Sheila Doyle and Meg DeMaar both burned circuitous paths to their current volleyball positions.
Doyle, a senior at Benet, played libero for the freshman B team her first year. She only started playing club after her sophomore year and didn't start at six rotations for Benet until last October.
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"I was definitely a late bloomer," said Doyle, who will play next year at North Carolina.
DeMaar, a junior at Glenbard West, did soccer until sixth grade. Dragged to her first volleyball tryout, she showed up in Converse sneakers and basketball shorts. Meg's grandpa Wayne DeMaar was the long-time baseball coach and athletic director at St. Charles High School, her dad played baseball and mom was a figure skater. Volleyball proved to suit Meg best.
"They tried to get me into skating when I was little," Meg said, "but my legs were too long."
Fortune sure smiled on Benet and Glenbard West's volleyball programs.
Both teams were unbeaten until Benet's Tuesday loss to Marian Catholic. Their liberos perhaps are the biggest reasons why.
Benet, playing a hybrid of perimeter and rotational defenses, counts on Doyle to cover much more ground than she did last year. She needs to make better reads and use her speed and quickness to get to more spots on the court.
"Most liberos, we wouldn't expect to do what Sheila is doing," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "She is a great athlete and extremely quick, which allows her to get into position."
DeMaar, 5 inches taller than Doyle at 5-foot-10, started at outside as a freshman. She switched to libero sophomore year and played there as captain of her Sports Performance 16 Soph team that won the Club Division at the JVA World Challenge in April. Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea toyed with the idea of moving DeMaar back outside this fall to boost his team's offense.
That lasted all of about two weeks.
"We're a different team with her at libero," Mastandrea said. "She speeds up our game, makes us quicker. She's an excellent defender and knows the game well. She can read hands, call out shots -- she's a dandy."
Libero is usually one of the last positions colleges recruit. It isn't the first player that the casual volleyball fan is drawn to, either.
A defensive specialist in indoor volleyball, the position was formally added by the NCAA in 2002; the IHSA followed suit before the 2005 season. The libero, which stands out for its different-color jersey, has no attack responsibilities but does control a great deal of the passing and serve receive.
"First contact of the ball in girls volleyball, you can't explain how important it is," Baker said. "When teams go on runs it's because people can't pass the ball. When you have a libero that can pass to half the court it takes the pressure off everybody else."
If you don't think a libero can dominate a match, you never watched ex-Naperville Central star Lindsey Mango, the Daily Herald's 2006 All-Area Captain. Baker's had his share of good ones, from Paige Vargas (now starting at Dayton), Brianne Riley (starting at Kansas) and Doyle.
"That position, and setter, for people who aren't around volleyball it's a hard position to evaluate," Baker said. "Coaches that have good liberos, once you lose them you realize how much they change your team."
Doyle set for her St. Francis Xavier grade school team in LaGrange Park, moving to libero at Benet. Her parents and four older siblings attended Benet before her, older brother Mick eventually going on to play baseball at Notre Dame. More a basketball player growing up, Sheila eventually found her calling on the volleyball court at Benet and her First Alliance club team.
Baker moved Doyle to varsity libero last year at Mizuno Cup. Benet proceeded to win 36 straight matches.
"Sheila has a certain attitude where people want to follow," Baker said. "She's extremely confident and that rubs off on the kids around her."
With just one 6-footer, Glenbard West is a team that must grind wins out with defense and ball control. Nobody does it better than DeMaar. She put on a digging clinic against Lyons Twp. last year. Likewise, she was all over the court in a regional final loss to St. Charles North.
"She makes some plays that are like, 'Wow,'" Mastandrea said. "You take it for granted sometimes."
DeMaar relishes the leadership and court responsibility expected of her in the back row and appreciates the anticipation and smarts required of the position. Her future is at libero, and she has already visited Wisconsin and Miami (Ohio). DeMaar and her teammates do Acceleration Training using ladders and stairs to improve their explosiveness.
It helps, too, having an expert on staff. Mastandrea's daughter Annie, who starred at defensive specialist for Downers Grove South's 2002 state champs and played at Purdue, is assisting this year while working as a teacher's aide at Glenbard West.
"I can really relate to her well," DeMaar said. "She's felt what we're feeling and can give us good advice."
Benet is cultivating a nice group of defensive specialists in its program behind Doyle.
Northwestern is looking at 5-9 sophomore Lauren Canulli, and Brittany Kmieciak, Caroline Wolf and Kelly O'Malley could also play Division I.
A program that lost six 6-footers off last year's state champs knows that you can win with more than just pure power.
"We have a lot of great kids, and if you have that spot locked up, it makes everything so much easier for the rest of the team," Baker said. "That libero position, it's a game changer."
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