When Anne Mastandrea watches what is unfolding on the Glenbard West volleyball court these days, she does so with a unique perspective.
She's been there before.
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Mastandrea, the daughter of Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea, is a volunteer assistant coach with the Hilltoppers this fall. She works as a teacher's aide at Glenbard West while pursuing her master's degree in special education at Lewis University.
It has been quite a ride in Glen Ellyn.
Glenbard West, 35-2, won its first 31 matches and first West Suburban Silver championship since 1984. On Thursday night the Hilltoppers won their first regional title since 1985. One more win would tie the school record for wins held by the 1983 state championship team.
Could this be the Glenbard West group that gets back to Redbird Arena in two weeks?
It isn't a stretch.
Mastandrea knows this journey well. Ten years ago she was a junior defensive specialist on Downers Grove South's Class AA championship team. Those memories do not fade.
"We were going downstate and had a police escort and it was awesome," Mastandrea said. "Redbird Arena, for me it's like a whole another world. I still remember the butterflies I had."
When Mastandrea was in high school she looked up to ex-Downers Grove South stars like Terri Zemaitis and Tracey Marshall. Similarly, she often brings up to the young Glenbard West girls the example of former Hilltopper and All-America Nancy Reno.
"I try to tell the girls that they have an opportunity to build on that tradition," Mastandrea said.
Mastandrea went on to Purdue, part of Dave Shondell's first recruiting class. In 2004 the Boilermakers reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990, and they followed that up with Sweet Sixteen trips in 2005 and 2006. Mastandrea, Big Ten Player of the Week three times, graduated as third on Purdue's all-time dig list.
Mastandrea's Purdue story parallels Glenbard West.
The Hilltoppers, long dormant as a volleyball power, have been resurrected in recent years -- much because of seniors like four-year starters Caleigh Ryan and Amanda Perry. Glenbard West went 20-17 Ryan and Perry's freshman year in 2009, steadily improving from 26-11 in 2010 to 31-6 in 2011 to this year's breakthrough.
Much like Mastandrea's Purdue teams, the Hilltoppers hang their hat on defense and ball control.
"There is actually a ton of similarities," Mastandrea said. "When I got to Purdue we were bottom of the Big Ten, but Dave motivated us and believed in us, that we could get to that next level. You start to believe in yourself that kids before you had struggles and overcame.
"The other thing is, when you are taking a program out of a lull, you have to have a strong sense of leadership. We had that at Purdue, and this team has that."
Mastandrea's path eventually winded back to DuPage County, with a few stops. She was Director of Volleyball Operations at Northwestern for two years, then was an assistant coach at Western Carolina.
In 2010 she coached the First Alliance 17 Black club team to an AAU national championship. She also coached Hilltoppers senior Ryan at First Alliance, finishing fifth at AAU last summer.
Naturally, at Glenbard West Mastandrea has made a special connection with libero Meg DeMaar. It helps being 26 years old, not far removed from her playing days.
"I connect to Meg a lot being a libero myself," Mastandrea said. "I've been there, I can relate and I can draw on things from my past. I always try to unite the defensive people. If you're short, you gotta play defense. I try to instill that unity in the group."
Mastandrea helps get practice started, runs drills, works with DeMaar and helps compile stats. She views her biggest role, though as "kind of a cheerleader" to the girls. She is there to support and listen.
Pete Mastandrea feels blessed to have such a special coaching staff surrounding him. He called him and boys volleyball coach Christine Mayer "like frick and frack." Dan Scott is the JV coach for boys and girls, and Lindsey Filkins coached Anne Mastandrea in club her freshman year.
Don't be surprised if some day in the near future Anne is leading her own volleyball program.
"It is unique in that I saw her win a state championship at Downers Grove South, win at Purdue, coach at college and club and to share such a great season with her and the other coaches, it's special," Pete Mastandrea said. "This has been an awesome journey."
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