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Article updated: 3/22/2013 7:02 PM

Nauert calmly sets standard for excellence at Wheeling

By

Wheeling senior Zack Nauert knows just how emotional sports competition can be.

And he also knows -- depending on the sport -- the importance of keeping your emotions in check.

"Out on the golf course you have to be in control," said Nauert, a four-year Wildcats varsity golfer. "You can't let a bad shot or a bad hole get you down. You've got to stay on an even keel.

"But it's just the opposite on the volleyball court. You can let your emotions out for everyone to see, especially after a big kill."

Impressive kills and excellence in all phases of the game are something that the senior -- a standout player for the Wheeling volleyball team since his sophomore year -- knows quite a bit about.

His 2012 stats of 173 kills, 85 percent serving efficiency, 194 digs, 23 aces and a serve-receive of 83 percent helped lead the Wildcats on an unprecedented run last spring.

Wheeling won eight in a row late in the season, was victorious in its first state playoff game and took top-seeded New Trier to the limit in a regional semifinal before falling by 2 points in Game 3.

"Zack's competitive nature makes him a fighter from the beginning to the end of a match, and he craves the ball in pressure situations," said Wildcats coach Jason Kopkowski. "He's been part of the core of this program for three years now, and he wants his senior season to be his best yet -- individually and as a team.

"Zack's been voted one of the team captains this year, and he shows good leadership on a daily basis. I believe he'll break all of his previous season-best statistics and lead our team to many victories."

Nauert was proud of what he and his teammates accomplished in 2012, and said it was tough to see the season end the way it did.

"We knew we could play with them," said Nauert about the Trevians. "It was a terrible feeling after we lost. It was heartbreaking. Now we're looking at this year as a bounce-back year."

Nauert has been a three-sport athlete at Wheeling, playing varsity basketball in addition to volleyball and golf, which he said he started participating in "basically as soon as I could pick up a club."

Wildcats varsity golf coach Mark Menich has appreciated Nauert's experience and intensity over the years.

"He's a real determined, competitive kid," said Menich. "The best thing about Zack is that he's always there to support his teammates."

Nauert's interest in volleyball came from his brother Chris, who was also a star outside for Wheeling, and from whom Zack learned the finer points of the game.

Zack Nauert started his court career as a freshman playing right away on the junior varsity team -- for Kopkowski, who was the JV coach at that time.

He moved up to varsity his sophomore year and was able to become a student of the game.

"That was an important season for me," said Nauert. "I was able to get a lot of reps in practice and even though it was a little intimidating playing with the 'big guys' (upperclassmen), I learned the pace of the varsity game, which is a lot quicker than JV."

Nauert came into his own as a junior on a senior-laden squad and said last year was a special season in addition to being a learning experience, especially regarding leadership skills.

"I looked up to the seniors and tried to emulate them and become more of a leader," Nauert said."

"Now this year I want to lead by example. The main thing I want to impress upon the younger kids is that everybody makes mistakes, but it's how you come back from those mistakes that counts. I want to be positive and encouraging and not let anyone get down on themselves."

In the classroom, Nauert's favorite subjects include math and science, and he has already explored possible opportunities of playing golf and volleyball at schools like Northern Illinois and Marquette.

Kopkowski has helped Nauert progress every step of the way.

"He's inspired me to become a better player and a better person," said Nauert. "He's always joking around and it creates a fun atmosphere."

Nauert, who said his best memory of the last few seasons was dominating last year against Prospect in a 16-kill performance, has been participating with his mates in some team-building exercises. These activities include a recent get-together at Forest View to tackle the challenging indoor high ropes course, which in additional to physcial fitness purposes s set up develop problem-solving skills.

Concerning goals for this season, Nauert has no doubt about what matters most.

"Win our conference -- and I think that's a very realistic goal," Nauert said. "So far in practice, our defense has been spectacular, and defense is where it all starts."

His individual objectives for this year include being named all-conference and all-area, but Nauert said that won't matter if the team doesn't succeed.

"It doesn't matter that much about my personal goals," Nauert said. "If we win, everything will fall into place and I'll be a happy guy."

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