It makes perfect sense Kelly Simon has succeeded as Neuqua Valley's girls volleyball coach.
Beating Rosary in two sets during Mizuno Cup play on Friday, she won the 500th match in a 24-year career, 17 of those years with the Wildcats. Subsequent wins over Oswego and Naperville North improved her mark to 502-282-11, and Simon boasts a .720 winning percentage in conference play in the DuPage Valley, Upstate Eight and Interstate Eight, the latter as Reed-Custer coach from 1994-2000.
Growing up Simon absorbed sports, and the coaching bug, basically by osmosis.
Her father, Curt Christenson, coached at Olympia, Fairbury-Cropsey (now Prairie Central), Pontiac and, when the family moved to Normal before Kelly's sophomore year in high school, at University High. He coached football, wrestling and track and eventually served as U-High's athletic and activities director.
Simon's brother, Corey, was a three-sport athlete at Augustana and now teaches and coaches three sports at Pontiac High.
"I feel like coaching has always been in my blood from my dad and my brother," Kelly said.
Before she hied off to Hillsdale College in Michigan as a two-sport athlete, her mother, Carol, was a constant presence at her high school volleyball, basketball and softball games.
"She was my No. 1 fan, always a tremendous encourager," Simon said. "Her affirmation really shaped who I am as a person and as a coach."
Simon also credited her former coach at University High, Char Lehnen, as well as recently retired Neuqua Valley athletic director Barb Barrows.
"She was a tremendous mentor. She provided amazing guidance and assurance," Simon said of the former head Wildcat.
Simon met her husband, Mark, after he was hired out of Wilmington High School to be her varsity assistant at Reed-Custer. The couple have two children, and Kelly Simon said her husband's support allows her to continue coaching. Of course it's a mutual thing, because after volleyball season they switch roles since he's Metea Valley's speech coach. The only time they can coach together is during Neuqua's summer camp.
"He continues to be my quote-unquote voluntary mandatory assistant," Simon said.
Coaches can't get to magic numbers like 500 without players, some of whom, like sophomore coach Kaisley Fisher, have returned to coach. Simon was looking forward to saluting Maria Mayhew, Sabrina Ni, Presley Polvere, Rachel Pu, Sophia Scharosch, Shannon Skryd, Cameron Solberg, Siona Tomczak and Lauren Young on senior night Oct. 17 against Lake Park.
"Those seniors, as in previous years, have just been tremendous role models and leaders," Simon said.
The Brothers Jaramillo
Brian Jaramillo is a senior at Fenton, a three-year varsity football player now starting at middle linebacker. Freshman brother Ivan is a striker on the Bison soccer team who has 15 goals and 5 assists entering Thursday's game against Lake Park. We decided to ask them a few questions.
Brian, what do you like about football?
Brian: I guess I like the brutality of it.
Ivan, what about you and soccer?
Ivan: I like scoring goals. I like having the feeling of the ball on my feet.
Do you have any nicknames?
I: My parents (Rene and Miriam) will call me "Flaco" because I'm skinny. My parents and some of my friends.
Brian, did you ever play soccer?
B: I played in my youth years. I think I played in fourth, fifth (grade). I started playing football in seventh grade and I've been playing ever since.
What have been your football highlights?
B: Actually I have two. One, against Elmwood Park my sophomore year when I got an interception and ran it back 52 yards for a touchdown. I have one this year where I had a 26-yard fumble recovery for touchdown against Glenbard South.
Ivan, what's the best advice Brian's given you?
I: That I never give up and I just keep moving forward, because you'll always have haters holding you back.
I: I think my brother would be faster. He's got longer strides.
B: I would say he is. He's always pretty much been lighter than me. I'll give my little brother the props for his speed, he's pretty fast. I guess that's one of the reasons why he's on varsity soccer.
Do you tease Ivan about anything?
B: Considering how hard he plays in soccer, I tease him at home for being lazy.
What are your future plans, Brian?
B: My plans are going into an engineering major, specifically like an aerospace engineering program.
Ivan, as a freshman at Fenton do you feel a little more secure having a brother who's a senior?
I: Oh yeah. I have somebody looking over me.
At long last
Speaking of Fenton, on Tuesday its girls volleyball team beat Wheaton Academy in three games. That snapped a 45-match losing streak in the Metro Suburban Conference -- a streak encompassing nine matches this season and all 36 spanning the prior three seasons.
Bison assistant coach Dave Mello believed a greater ability this season to extend matches to three games provided crunchtime experience that finally prevailed Tuesday when senior Andrea Nieto served an ace on match point. Junior Vicky Krzyszkowski recorded 16 kills and 5 blocks and junior Mackenzie Miller had 22 assists.
"This win is not only for this year's team but also for all the girls that played for us during the streak," Mello said. "Head coach Kelly Kleidorfer has constantly been telling the girls that they could do this."