said Quillen, noting improvements in team defense and blocking that have helped the bottom line. "That's why we do it, because it's really fun."
More fun could be had. Coming off Tuesday's win over Streamwood, should Geneva beat Elgin on the road in the Vikings' last regular-season match May 15 the Vikings would earn at least a share of the UEC River title. St. Charles East enters its final match against Streamwood also at 3-1.
"The experience definitely helps," Quillen said.
"We've always been the underdog, we've only been playing a couple years, but it gives us more drive. I don't think many of the teams coming in are thinking they're going to lose to us, but we end up winning some matches pretty easily. It's fun to be the underdog and then come out on top."
Kaneland graduate Sam Kranz was among several seniors honored by the University of Northern Iowa track team on May 3.
An all-state pole vaulter for the Knights in 2006 and 2007, Kaneland's record holder has an outdoor personal-best of 17 feet, 2¾ inches, and an indoor PR of 17-6, and was the 2010 Missouri Valley Conference indoor champion.
The day after the senior honors ceremony, Kranz won UNI's Mark Messersmith Invite with a top vault of 16-10¾. Sunday he'll defend his 2011 conference pole vault title in Sunday's MVC Outdoor Championships in Wichita.
What good is a pitcher with a bad arm?
In Jordan Coffey's case, very good.
In a classic lemonade-from-lemons story, the 2009 Batavia graduate has survived three surgeries, with a fourth on the way, to become an all-conference outfielder as a redshirt sophomore at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
Primarily playing right field, the 6-foot-6 right-hander ended the regular season hitting .335 with a team-high 53 RBI to earn all-Mid-Central College Conference first-team honors.
Coffey's 17-game hitting streak led the Trojans, and in a 14-8 win over Huntington on April 30 he went 3-for-4 with 2 home runs, a double and 7 RBI to help Taylor clinch the MCC title outright.
"I love to play, that's what I've wanted to do my whole life," said Coffey, whose parents, Brian and Lorene, met at Taylor and have 2011 Batavia graduate Jesse there, too. Coffey's grandparents also met there, as did an aunt and uncle.
"I realize there's bigger things out there than just playing baseball," Jordan said, "but that's what I love to do."
He hasn't shirked his studies to further this passion. A junior academically, Coffey is an international studies major with a concentration in Asia, Africa and Latin America. He has one minor under his belt in geography and is working on a second in coaching.
Carrying a 3.53 grade-point average, earlier this week Coffey was named to the Capital One Academic All-District 3 First Team, College Division. honoring student-athletes. That gives him a shot at all-American, to be announced later in May.
Coming out of high school as an all-state quarterback and most valuable baseball player in the Western Sun Conference, Coffey was recruited for baseball by quite a few schools. His first surgery -- right shoulder arthroscopy before his senior season -- dramatically reduced the field.
"When most schools see an arm injury they shut off any attention," he said on the phone Tuesday. "Taylor was one of the few schools left that was still interested, and they offered a scholarship."
In his first season at Taylor Coffey produced similar offensive numbers to this season and pitched as well. Hitting .329 with 5 home runs and 42 RBI, Coffey also went 3-1 on the mound in 12 games, 5 of them starts, with a 4.78 ERA He also played football, but focused on baseball after his freshman season.
Then, spurred by the annoying habit of his left shoulder popping out on checked swings, after his freshman year he had surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
In January 2011 came a third and more severe procedure -- "Tommy John" surgery to reconstruct a ligament in his right elbow, which knocked him out of what would have been his pure sophomore season.
"That has allowed me to pitch," Coffey said, "but actually I have a new injury that doesn't allow me to pitch."
He said he's "95 percent sure" he's got a torn labrum in his right shoulder he'll deal with after this season. It makes his throwing from right field inconsistent and often painful ("like a knife in my arm") but Coffey had still registered 3 outfield assists entering 37-18 Taylor's NAIA playoff opener Thursday against Point Park (Pa.).
"It's been successful for me personally and more importantly for the team," he said. "It's one of the best years in school history, we're going to the national tournament again, the third time in four years, which is awesome. We're one win away from tying the school wins record."
There's no quit in Coffey, not when he savors everything about baseball -- the team chemistry, the mental challenge, the practices, even the indoor winter workouts "which most guys hate," he said.
"It's been a lot of fun to come back and play after missing a year, but I've proved to myself I can play at this level and I still enjoy playing," he said.
He won't rule out pitching again, among other things.
"I still have dreams of playing in the World Series and all that stuff," Coffey said. "I don't want to give up on those that quick."