There are two distinct sides to the volleyball persona of Jacobs senior Alyssa Ehrhardt.
First and foremost, the 17-year old Algonquin resident possesses a fierce competitive streak. An unforgiving attacker, the four-year varsity performer was never afraid to spot an opponent's weakness and exploit it repeatedly.
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"She can be relentless, but that's what it takes," Jacobs coach Lisa Dwyer said. "She knows the other teams aren't going to give her a break so she figures why should she take it easy on them. We do drills in practice and if there's a weak player, she will find them because she always wants to win."
That aggressive approach partly explains why the 5-foot-10 outside hitter led the Fox Valley area this season with 457 kills and 144 aces, both single-season school records.
Then there's the softer side of the competitor committed to play Division I college volleyball at Toledo. Just as older players took Ehrhardt under their wings when she was a promising freshman playing varsity, this season she mentored the younger players on the Jacobs roster, which included four sophomores and four freshmen.
"I've been there," Ehrhardt said. "I was lucky to have such great upperclassmen when I was a freshman, so I had to carry on what those players gave me. Quinn Luehring brought me to every practice and taught me everything she knew back then. I've tried to pass that on to my freshmen."
Combine those competitive and nurturing aspects of her personality, and you get a player who led Jacobs to 27 wins and a tournament invite title, among the many reasons Alyssa Ehrhardt is the honorary captain of the 2012 Daily Herald all-area girls volleyball team in the Fox Valley.
Ehrhardt said her competitive side is an inherited family trait. Her father, Dave, earned 10 varsity letters in football, basketball and baseball at his St. Louis-area high school, but he turned down a football scholarship to Southeast Missouri State in favor of becoming a regular student.
Alyssa's mother, Toni, was a standout gymnast at Southeast Missouri State and a team captain as a freshman.
Her brother, Matt, now a sophomore at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, played soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Jacobs. He led the soccer team in scoring his senior year and was named to the all-area team.
"My competitiveness has really come from my family," Ehrhardt said. "They're the ones who have made me the player I am today. Hearing about all their accolades pushed me to be like them."
Athletic training began at the tender age of 4 as Alyssa followed in mom's footsteps with gymnastics lessons. By the age of 9 she was rated a Level 6 gymnast (out of 10), but soon diversified her sports.
"My dad didn't like going to my gymnastics meets and could not deal with them anymore, so he signed me up for softball and volleyball," Ehrhardt remembered with a laugh. "I fell in love with volleyball. There's a team aspect to gymnastics, but it's mostly an individual sport. In volleyball you need to rely on your teammates to succeed. I'm so aggressive that I needed that, I needed a team."
Ehrhardt entered the training program at Sky High Volleyball in Crystal Lake and has since competed for the club's top team in her age group. She was placed on the Jacobs varsity team as a 14-year old freshman and immediately stamped herself a player to watch with 8 kills in a match against Prairie Ridge in September, 2009.
Later that season she scored 7 kills and 7 aces against Dundee-Crown, and she led Jacobs with 15 kills in a 3-game loss to Barrington in a regional semifinal. Though Jacobs finished with just 12 victories that season, her total of 232 kills as a freshman foreshadowed the good things to come
The win total improved every year Ehrhardt was in the program. Jacobs won 18 matches in her sophomore season, when she posted 283 kills, 83 aces and 170 digs. She led the Golden Eagles to 24 wins as a junior by notching 370 kills, 220 digs and 73 aces.
Jacobs won 27 matches this season, powered by Ehrhardt's 457 kills, 218 digs and 144 aces.
She met her goal of finally leading the Golden Eagles to a tournament title when she amassed 72 kills, 47 digs and 15 aces at the Huntley Invite.
Four years of crushing spikes and spinning jump serves equate to lofty totals. Ehrhardt finished her high school career with a three-game loss to host Crystal Lake South in a regional semifinal on Tuesday, but the 15 kills and 4 aces she registered added a final chapter to one of the best high school volleyball careers in state annals.
She finished with 1,342 career kills, good for 15th all-time in state history, according to IHSA.org.
Her 357 career aces are the third-most of any player to step to the service line in Illinois.
"She was just such a solid player for them," said Crystal Lake South coach Jorie (Miguel) Fontana, the last Jacobs player named honorary captain of the Daily Herald all-area team in 1999. "She's so active and has a really tough serve."
Ehrhardt's deadly jump serve is continually developing, according to her coach.
"A jump serve can be really hard to pass if it's done the right way," Dwyer said. "Alyssa really works on turning the ball in different directions. Putting a lot of spin on it definitely makes it hard for other teams to get into their offense. That has been key all season."
Unlike previous campaigns when Ehrhardt was the "kid" on the team, she assumed the role of experienced veteran in 2012. Dwyer said Ehrhardt supported the decision to elevate freshmen to the varsity to help in the middle if it made the team better overall. When that scenario came to fruition, she instantly became a supportive mentor.
"She took care of the young kids and definitely tried to be a role model for them because a lot of older kids did that for her," Dwyer said. "She definitely gave that gift back."
With her high school career now in the record books, Ehrhardt is preparing for her usual November grind. She and her father normally spend the month off between the high school and club seasons training at LifeTime Fitness in Algonquin, concentrating on improving Alyssa's vertical jump.
Past summers have been spent crisscrossing states on college visits, but such trips came to an end late this summer when Ehrhardt chose Toledo over an offer from Seton Hall. An honor student with a 3.8 grade-point average, she plans to major in accounting and eventually attend law school.
"I don't even like losing to my brother in Ping-Pong," she said. "That's why I want to be a lawyer -- I like to win."
Ehrhardt intends to contribute to a turnaround at Toledo, which finished the 2011-12 season with a 10-18 record.
"I think of it the way I think of my time at Jacobs," she said. "They're in a really hard conference and had some tough losses. We were a losing team at Jacobs, but now we have 27 wins. I didn't think that was possible when I was a freshman, but the past three years our program has gotten better and better.
"I've had my fair share of losses at Jacobs, but I can honestly say I don't regret one things about it. I had a lot of life goals I've wanted to achieve since I was a freshman and they've all come true, but the best part was seeing my best friends everyday at practices, games, weekend tournaments. It makes every victory and every point even better when you accomplish it with your best friends. You can't get that anywhere but high school volleyball.
"Sometimes it's not about winning and losing."
That was the softer side of Ehrhardt speaking. Future Mid-American Conference opponents had better hope they see that aspect of her personality more often than the competitive side.
Because if they have a weakness, Ehrhardt will find it.