CARY— Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. sharp, Patty Langanis strides boring beyond the volleyball cloister at Cary-Grove Aerial Academy adjoin a semicircle of volleyball players. With anniversary step, the amusement and babble fades added into the abandoned corners of the dimly lit gym. The drillmaster alcove the group. Twenty bashful faces beam aback at her.
“Welcome to the aboriginal day of tryouts,” Langanis says, as a few girls nervously fidget with their hands.
She explains that, over the aing three days, the hopefuls will abide 21 hours of training and appraisal with the ambition of authoritative what has commonly been one of the best acknowledged volleyball programs in Illinois.
The banners and plaques proudly beautify the gym walls, cogent the adventure of the Trojans’ success. Ten appointment titles. Nine regionals. Four sectionals. Two runner-ups in the accompaniment championship game. A accompaniment title.
The 2009 accompaniment championship banderole is displayed best acutely — aerial on the bank anon beyond from area admirers will backpack the board bleachers afterwards this season. But conceivably the best aggregation came the afterward year in 2010, aback Cary-Grove blazed through the approved and postseason to access the accompaniment championship d undefeated. In 175 attempts, no aggregation won so abundant as a set, abundant beneath a match, adjoin the Trojans.
Cary-Grove was ranked No. 1 in the nation. The ESPN photo shoots were booked. One reporter’s adventure was already written. But the Trojans were stunned, 2-1, in the accompaniment championship by LaGrange.
Memories of that bout still abode Langanis. Afterwards a 21-16 bottomward year aftermost season, accepting aback to the top of the volleyball apple charcoal Cary-Grove’s focus. It drives abounding of the athletes to alternation 40-plus weeks of the year amid academy and club teams, readily trading amusing lives for abscessed shoulders.
Those continuing in the semicircle achievement to be the aing ones to accession a banner. Will they? That’s to be absitively in the season. For now, the best acute catechism is who will survive the seven-hour-a-day workouts and accomplish the team?
Three players sit on the bubble.
Karisa Wilczynski— an amenable chief with a ability for authoritative her teammates able up on the court.
Marissa Anderson — a petite, but able green whose braces appearance afterwards anniversary of her afraid smiles.
Jen Pilut — an able-bodied lefty who will cantankerous up defenders on the aforementioned cloister during her chief basketball division this winter.
“Once the burden hits this afternoon, you will see who can acceleration to the claiming and who will crumble,” Langanis says. “Embrace it. This is your time to appearance that you can do article great.”
Day One: Setting the score
No attack is perfect. Some coaches favor seniors or accord added acclaim for affluence — heart, never-say-die attitude, or whatever added abstract address you can imagine.
“My ambition is to get the top 16 in the gym,” says the volleyball lifer, who abstruse the d from her ambitious mother/ drillmaster and went on to comedy collegiately at Iowa. “I can fix aggregate else.”
She developed a different scoring arrangement about 20 years ago in an attack to booty the backroom out of the process. She and her abettor coach, Spenser Clark, brand every attempt on a calibration from 0 (a complete absence or a brand out of bounds) to 3 (a annihilate or a canyon absolutely to the advised location.)
The aboriginal two days, Langanis will use drills and scrimmages to acquisition her four best arresting specialists. Chief Bree Coffey committed to Rutgers in the offseason. She’s a shoo-in. Aforementioned with inferior Delaney Bayer, who challenged Coffey for libero aftermost season. Afterwards the morning session, it’s ablaze that apprentice Emily Schuester will be aing in the band of absorbing arresting specialists.
That leaves Wilczynski, the senior, and Anderson, the sopre, to action for the final two positions. While Langanis says acid a chief is never easy, she’s done it before. She’ll do it again, if the numbers acquaint her to.
“Serve hard,” Langanis reminds the aggregation afore the aboriginal day of scoring begins. “Today, no one is your friend. They’re all your competition.”
Wilczynski pulls up her knee pads and takes her abode in the backcourt aing to two adept players whom she has played with for years. The aboriginal brawl comes her way. She darts beneath it with ample arms, lofting it alluringly through the air and into the cat-and-mouse easily of the setter. A army of upperclassmen “woooo” loudly.
“See that,” Wilczynski says to Langanis. “Laying bottomward the three!”
“She bare that,” Langanis says quietly, with a smile.
Wilczynski chose not to comedy club volleyball in the offseason and wasn’t up to her archetypal anatomy in the morning session. She stood with her easily on her head, disturbing to t her animation aback she accomplished in the everyman division of the aggregation during activity drills at the end of the 9 a.m. practice.
But now, she seems airy and shows the air-conditioned of a chief who has been through the process.
By contrast, Anderson was all over the cloister during the morning session, bound communicable the absorption of Langanis. But, in the appraisal period, she seems out of sorts.
Langanis all-overs her arch as she marks bottomward 1s and 0s while the active Anderson dives about the court.
“She looked so acceptable this morning,” Langanis says, puzzled by the sopre’s performance.
After Day 1, Wilczynski holds a 2-point advantage on her underclassman competition, 67-65.
Day 2: Numbers never lie
Volleyballs and bodies flew about the cloister with an acuteness usually aloof for postseason antagonism on Thursday afternoon, the additional day of tryouts. The aboriginal day was mostly in structured assignment form. Thursday is a flat — the fun part.
The four-hour appraisal aeon flies by and, afore long, Clark and Langanis ataxia calm to account up the points. Attractive bottomward at the circling notebook, Langanis puffs out her cheeks and boring exhales.
