Ryan, Glenbard West enjoying volleyball renaissance

Caleigh Ryan doesn’t concentrate on her school’s volleyball championship past.

She’s too busy building Glenbard West’s next big winner.

Despite losing eight seniors off last year’s 26-11 team, Ryan and the Hilltoppers are 23-2. A 30-win season is very much a reality.

That hasn’t happened at Glenbard West since, yes, the 1983 state championship team.

“I don’t think any of us would have expected this,” Ryan said. “I don’t think any of us were really ready for the success we’ve had, but we had the potential all along.”

Football gets much of the attention at Glenbard West, but a pretty fair renaissance is also enfolding on the volleyball court.

Glenbard West’s volleyball team went to state three straight years from 1981-1983 led by future Olympian Nancy Reno. It culminated in the 1983 state title. (Coincidentally, the year current No. 1 Glenbard West last won a state football championship).

It went downhill from there. Glenbard West last won a regional in 1985, and went from 1995-2006 without a winning season.

Then the Hilltoppers went 21-14 in 2007, the first of five straight 20-win seasons. They started 12-0 this season until a three-set loss at Hinsdale Central.

Glenbard West looks like a team knocking on the door of the area’s elite, even if it isn’t quite there yet. Three-set losses to Hinsdale Central and Lyons Township could have been program-changing wins had they gone the other way.

Ryan says they can still benefit from them in the long run.

“I feel like when we played Hinsdale Central not many of the girls on our team thought we could actually win,” Ryan said. “Both of the losses have proved to us that we are good and that we can compete with teams like that. We know we are at that level.”

There’s no bigger reason for that than Ryan.

Glenbard West coach Pete Mastandrea will praise his junior setter until he’s blue in the face if you let him.

He calls her a diamond in the rough. The best player he’s coached at Glenbard West, bar none. An all-state setter.

He could add “accidental setter” to that bio.

Ryan played outside hitter all her life up through her freshman year, when she was brought up to the varsity team. Injuries and other issues forced Mastandrea to try his next-best athlete at setter for a summer-league match in 2010.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“After that one match I told Caleigh, ‘This experiment is over with you, whether you like it or not. You’re my setter,’” Mastandrea said, “and she said, ‘I always wanted to set my whole life.”

Mastandrea marvels at Ryan’s understanding of the game, and her charisma and dynamic nature on the court.

“I like having control on the court, calling the plays. I felt like it fit me well,” Ryan said. “I’m just disappointed that I didn’t get the opportunity to set earlier.”

It isn’t hard to see why Ryan fits the role of floor captain well.

She possesses a team-first attitude that rubs off on other players. She is well-spoken for a high school junior, not surprising when you consider she carries a 5.8 GPA.

Ryan comes from good athletic and academic genes. Her mom, Kathleen, was a swimmer at Yale, and her dad, Kelly, played football for Yale before a two-week audition with the Dallas Cowboys.

A member of the First Alliance club with Glenbard West teammate Amanda Perry, Ryan plans to play in college. Those plans aren’t firmed up yet, though.

She’s busy building a winner on the volleyball court like the one on Glenbard West’s football field.

“Our football team is very good. We want to be recognized in the same way they are,” Ryan said. “I feel like in previous years we haven’t got a lot of credit, and honestly we didn’t deserve it. But people are respecting us more now.”