Toward the end of his junior boys volleyball season at Hersey, Mike Fuerst's teammate mentioned there was an opening on his club team.
Fuerst, whose interest in the sport began peaking at an early age when he was having fun learning the game, decided to join that club team.
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It turns out he was part of a team that made it to the nationals in Reno, Nevada.
At those championships, college coaches noticed the skills of the 6-foot-6 middle blocker.
Many liked what they saw, and Fuerst liked what he saw in a school out east.
The Hersey senior recently made a verbal commitment to play at the Division I level for Princeton University.
"The superior educational experience, attractive culture and environment, and of course the opportunity to play Division I volleyball all made me very attracted to Princeton," Fuerst said. "It was the best combination. I plan on studying engineering, although I am still undecided in a particular discipline."
His discipline at Hersey has been extraordinary in the eyes of Huskies coach Nancy Lill.
A member of the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society, Fuerst sports a GPA of 5.61 on a 4.0 weighted scale. He is an AP Scholar with Distinction, National Merit Commend Scholar and Illinois State Scholar.
"He is an outstanding student and has tremendous potential to play at the collegiate level," Lill said. "What an opportunity to attend one of the premier institutions in the country and compete at the D1 level."
Fuerst competed as well as anyone at the net last spring for the regional champion Huskies.
He became the program record-holder for blocks in a match (12) and season (141). He has also excelled this winter for coach Steve Messer's boys basketball team.
"Mike is a dominant force in the middle," Lill said. "We only graduated one senior starter, so this should be a great year for us."
Fuerst also had a great hitting efficiency percentage of .427 and put down 207 kills. He holds Hersey's school record for blocks in a match (12) and season (144).
"Each point you do whatever you can to beat the person at the other side of the net," Fuerst said. "It's that unique delivery of competition I absolutely love the most.
"Volleyball is unlike any other sport. During each rally, it's a fast-paced, intense battle to win the point, but once its over, both sides are able to quickly regroup and prepare before the next serve. It's almost like a large series of smaller games in the context of the whole match."
A whole lot of people have been a part of Fuerst's success in the game.
"Truthfully, I could be here for days telling you about all the people I have been fortunate to cross paths with who have helped me to this point," he said.
"My family and friends encouraged and supported me through the many steps I took to get here. In addition, the coaches and teachers I've been fortunate enough to have at Hersey and Adversity VBC (Volleyball Club) all helped me get where I am today."
Fuerst says his parents, however, have been his biggest influence.
"Both being high-level athletes themselves, it was almost inevitable that I would become involved in sports," he said. "However, they never pushed me into participating in athletics despite what most people would expect. It was always my decision to continue in whatever it was I was passionate about."
"Ironically, this approach probably resulted in my being more involved in athletics than I ever would have been if they were the driving factor."
His own drive was plenty enough.
"I've always loved volleyball and it does feel like a dream come true to be able to play at Princeton," said Fuerst, whose father Jeff starred on the basketball court for Prospect. "Honestly, though, I never felt as though it was a requirement for me to play volleyball, or any sport, in college."
He sure does plenty of other things.
Fuerst is the 2013-14 Student Council president and is a co-founder of Super Buddies Organization. He is a DAR National Society Award winner and Robert J. Hannon Leadership Award recipient.
Fuerst, currently a forward for Hersey's basketball team, always had certain educational priorities in mind first.
"And I figured if it was meant to be, sports would fall into place," he said. "Fortunately, that's exactly how it worked out."
Valparaiso senior linebacker Pat Derbak (Schaumburg) participated in the fourth annual FCS Senior Scout Bowl in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last month.
This season, Derbak accumulated 102 tackles, two forced fumbles, a sack, an interception, and a blocked kick. His 9 tackles for a loss led the Crusader defense. He finished first or second in total tackles in three seasons for Valparaiso. For his career, Derbak compiled 273 tackles, 21.5 for a loss.
He has also been selected to play in the USA Bowl in Birmingham Alabama on Jan. 21.
• Columbia senior punter Paul Delaney of Palatine (Loyola Academy) was named to the All-Ivy League first team.
Delaney finished his Columbia career ranked among the best punters in the history of Lions football.
His 42.4 yards per kick average and 81 punts this year are new single-season bests. He did a stellar job of pinning opponents deep in their own territory, placing 23 punts inside the 20. He launched 18 kicks over 50 yards on the year, including a 67-yard blast against Lehigh. For his career, Delaney averaged 39.5 yards per punt, the longest average in Columbia history.
• North Central senior defensive John Focosi (Barrington) started all 14 games for the 13-1 Cardinals, totaling 36 tackles (21 solo).
