Girls volleyball: Benet's Monson makes defense seem magical
There really is no good way to explain how Hattie Monson throws her body toward the volleyball court floor over and over and somehow not only manages to touch the ball but more often than not magically passes it to a teammate, who then takes that pass and sets up a teammate for a kill on the other side of the net.
But if you trace the background of Benet's star libero, you'll learn about some of the many the factors that make Monson an elite defender. That said, some of her diving digs and some of the plays she makes against baffled opposing attackers are hard to describe. You really have to see it to believe it.
"Hattie makes reads that other kids just don't make. It's hard to explain," said Benet coach Brad Baker, who has been blessed with a number of all-state liberos over the years. "There are times I look up and she's just standing in the right spot. It's literally just hours and days more than normal kids spend on a volleyball court. And seeing kids, seeing body language, to be able to read hitters, she's special."
"Their libero is phenomenal," added Minooka coach Carrie Prosek. "Hands down they have the best libero in the state."
A four-year varsity player at a high-level program, Monson is the Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Girls Volleyball Team Captain for 2019. She has recorded 350 digs, 95 assists and 22 aces so far this season, but her value to the program goes beyond numbers.
One of the best
Monson's superb defense is a big reason why Benet (39-1) is in line for yet another state trophy. The program has won three Class 4A titles since 2011. It also finished second in 2008 and 2013, before taking third in 2018 after falling to Marist in the semifinals.
Benet will get another shot at Benet in Friday's Class 4A semifinals in Normal.
With Monson's energy and leadership omnipresent, the team manages to thrive on big defensive plays just as much as it does on a powerful attack by one of the many hard hitters on the squad. Her presence as a leader in practices and in matches has a way of impacting classmates, as well as outcomes.
"Hattie is one of a kind. She's a beast. I am unbelievably lucky to play with her," fellow senior and outside hitter Colleen McGuire said. "Going into this season I was talking to my parents. I was like, I can play with the Hattie Monson. This girl could be in the Olympics someday. You don't know where she's going to wind up.
"She is so good. To have that experience is part of the reason why I wanted to come back to be a part of such a high-level defensive team. She's everywhere on defense. I think a lot of teams usually rely on their offensive players to generate their momentum. We have the opportunity to use our offense and our defense to do that with how amazing she is."
A natural libero
Monson's mom, Susan, was a volleyball coach in the Morris area, so little Hattie always found herself around the sport. There was some T-ball, basketball and even a little traveling softball for the young athlete, but once Monson joined her first club volleyball team at the age of 8, she was hooked.
Her lack of height steered her toward libero, and that was just fine by her.
"I was automatically put at the libero spot because of my height," Monson said. "But I grew up thinking it's fun to go to the floor. I thought it was kinda cool if I got bruised and scraped. So I enjoyed diving drills when I was younger. I liked to be on the floor.
"I would kind of get in trouble for being on the floor too much. Now I'm just immune to being on the floor. It's second nature."
Long hours perfecting those drills has Monson considered one of the top prep liberos in the country. Last summer she showed off those skills as a member of the USA Youth National Team, winning gold in Honduras.
"That was an awesome experience and a learning experience as to what the Olympic pipeline is like," she said. "It was an awesome experience to travel overseas and to represent the USA and wear a USA jersey. It was cool."
What also was cool was watching and learning from past Benet liberos like Lauren Barnes and Tiffany Clarke and being able to pass along some of that wisdom that was handed down.
"I just knew I always wanted to be like them," Monson said. "Now I'm just trying to be the good leader and show them how to be a Benet libero like they showed me in the past."