Rob Ridenour coached his Barrington boys volleyball team to a state berth this spring. He also spotted an opposing player who thrilled him.
Libertyville senior outside hitter Jack Stevens was that good in the Wildcats' sectional-final loss to Barrington at Grant.
"I told Jack Stevens that he was the best player I've seen in 15 years," Ridenour said after watching Stevens slam 14 kills.
Libertyville team captain and libero Ryan Winiger jumped into the discussion.
"Jack is one of the best players I've seen in high school," Winiger said.
Wildcats coach Jenny Smith had thoughts on her Ohio State-bound star too.
"If you've never seen Jack play, you've surely run into someone who has," Smith said. "They will tell you that Jack Stevens is one of the best high school boys volleyball players of all-time."
Yes, Stevens had a magnificent campaign, leading Libertyville to a 33-6 record. The best volleyball player in Lake County is the captain of the Daily Herald Lake County all-area volleyball team.
And just think, he could have been a quarterback in football.
"In middle school, I was the quarterback," Stevens said. "But it didn't work out. I also played basketball with friends. I played baseball travel ball. And freshman year, I ran cross country."
And finally, he followed a sister who liked volleyball.
"When Jack was a freshman, he had such an excellent and natural sense for the game," Smith said. "He was moved up to be an undersized setter for the JV team."
She hoped Stevens would make a solid libero in time.
"I started to grow a bit," Stevens said. "I have one uncle is 6 feet 6."
Smith watched as her prospective libero outgrew his position.
"Little Jack Stevens surprised us all," Smith said. "He developed an unstoppable jump serve and a powerful attack."
His 371 kills led the Wildcats this season. He added 55 blocks, 36 serving aces, 177 digs and even 13 assists. For his three-year varsity career, Stevens fired off 942 kills, most in Libertyville history. In a three-set win over Lake Forest, in the semifinals of the sectional, the 6-3 Stevens pounded 20 kills.
With Stevens on varsity, Libertyville went 24-2 in the North Suburban Conference, 96-19 overall, won 2 NSC championships with an undefeated record and captured 3 regional titles. It made for most successful three seasons in the history of Wildcats volleyball.
Of course, the college programs wanted him. The recruiting trail took him to California.
"I toured both UCLA and USC," Stevens said. "But I had broken my foot so they weren't able to see me play."
Stevens received an offer from the University of California at Irvine. He even looked at Princeton. Finally, the Ohio State University came calling,
"I'm pretty excited about this," Stevens said. "Volleyball is a huge part of my life. I need to get physically stronger. (Ohio State) told me the best players will play."
This best player in Lake County has left his mark.
"Senior year, I had thought there was no way that Jack could be better than how he finished his junior year," Smith said. "Again, I was blown away. His pure athleticism, jumping ability, IQ at the net (make him) impressive to watch play."