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Article posted: 12/6/2013 6:10 PM

St. Francis alum Robinson courting stardom

By Patricia Babcock

College volleyball star Kelsey Robinson is on the "every other year" plan.

Every other year, the Bartlett native and state champion from Wheaton St. Francis wins her conference player of the year award.

What makes that nugget more interesting is that Robinson has won the award in two different high-profile conferences, a feat that she attributes to years of rigorous training at Sports Performance in Aurora -- one of the most elite club volleyball programs in the country.

On Tuesday, the Big Ten announced that Robinson, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter at Nebraska, was chosen by conference coaches as player of the year after leading the league in kills (4.69) and points (5.41) this season. Robinson, who also maintained the best hitting percentage of her career (.329), becomes the first player from Nebraska to earn the award.

Robinson won her other conference player of the year award while she was at Tennessee. As a sophomore there, she was named the 2011 SEC player of the year.

"It makes me feel really special to have gotten this award in the Big Ten because there is so much competition in the Big Ten. I think the Big Ten is the best conference in the country," said Robinson, who probably has a better perspective than most on conference power rankings. "To compete in this conference means you're competing against the best volleyball players in the country."

Not that there aren't plenty of other star players in other parts of the country. In fact, Robinson says that the Pac-12 and the SEC are brutally tough conferences, too, but that they don't consistently have the depth that the Big Ten does.

"There is no letdown in the Big Ten. Ever," Robinson said. "You can't look at any team and think you're just going to walk away with a win. It's a challenge every single night."

Robinson, who started playing club volleyball at Sports Performance at age 10, was challenged at Tennessee. But for personal reasons, she decided that she did not want to finish her career there. Nebraska, which was runner-up in the stiff recruiting battle for Robinson, was happy to welcome her with open arms.

Because Tennessee gave Robinson a full release, she was able to compete right away without having to sit out a year.

"I wanted to play right away as a freshman, which is why I went with Tennessee originally," Robinson said. "When I was looking at transferring, I knew Nebraska would be good for me. I really liked it when I was being recruited. I liked the tradition of the volleyball program there, and the support. We get 8,500 fans per game. You don't see that much (in the SEC).

"I also knew that if I finished my career in the Big Ten, my family and friends could come see me play a lot more."

Robinson's family extends to her Sports Performance coaches and teammates, whom she often spent more time with during her formative years than her real family.

During high school, training sessions there were four hours a day, four days a week. Games were on top of that, and covered entire weekends.

"Sports Performance really gets you ready (for college volleyball)," Robinson said. "It teaches discipline and there's a huge focus on reps and getting things right.

"There are a lot of other really good clubs in the Chicago area, too. You'll always find the best (college) players come from Illinois, Texas and California. That's were the best clubs are."

Of the 14 players on the all-Big Ten team, five are from the Chicago area, including Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini. She's another Sports Performance alum who "got it right" after many, many reps over the years.

A star at West Aurora High School, Carlini was named the 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

"Lauren has been playing at Sports Performance for a really long time," Robinson said. "I went back every year over Christmas to practice with her and other players there. That was fun. It's a great place to work out against some really good players.

"It's one of the hardest clubs in the country to play for."

Robinson and Carlini are hoping that there is a payoff for surviving such tough training. They want to say that they now play for the best college team in the country.

They start their quest this weekend as they lead their powerhouse teams into the NCAA national tournament. Both Nebraska and Wisconsin will be hosting first round action.

"I'm so focused on that right now," Robinson said. "I'm just out there trying to be the best I can so that I can help our team win a national championship. It would mean a lot to do something like that."

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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