It has only been a few months since Grace Loberg helped lead Geneva's girls basketball team to its first Class 4A state championship last March in Normal.
Loberg, who finished with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals and a blocked shot in the Vikings' 41-40 title triumph over Edwardsville, has since taken her all-around athletic skills to the University of Wisconsin where she is a member of the Badgers' nationally ranked women's volleyball team.
"It seems like such a long time ago," Loberg said last week from Madison. "It's really hitting me around now with the start of the high school girls basketball practices. I miss it but I'm pretty busy up here."
Loberg has been forced to make some adjustments during her freshman season.
At Geneva, she was a 4-year varsity starter and go-to player (along with former teammate Ally Barrett -- now at UConn) who earned all-Upstate Eight Conference River Division honors 4 consecutive years as the Vikings captured 3 regional titles and a pair of sectional crowns.
Now 1 of 7 freshmen on the Badgers' youthful roster (13 of their 17 players are freshmen and sophomores), Loberg has appeared in nearly half of their matches -- 41 sets played of 83.
"It's a lot different from high school and club volleyball," said Loberg, who was a 2-time AAU all-American while playing for Club Fusion which recorded 3 Top 10 finishes at the national championships.
Coming off the bench, Loberg has recorded 59 kills (6th on the team) with 16 blocks, 16 digs, 3 assists and a service ace for the 10th-ranked Badgers (16-7).
"I have to be ready for everything," said Loberg. "I try to stay mentally and physically prepared."
Such is life when you're playing college volleyball in the rugged Big Ten Conference.
"Everybody is so amazingly talented on this team," said Loberg. "Our practices are so competitive. We get after it. Everybody is going 100 percent for a couple hours."
Unlike high school, Loberg, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter, is no longer the tallest player on her team.
"I'm like the fourth or fifth tallest," she said. "That is a little weird."
Loberg is surrounded by plenty of familiar faces from her high school and club days, including 6-8 freshman middle blocker Dana Rettke (Riverside-Brookfield), freshman libero Riley Bell (Neuqua Valley), sophomore libero Tiffany Clark (Benet) and 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Molly Haggerty (St. Francis).
Wisconsin's roster includes just 2 seniors -- outside hitters Kelli Bates (Bradley-Bourbonnais) and Lauryn Gillis.
"They're such amazing leaders," Loberg said of the senior tandem. "They've taught me a lot about the game and have helped me adjust to the college game."
Loberg has quickly become a student of the game.
"In high school and club, I never really paid attention to the minor details," said Loberg, who recorded a pair of kills in her collegiate debut on Aug. 26 against North Carolina. "My main focus right now is blocking. It's such an important part of the game but it's totally different from high school.
"The amount of preparation and film work before games is crazy but it makes it so much easier to see what other teams are thinking and doing."
Loberg enjoyed a fast start with 8 kills and a pair of digs in the Badgers' 3-set victory over Syracuse in early September at the K-State Invitational, then added a season-high 9 kills in a 3-set triumph over the host Wildcats one day later.
Last Friday, Loberg contributed 6 kills and 2 digs during the Badgers' 5-set loss to Ohio State.
How competitive is Big Ten women's volleyball?
Five teams, including Wisconsin, are currently ranked in the top 15 nationally.
Penn State and Minnesota are ranked first and second, respectively, while Nebraska is fifth.
"We know that it's going to be a battle against every team in our conference," said Loberg, whose team is 7-7 in Big Ten play. "You have to keep it in perspective that you're losing to top-ranked teams in the country."
Two weeks ago, Loberg had 4 kills, a block and a dig in the Badgers' 4-set loss at Penn State. It marked the first time since 2007 that Wisconsin won a set in Happy Valley.
"It was a cool atmosphere," said Loberg. "Their fans were yelling at us and they knew our names. It was a fun environment to play in."
Wisconsin, which knocked off Maryland in 4 sets on Saturday, begins a 4-match road trip Friday night against Indiana.
Loberg returns to her home state the following week against Illinois (Nov. 17) and Northwestern (Nov. 19).
"My family has been to every home match," she said of her parents, Greg and Colleen. "My mom's side of the family is from Indiana (Greenwood) so I'm expecting to see a lot of them next weekend."
Loberg will spend Thanksgiving Day in Madison as the Badgers host top-ranked Penn State on Nov. 24.
Craig Brueske can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org