Girls volleyball: Barrington needed a libero and Cleary stepped up
As the 2019 girls volleyball season was about to get underway, Barrington coach Michelle Jakubowski was in search of a libero.
The Fillies had graduated a Division 1 standout at the position and the next-in-line libero was sidelined by a back injury.
You might say, all it took was just one look.
Jakubowski chose a then-sophomore by the name of Amanda Cleary, and two years later her name is clearly written across the Daily Herald's Northwest Suburbs' 2021 All-Area Girls Volleyball Team as the Team Captain.
Cleary will help lead the Fillies (33-7) against Metea Valley (38-2) in Friday's 8:30 p.m. semifinal of the IHSA Class 4A state finals at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State.
"I looked at her and she was everything you'd want in a libero," said Jakubowski, who coincidentally has a former all-area captain (Fox Valley) in her very own family with daughter Taylor, who starred at Huntley and now plays for Seton Hall.
"Amanda had energy, leadership, people who would follow her, an excellent first contact and she didn't jump," Jakubowski said with a chuckle. "After two matches her sophomore year, we said 'you know what you are?' A libero. So she went from being an outside hitter since she was 12 years old to being a libero."
Not just any libero. One of the best in the state.
Good enough to earn a ticket to Missouri State University, where she will use her fine-tuned talents to play on the school's first beach volleyball team.
"I really like the partnership you have with your partner in sand volleyball," said Cleary, who signed her letter of intent this week. "Obviously, you have to be super close to your teammate and work really well together. There are a lot of touches and you are always involved in every single play. You have to be really smart and crafty and I think sand is the great equalizer when it comes to girls who are taller, or shorter or faster. You have to be super athletic and I just like the game being played like that. It's all about being fundamentally sound and making good decisions."
Cleary's parents, Michael and Susan, certainly made the right decision when they got their only daughter involved in the sport at the age of 11.
Susan played badminton in high school and later picked up sand volleyball with her sister Marie. Susan also found a friend who enjoyed the sand and they still play in leagues today at Sideouts in Island Lake.
"My mother put me in a little intramural program in South Barrington," Cleary said. "I played about six months and then I got into Sky High (club volleyball)."
Susan and Marie always enjoyed watching volleyball and they knew Amanda was tall for her age back then.
"So they said, 'You know what?, we can try her out in this (volleyball),' " Amanda said.
The rest is history.
After starting as an outside hitter for the junior varsity, Jakubowski told Cleary to put on the libero jersey and it proved to be a match made in heaven. This season, Cleary led the Mid-Suburban League West champions with 401 digs.
"I think I'd always been a solid passer but I wasn't the greatest outside," Cleary said of Jakubowski's decision. "And starting my sophomore year, Campbell (Paris) and Jess (Horwath) were coming in as freshmen and obviously they're super incredible and super-talented outside hitters. It kind of gave them a little opportunity to step into spots and it gave me an opportunity (at libero). I give my coach all the credit with that decision."
"It was just her leadership," Jakubowski said. "She has just worked so hard for everything she has. She just brings out the very best in everyone else on the court. Even if she has shanked a ball or missed a dig, you look at her and still believe in her. And that's what our girls do: they look for her leadership. She is so important that way."
Cleary hopes to be of high importance once she graduates from college as she plans to study nursing.
"My aunt (Marie) is my biggest influence and has been one of my biggest supporters my whole life," Amanda said. "She has been a nurse her whole life and now she works for the American Hospital Association and I kind of shadowed her and my uncle David (cardiologist) around at work. I think nursing is something I can really enjoy so my aunt was a big factor toward that."
For now, Cleary looks toward this weekend and then her career on the sand in Springfield.
"Amanda is a great sand player and a great hard-court player," Jakubowski said. "I'm hoping that maybe Missouri State will pick her up for hard court, too. That's just my wish but again you can see by the way she plays she is going to be great in a two-person game."
Cleary says she has had a great time playing the last few years with her sand partner Allie Korba, the standout setter for Hersey High School.
"It's exciting for Amanda to be in their (Missouri State's) first class for the sport," Jakubowski said. "I think there are definitely different avenues to the sand game. Being a libero now, she has to read the ball. She gets to swing now and block and do different things But it definitely has the same characteristics to the game."
One characteristic you can bet won't change is Cleary's enthusiasm.
"Oh my gosh, she just has such great energy out there," said Horwath, the Fillies' leading attacker with 449 kills. "And being a libero, that has really helped. She is always talking, always smiling. And she has the skills that make her so trustworthy.
"Whenever I do something wrong, I'll say 'let me see what Amanda thinks about it'. She has been really helpful that way. Her positive energy and leadership is amazing. She has always been such a great, positive person."
Horwath said Cleary was always there for her as a freshman two years ago.
"And she's always really loud on the court," Horwath added. "But loud in a positive way, never getting down on her teammates. She's always listening to our coach and getting corrections, and she has been able to improve so much and that inspires us to improve, too."
THE ALL-AREA TEAM
Name School Yr. Pos.
Rian Baker Fremd Sr. S
Farah Cisse Conant Sr. OH
*Amanda Cleary Barrington Sr. L
Abby Ferris Buffalo Grove Sr. OH
Jessica Horwath Barrington Jr. OH
Allie Korba Hersey Sr. S
Lilly LaFleur St. Viator Sr. MB
Aleksandra Makoviec Leyden Sr. OH
Cam Mather Prospect Sr. OH
Olivia Mellen Hersey Jr. L
Lauren Mueller Prospect Jr. S
Clare Olson Maine West Sr. S
Campbell Paris Barrington Jr. OH
Jiya Patel Conant Sr. L
Viviana Ramirez Maine West Sr. OH/RH
Rylen Reid Fremd Sr. OH
Marie Torosian St. Viator Sr. OH
Reanne Valera St. Viator Jr. L
Claire van den Herik Hersey So. OH
Claudia Wala Fremd Sr. MB
* -- All-Area Captain
Honorable mentionLauren Allaire (St. Viator, Sr, OH), Lizeth Avitia (Leyden, Jr. L), Julia Barnett (Buffalo Grove, Jr. RS), Victoria Belmonte (Fremd, Fr. OH), Jillian Cuatero (Hoffman Estates, Jr. RH), Chloe Cruz (Hoffman Estates, Jr. L), Erin Dela Riva (Hersey, So. OH), Charlotte Errico (Rolling Meadows, Jr. MB), Marcelina Gorny (St. Viator, Jr. MB), Samantha Gump (Fremd, Sr. OH), Jessie Hairrell (Conant, Sr. MB), Cailyn Harrington (St. Viator, Sr., S), Alexa Knutson (Hersey, Sr. MH), Victoria Labno (Elk Grove, Sr. MB), Erin McGinn (Palatine, Jr. OH), Charlotte McGrath (Hoffman Estates, Sr. S), Jenna Meitzler (Barrington, So. S/OH), Danielle Moser (Wheeling, Sr. OH), Isabela Segoviana (Fremd, Sr. DS), Madison Serrano (Maine East) Sr, L, Gianna Spetka (Conant, Jr. S), Samantha Springer (Wheeling, Jr. MB), Daria Szczepura (Maine West, Jr. L), Gabrielle Tuiaana (Schaumburg, Jr. OPP), Lauren Wiley (Prospect, Sr. OPP), Julia Wydro (Prospect, Jr, MB), Maddie Zera (Rolling Meadows, Jr. S), Grace Zinchuk (Schaumburg, Sr. MB)