“This aloof makes me sick,” she says, afraid out her argot like Mr. Yuk.
Clark rechecks the algebraic while Langanis takes the aggregation alfresco for conditioning, a barbarous end to the additional seven-hour day in a row.
“Tell me I had it wrong,” she says.
The algebraic checks out. There is no mistake.
After two canicule and 90 touches, the anthology cardboard reads: Karisa Wilczynski 143. Marissa Anderson 144. The green has unseated the chief — and by a distinct point.
The allowance is negligible. It’s the aberration amid accepting a duke on a fasten and missing it altogether. A altogether anesthetized brawl or one area the setter has to booty three accomplish to the side.
Langanis is the final decision-maker. She could accomplish an exception, aloof this once, for such a aing antagonism to accumulate her chief on the team. But that’s creating a bad antecedent and a glace slope.
“Numbers never lie,” the drillmaster reasons.
When the aggregation finishes the laps about the gym, they amphitheater up for stretches. Quietly, Langanis signals for Wilczynski. As the two airing out into the alleyway aloof alfresco the gym, the upperclassmen abhorrence the inevitable.
“Oh my God, she’s activity to get cut,” one says.
Tears able-bodied up in a few players’ eyes. The gym goes silent.
After what seems like hours, Wilczynski emerges from the hallway. She’s smiling.
Langanis explains that Wilczynski is not amid the top four arresting specialists, her primary position. But her attack isn’t over. She’s activity to try to accomplish the aggregation as a appropriate ancillary hitter.
“She wants to do whatever it takes to accomplish this team,” Langanis says.
Many upperclassmen advantage up at the announcement. Pilut, additionally a senior, puts her arch down. The aggregation will accumulate aloof two appropriate ancillary hitters and now there are three athletes angry for the sport.
It will appear bottomward to Wilczynski vs. Pilut.
Day 3: The hardest part
Wilczynski and Pilut booty their positions on the cloister adverse anniversary added aback the scrimmaging resumes on the third and final day of tryouts. Wilczynski hammers a adamantine attempt through an alleyway beyond the court.
“Nice, Karisa!” the aggregation cheers.
Pilut answers with a affable lob over two blockers.
“Yay, Jen!” acclaim answer through the gym.
The flat continues with players alternating in and out. Pilut sprints assimilate the cloister and slaps Wilczynski bristles as she takes her position.
Soon after, the convenance ends. Langanis tallies the credibility one final time. She has her team. Now, the adamantine part: cogent them.
The 20 players who were abounding with optimism as the three-day attack began sit agilely in the bend of the gym, apprehension their fate as the final 16 are called. Langanis calls four arresting specialists into the hall. Smiles advance beyond anniversary of the players’ faces. They can breathe for the aboriginal time in three days.
The accumulation climbs the stairs to the high gym to delay for the aing four teammates. Out of afterimage from the draft of the team, they agilely bless while cat-and-mouse to apprehend the fate of their friends. Afore too long, four average hitters accompany them in the high gym. Then four alfresco hitters.
As the numbers in the gym multiply, so too does the anticipation. Twelve down. One accumulation remains. Who will it be?
The ablaze complete of footsteps nears from alfresco the gym.
“Shhh, actuality they come,” one amateur says.
Wilczynski takes one footfall through the bifold doors and flashes a smile. The aggregation takes off from beyond the cloister and mobs her in celebration. Laughs are shared. Tears are shed.
“There’s so abundant aptitude that it’s aloof consistently competitive,” Wilczynski says. “No amount what age you are, you’re consistently activity to accept to action for it.”
Meanwhile, aback in the lower gym, Pilut smacks her duke on the balk attic with a mix of anger, disappointment and frustration. She’s been arena volleyball back seventh grade. Now, she isn’t abiding what she’ll do. Focus on school. Get a job. Comedy AAU basketball, maybe.
Langanis sits in a rolling board armchair on the gym attic and tries to affluence the affliction of the players who she’s aloof cut. She credibility adjoin the far wall, the one beyond from area the Trojans’ abounding playoff accomplishments are displayed. The names of all of the teams in the Fox Valley Appointment beleaguer a behemothic mural of a Trojan, clad in anatomy armor and wielding a sword.
“Look up there,” she says. “On 90 percent of those schools, you’d be playing. Or starting.”
The pep allocution does little to abate the blow. With bittersweet eyes, the players on the alfresco airing out the door, abrogation Langanis abandoned in the abandoned gym. It’s alleged cuts for a reason. Someone will accordingly get hurt.
The coach’s affection mirrors that of the players who accept aloof absolved out. Her ablaze white smile is gone. So too is that accessible baby talk.
“That’s the hardest part,” she says. “They had the adventuresomeness to angle on that band for the aftermost 21 hours and say, ‘I’m activity to accord it my best shot.’ I anticipate that says a lot about any kid who puts themselves out there. They apperceive it’s activity to be absolutely difficult to accomplish the team.”
After a while, she continues.
“I’m in a position area I booty article abroad from a kid who loves to do something, who has formed adamantine and who has trained… It’s an abominable situation.”
Awful, yes. But that’s the acrid reality. Langanis’ aggregation cannot backpack added than 16 players.
But you don’t accept to be a best recruit to acquaintance what it feels like to be on the alfresco attractive in. The abandoned activity of putting yourself out there and advancing up abbreviate as accepted as the bounce letter from the dream academy or the barren email from the dream job.
At some point, anybody knows what it feels like to be the aftermost one cut.
“It’s aloof the absoluteness of life,” Langanis said.
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