Annika Albrecht is one of the top 100 volleyball players in the country, and she lives in our back yard.
She has never set foot on an IHSA volleyball court.
After 17 years in the sports writing business, few stories make me sit up and go "Wow!"
Then I heard about Annika Albrecht.
Until Albrecht was unveiled this week as the 65th best senior volleyball player nationally by PrepVolleyball.com, the name didn't ring a bell. Albrecht plays club for Sports Performance, this year for the 18 Elite, but that isn't what makes her unique.
Where she plays in the fall does. Albrecht, whose family moved from Naperville to North Aurora three years ago, does not attend an area public or parochial school. The youngest of seven siblings, she is home schooled.
Volleyball wise, that means she plays for the Illinois Crusaders home school team. The last two years, led by Albrecht, the Crusaders team that practices out of a church gym in Sugar Grove won the Home School National Championships.
Erik Vogt, who coached Albrecht on the Sports Performance 15s and 16s and in an unusual twist, is engaged to her older sister, said it's impossible to miss Annika in the home school atmosphere.
"She's like the LeBron James of home school volleyball," said Vogt, who also coaches at Plainfield Central. "If you watch her play a home school match, it's like a grown dude playing with munchkins. She's like a giant."
Albrecht, it seems, was fated to play volleyball.
Her parents met on the intramural volleyball court at the University of Nebraska. Her older brother Nolan is a starter collegiately at Belmont Abbey.
Annika joined Sports Performance when her parents moved to Naperville when she was 12.
Now, two days a week she practices with her Crusaders team. Three other days, because girls volleyball is in high school season, Albrecht works out with the Sports Performance 18-2 boys team. Every day she comes in 90 minutes early for extra work.
"She is a really determined, strong kid," Vogt said. "One of her assets is she kills in the weight room. She will outwork anyone. God has blessed her with a lot of talent, but what she lacks she makes up for in hard work."
This summer, Albrecht, a 6-foot-1 outside, played for the Sports Performance 18 Elite that won AAU nationals. She spoke to the challenge of going from home school, where she is the big fish in a small pond, to going to the club environment where they are all big fish.
"It is humbling," she said.
Humble seems to be an apt description of Albrecht.
A member of St. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville, Albrecht twice a week goes to youth group there. Last month she went on her second mission trip through the church, helping build homes in Kentucky.
Home school practices are often preceded by team devotions. Albrecht and her family, steeped in their faith, never considered a move to a public or private high school.
"I've never had any regrets that I haven't played (in a public high school)," Albrecht said. "There are things here that I'd never be able to do in a public high school."
Her mother is the administrator of the accredited home school program Albrecht takes. Awake by 9 a.m., she often reads books over breakfast, Pride and Prejudice a recent read. She is taking courses in English, religion and government.
On a visit this weekend to Nebraska, a possible college destination, Albrecht listened to audio tapes as part of her studies.
"Not a lot of people are 100 percent committed to anything," Vogt said. "Annika, she's committed to volleyball, her faith and her friends. She's a straight A student. There's not many like her."
Albrecht does not jump as high as other girls, but she compensates by power hitting through girls. What may separate her are first contact skills that Vogt said are "bar none the best in the state of Illinois," one of the best passing outsides he's seen in six years at Sports Performance.
Depending on what college she ends up at, Albrecht may be destined to be a college libero.
Asked if she's anxious about going from home school to college, Albrecht had a quick answer.
"I'm very excited."
She does, yes, seem to have her house in order.
"My first priority is God and then my family," she said. "My mom and I would probably disagree about the third. She says school. I say volleyball."