Girls volleyball: Snelling grew to be an imposing force

When opponents prepare to face Veronica Snelling for the first time, they might just notice she's not a 6-footer and at first glance does not appear to be all that imposing on the volleyball court.

But as soon as they see Snelling, a 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter for Benet, soar high off the floor and slam vicious spike after vicious spike, then her height, or lack thereof, becomes a moot point. The Redwings star has been on varsity since her freshman year, and in 2016 she has been better than ever.

"Nobody ever talks about her height after you watch her play," Redwings coach Brad Baker said of Snelling, this year's Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area team captain. "You don't hit the way she does if you can't get off the floor. You need to jump-touch a certain number to be able to hit the angles that she hits."

Snelling's leaping ability and her fluid, powerful swings only tell part of her overall development story since she came onto the Lisle campus along with setter Sara Nielsen, a longtime friend and teammate of hers from their grade school days in Glen Ellyn. For the first time Snelling is a six-rotation player this season for Benet, which finished 32-6.

"One of my strengths has always been hitting so I work a lot on that," said Snelling, who has committed to play college volleyball for Missouri State. "Throughout my career I just keep working to get better and to hit different shots. I don't need to work on hitting any harder I just need to work on being a smarter hitter."

With 374 kills through last week's play to go along with 37 blocks, it's clear the work has paid off. But she has also made big contributions this fall with 34 aces, 170 digs and strong senior leadership.

"Throughout the years, my backrow play like passing and defense and serving, I've worked really hard to improve those parts of my game," said Snelling, who started on Benet's Class 4A champs as a sophomore, and was a Daily Herald honorable mention selection as a junior. "I feel those are my weakest skills, and since I'm a shorter hitter I know that I need to be good on my whole game. I can't just be like just a front-row specialist. Playing only front row the past two years made me more motivated to play all six (rotations) this year because I wanted to be able to do more for my team than just hitting."

No letdown

The Redwings graduated Daily Herald All-Area Captain Rachael Fara (now playing at Northwestern) two years ago and first-teamer Tiffany Clark (now playing at Michigan) last year. Add to that an injury to outside hitter Gretchen Rudel this season, and some folks expected a dropoff for the Redwings in 2016. But with Snelling and her best friend Nielsen leading the way, the program has topped 30 wins for a 10th straight campaign. The Redwings are a staggering 146-15 since this year's senior class stepped foot on campus.

"They don't lose a lot. When we've had those two kids on the court, there hasn't been a whole lot of losing going on," Baker said. "Which is nice. They're not used to it and they don't like it."

A team game

There's a strong bond between Nielsen and Snelling, and it started in grade school at Hadley Junior High and continued to grow during club volleyball seasons and now for four years at Benet. Nielsen, who will play in the Big Ten next season at Minnesota along with Redwings libero Lauren Barnes, recorded 1,034 assists heading into sectionals. Nielsen has had a number of talented hitters to set up while at Benet but admits there's a special chemistry she has when playing with Snelling.

"We're best friends," Nielsen said. "We do like everything together, so that definitely helps. Ever since third grade we've been at the same school. We've worked together a lot. She told me before that she knows when I'm going to set her even if like most people don't know. We just are kind of like in tune and she knows how to adjust to my sets and I know how she likes to be set. We just work well together."

Snelling, who got hooked on volleyball in part because her mother played at Northern Illinois University, loves having Nielsen on her side on the court. She also loves being a part of a Benet program that has such lofty goals each and every year.

"I know I have a target on my back being on this team for the last couple of years," Snelling said. "But we also have Lilly (Johnson) and Claire (Byrne), who have been doing an awesome job and Anna (Paoni) and Sydney (Relihan) in the middle. They really came together this year and have gotten better throughout the year and they've gotten so much better, especially with blocking."

Baker said Snelling and fellow Division I recruits Nielsen and Barnes showed up as freshmen with plenty of talent but then worked extremely hard to be the best they could be on the court.

"It's part of what we expect. When you get to be a senior it's part of the deal," he said. "We want you to learn those skills. We want our seniors to be leaders. It's their time. They've been around the longest and they have the most experience. We hope that they have the most knowledge to give to everybody as to how things get done and so that we can have the most success."

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