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updated: 10/17/2013 10:57 PM

Thoughts with Valacak on Fremd senior night win

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TJ Strong.

That was the message, accentuated by an orange ribbon, which adorned T-shirts worn Thursday night by all members of the Fremd and Palatine girls volleyball coaching staffs to honor Fremd special education teacher TJ Valacak, who is battling leukemia.

Fremd avenged a loss at Palatine earlier this season with a 25-18, 25-17 triumph, but volleyball was secondary on this night as thoughts were with Valacak and his family.

Prior to the match, Vikings coach Curt Pinley took the microphone and stated that the volleyball community wanted to show its support and looked forward to having Valacak back teaching and coaching soon.

Valacak is the longtime Fremd assistant softball coach to Jim Weaver and has coached volleyball and bowling at the school.

"He's always upbeat and happy," said Fremd junior defensive specialist Jenna Schneider, who played softball for Valacak this summer. "Even if you have a bad game, he's the one who can always put a smile on your face."

Pinley and freshman 'B' coach Elyse McGinn said Valacak is still smiling.

"He's still joking around," Pinley said. "And he's a big Boston Red Sox fan -- that's his concern now."

"He's great to be around," said McGinn, now a special education teacher at Fremd who played as a freshman on Valacak's sophomore volleyball team.

"He's cracking jokes at the hospital and making people laugh there. Seeing all the kids with ribbons and even the parents wearing orange is just a tribute to what an amazing person he is," McGinn said.

Valacak served as a mentor for McGinn.

"It's been great coming back and getting to work with him," she said. "He's got such a great positive attitude. He wants to include everyone in your department and on your team. He just knows how to get the best out of anyone. He is able to make a connection with anyone he meets."

Tonight's "Orange Out" at the football game will be to support TJ and his family.

"He's always taught us to be strong," Schneider said. "We know he will pull through. I can't wait to see him when he's back."

"We continue to stay strong for him," Pinley said.

Prior to the match, Amy Andersen, Claire Herdegen, Ari Messner and Erica Simios were honored for Fremd senior night.

Messner led Vikings with 7 kills followed by Lane Hindenburg (7) and Simios (2). Maise Koo and Simios each had 3 blocks for the Vikings while Aubrey Stegich collected 12 digs.

Palatine (4-18) finished 1-9 in the West.

Hersey d. Prospect: The Mid-Suburban East champs closed out their East slate with a 25-12, 25-11 victory on Senior Night.

Senior Megan Solans (8 kills) and junior Gabri Olhava (5) led the attack for Hersey (15-9, 9-1) while Carly Pisano (9 assists) and Courtney Stedman (6 assists) set the attack. Katie Krebs had 12 digs.

"It was great to celebrate our senior night with a solid victory," said Hersey coach Nancy Lill. "Prospect pushed us to the max last time and we knew we had to execute. Megan Solans had a great match."

Barrington d. Conant: Barrington coach Rob Ridenour played all 10 of his seniors on senior night as the Fillies won 25-21, 24-26, 25-15.

Seniors Maggie Daleen (8 kills), Chase Kingwill (8 kills) and Christy Roney (7 kills) all had big matches at the net while senior setter Claire Waliczek handed out 29 assists.

Daleen and classmate Tina Bergmann each had 2 blocks for the Fillies (15-14), who capped their second MSL West championship season in three years with a 9-1 record.

Emily Casaletto led the Fillies' defense with 32 digs.

Conant (11-13, 6-4) was paced on attack by Jenn O'Donnell and DeeDee Durr, who each had 7 kills while Daniele Sortino added 6.

Elk Grove d. Wheeling: Taylor Socha (9 kills), Amber Lindfors (6), McKenzie Jordan (5) and Taylor Brown (5) led Elk grove (15-16, 5-5) to the 25-16, 25-21 MSL East triumph.

Wheeling (4-10, 1-9) was led by Deanna Kuzmanic's 6 kills.

Schaumburg d. Hoffman: Kiana Lewis (9 kills, 3 aces), Oyinkan Akinola (8 kills, 2 blocks) and Abbie Rahn (6 kills) paced the attack for Schaumburg (18-10, 6-4) in a 25-21, 25-15 victory.

Jada Blackwell had 15 assists, 10 digs and 2 blocks for the Saxons.

Clare Shaffer and Andrea Wolinski each had 4 kills for Hoffman (5-22, 1-9) while Jenny Avila had 2 aces and 6 assists.

Providence d. St. Viator: Providence Catholic defeated St. Viator 25-21, 25-17.

Kristen Abrahamson led the Lions with 6 kills while Mary Clearly added 5. Molly Ziegler handed out 17 assists.

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