Because of her height, Claire Waliczek didn't think her chances were that great to play Division I volleyball.
Because of her great work ethic, the Barrington senior setter got her chance.
Waliczek has committed to Division I Mercer University, a school she calls the perfect fit.
She will play on the Macon, Ga. campus because many of her sets over the past few years have been perfect.
"Because I'm only 5-foot-8, I never thought I would be able to play at the Division 1 level at a good school that I loved," Waliczek said. "I'm about two inches shorter than most D-1 setters. But I continued working hard because it's not unheard of a D-1 setter being 5-foot-8."
Local volleyball fans will probably hear a lot from Waliczek this fall. She will be the floor leader for Mid-Suburban League West contender Barrington.
"I love playing for Barrington," Waliczek said. "We have a lot of school spirit and pride for the game and we also have many great coaches. All of my best friends are on the team."
Waliczek said Fillies coach Rob Ridenour was probably one of the first coaches who really pushed her and believed in her abilities.
"Claire has always had D-1 athletic ability," Ridenour said. "But she has worked really hard on the technical aspects of setting to become the player she is today."
"He (Ridenour) helped motivate me to become the best I could be," said Waliczek, who even took a lesson from former Fillies setting standout Lexi Zimmerman. "She (Zimmerman) was only a little taller than I but was still able to go far (Indiana) as a shorter setter,
"Being a setter at Barrington after Lexi Zimmerman and Nellie Spicer (former Barrington and UCLA star) made me want to follow in their footsteps. I can only hope to one day be half as good as they."
Waliczek began her career playing indoor volleyball in sixth grade on the St. Anne's volleyball team.
"That was a great start because it was pretty competitive but still very laid back and fun," she said. "I didn't start to play at a high level until I joined Sky High when I was about 15."
Waliczek's mother played softball and volleyball at Barrington while her father played football for St. Laurence (Chicago) and the University of Dubuque.
"Everyone in my family is athletic," Claire said. "My brother (former Barrington pitcher) is also a sophomore at Heartland Community College playing baseball and then he will continue to play at a four-year school. My younger sister (12 years old) also plays a few sports."
Volleyball became Claire's sport at a young age.
"The main reason I love it is because it's a fast-paced and high energy game and it's a very demanding sport,' she said. "It's complex and a tiring game but it's also the most fun sport I've participated in."
She has been a setter her entire career, except for occasional times when she was used as a hitter.
"I get to run the offense, play defense and get to try to outsmart the other side," she said. "Kerri Walsh and Destinee Hooker are among my favorite players mainly because they never seem to get down on themselves and they're constantly trying to pick up their teammates. I've never seen them give up on a play."
Waliczek never gave up on herself.
"It's a lot harder to get there if you're my size," she said. "I knew I had to do everything I could in season and off season. I have to do everything extra I can to get a higher vertical, which is why I'm constantly weightlifting."
Because of her dedication, her approach touch has reached nearly 9'3, which is quite impressive for standing 5-foot-8.
"But I wouldn't have been this strong and fast if it weren't for the help of all the trainers at Superior Athletic Advantage," she said.
Waliczek also plays indoor and sand volleyball and lifts weights two to three times a week year-round at Superior Athletic Advantage in Barrington.
She has also helped coach beach volleyball and worked indoor camps at Sky High last year.
"I probably spend at least 330 days of the year playing volleyball, because there's nothing else I'd rather be doing," she said.
After this season, she'll be doing it for four years in Macon.
She met the Mercer coach Damian Elder at a Stanford volleyball camp in 2012.
"He was one of the setting coaches and also oversaw part of the beach practices at camp." Waliczek said. "After a week of working with each other, we got to know each other and really hit it off. I loved his coaching style and he seemed to like the way I play."
Waliczek made a visit to the school in the fall of 2012.
"I fell in love with the school, the players, their workouts, facilities and the coaching staff's goals for the program," she said " Another part that attracted me was that it was one of only about 15 D-1 schools with sand volleyball teams at the time. So that, and the fact that it's in the south and with warm weather, clinched it for me."
Waliczek is undecided on her major at Mercer but is considering biology.
"I like the sound of forensics or maybe even embryology," she said. "The biology major is within the liberal arts department so that would still give me a well-rounded education there."
There's no doubt she is one of the most well-rounded setters Ridenour has coached.
"I'm excited to see what Claire can accomplish this year, the coach said. "In the first two weeks, she has shown incredible growth from a leadership standpoint and she seems really comfortable as a player. It's always a lot of fun to coach a player like Claire that has not only a lot of ability, but a desire to keep getting better."
And you can bet that desire will continue right on through her collegiate career.
"I've always known since I was young that I wanted to play a sport in college, and that's always been my goal," Waliczek said. "That's why I've spent many summers attending D-1 camps at the University of Texas, Stanford and Boston College because they were great recruiting opportunities and I knew they would have great coaching there."
She also had a great experience this summer.
Waliczek and teammate Christy Roney (outside hitter) qualified for the AAU Jr. Olympics of sand volleyball in Hermosa Beach.
"It's always amazing to see the competition in California," Waliczek said. "Christy and I play well together but we knew it would be a longshot to win it. It's still such an amazing experience."
Waliczek was also one of six finalists in the ballhandling contest at the Stanford Camp, which included 150 campers. She also won the Coach's Award at the Boston College Camp in 2011.
But for now, Waliczek is all about her Barrington team.
"It's always great to play against all my club teammates such as Kara Maleski (Stevenson), Kristen Walding and Sydney Glover (Lake Zurich), Kiana Lewis at Schaumburg and Nicole Slimko at Crystal Lake South," she said. "We really have a family and a huge support system at Barrington which is one of the best things you could have for a volleyball team."
And Waliczek is one of the best setters you could have on a volleyball team.