He also led the team in tackles for loss (16) and quarterback sacks (10.5).
Focosi was named College Conference of Illinois-Wisconsin Defensive Player of the Week following a season-opening win over Wisconsin-La Crosse. He recorded 7 quarterback sacks in the Cardinals' four playoff games. He was first-team All-CCIW.
• North Central sophomore safety Richard Zirngibl (Buffalo Grove) also played in all 14 games, earning a start against North Park. He recorded 37 tackles (26 solo), including 2.5 tackles for loss. He intercepted a pass and broke up five others while recording a season-high 6 tackles twice.
• A total of $24,000 in college scholarships will be provided to local high school football players that have excelled in the classroom, in the community and on the football field by the National Football Foundation.
Among the Chicago Bears Community Champion Award recipients is Stevenson's Sam Oriatti.
The ceremony will take place at Halas Hall on President's Day (Monday, Feb. 17).
Among the attendees are Chicago Bears ownership, Jim Delany, Pat Fitzgerald, Jerry Kill, Tim Beckman, Brock Spack, Ted Hendricks, Jeff Joniak, Dan Persa and Chandler Harnish.
Space is limited to 180 people and 40 spots are remaining. Details and online registration ($120/person) are at http://www.nffchicagoawards.eventbrite.com/.
The Illinois Youth Rugby Association has announced a reorganization of its highest level of high school boys' competition for the Spring 2014 season.
By adding four new teams to the Tier One level of play, teams are now organized into the Catholic, East and West conferences.
The Catholic conference will be populated by Brother Rice, St. Rita, Mt. Carmel, St. Ignatius and Fenwick; the South conference by Plainfield, Lincoln-Way, St. Charles, Neuqua Valley and Waubonsie Valley and the North conference by Lake Forest, Morton HS, New Trier, the Palatine Barbarians and the Arlington Stallions.
"Our competition committee feels that this new structure will advance the level of play in our most competitive bracket and foster growth in the coming seasons," said IYRA President David Hall.
Illinois high school rugby clubs start indoor training sessions in January and the league season kicks off in mid-March. Locally, the Palatine Barbarians start indoor training on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Palatine Community Center and will hold a Signup/Information meeting at the Palatine Library on Jan. 26 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
"We are proud of the strides that we have seen in our players as they have progressed from their start in middle school through the last four years," said Barbarians High School boys head coach Warren Taylor. "Their perseverance has been rewarded with this elevation and our whole club is eager to take on this challenge."
The Arlington Stallions, entering their third year in Tier One and tenth as a club, begin their indoor sessions on Tuesday, Jan. 7 in the Hersey High School Fieldhouse from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
"We're very excited about a schedule that includes local flavor (Palatine, Lake Forest, New Trier), traditional rivals (Morton and St. Charles) and a truly elite program in Graeme Jackson's Neuqua Valley squad," said Stallions coach Paul Bergman. "It will be the biggest challenge we have ever had as a club."
For more information about these two clubs' schedules, visit their websites at www.palatinerugby.com and www.arlingtonstallionsrugby.com. New players are always welcome.
The IYRA received more good news recently with the announcement of the USA Rugby High School and Junior Collegiate all-American camp invitation lists.
Four Illinois players/alumni were included in the invitation list for the annual trial camp Dec. 26-31 in Tempe, Ariz.; Luke Mueller and Mike Houston of Brother Rice, Andrew Franczek of Neuqua and Kevin Lydon (2012 Conant graduate) of the Stallions will now get a chance to play their way into USA Rugby's elite level international programs.
Former Wheeling and Lewis University standout guard Chris McClellan is a returning player for Bloomington Flex, the two-time defending Premier Basketball League champions.
As a senior at Lewis, McClellan led the Flyers in scoring average (15.7), assists, field goals, 3-point field goals and minutes played.
The Flex is scheduled to open its season on Jan. 11 against the Indianapolis Diesels.
Tickets for the Jan. 11 opener can be purchased online at Flexbasketball.com or Ticketmaster.com, or by calling the U.S. Cellular Coliseum box office at (309) 434-2679, or Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.
Barrington Booster Club
The 2014 annual Banquet Fundraiser for the Barrington Booster Club will honor 1974 graduate Tim Rife, who is the Broncos assistant baseball coach.
It will be held Friday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Concorde Banquets in Kildeer.
Rife received the 2013 Illinois Baseball Coaches Association 'Assistant Coach of the Year' recognition award.
The night includes dinner, a live band, and silent and live auctions. Tickets are $50 per person.
Keep an eye out for ticket information at www.bhsbaseballboosterclub.org.
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