For Wheaton Warrenville South senior setter Becca Bellows, her 2020 freshman girls volleyball season was filled with change.
Bellows had just moved from Springfield that June. She not only earned a spot with the varsity, but she became an outside and middle hitter, both unnatural positions for her.
“It was fun, though, because I met a bunch of the seniors and I learned a bunch of names and new people,” Bellows said. “It was very nerve-wracking [at first]. It was very nice to see how the seniors were and [WW South coach Bill Schreier] taught me so much, how I’ve evolved through the years.”
The 6-foot-1 Bellows now is a Wake Forest recruit and among four key veterans for the talented Tigers, who took seventh place at their 24-team Wheaton Classic on Sept. 16. Bellows and senior outside hitter Maddie Mlady-Gibson both were named to the All-Tournament team in the event won by Benet.
Bellows has returned to setter the past two seasons. The Tigers also boast three third-year starters – 6-foot Mlady-Gibson, 6-3 junior outside hitter Lauren Coyne and 6-1 senior middle hitter Brooke Allred.
“We’re definitely excited. Every year it’s a very intense tournament because it’s our tournament,” Mlady-Gibson said. “At the rate we’re going, I feel like we have high hopes for the end of the season.”
Bellows and Mlady-Gibson are eager to help the Tigers’ progress. They first met in summer camp soon after Bellows’ arrival and became friends in freshman gym class. Their bond blossomed during the memorable 2021 postseason ride, when the Tigers reached the Class 4A sectional finals behind 11 seniors led by Darby Harris, the standout setter before Bellows.
This season’s key newcomers include junior outside hitter Cate Cassin and two sophomores, middle hitter Katie Dragas and libero Kayla Paige.
“[Bellows and Mlady-Gibson] continue to improve, add dimensions to their skill level, but the biggest thing is off the court – their leadership and setting the bar and setting the expectations [as senior veterans],” Schreier said. “That’s a carryover because they were around the ones in the past. They’re that bridge. We always talk about that.”
As a sophomore outside hitter, Bellows led the Tigers in kills and received the majority of sets. Now she’s making those decisions as setter.
“You’re kind of the captain of the court so it’s not that big of a change but position wise, it was a very big change,” Bellows said. “I gained lots of insight [at hitter] on different sets to the outside or different sets overall or how to be a leader. Whenever you’re an outside, you have to try to be one with the court like setters do.”
This season, the nationally rated Coyne and Mlady-Gibson are back at their normal offensive positions. Mlady-Gibson was an outside hitter on the freshman A team but played middle the past two seasons.
“I feel like it made me more of an all-around hitter since middles are primarily blockers. I feel I became more agile at the net. And since it’s the main job to read the hitters in back row, it’s easier for me to read the hitters and understand the plays,” Mlady-Gibson said. “I was definitely more of an in-my-head player [as a sophomore]. The more I’ve been with [Schreier], the more he’s taught me to keep a level head and just keep playing my game.”
Bellows found a similar welcoming atmosphere at Wake Forest. She verbally committed right before her junior year after attending summer camp.
“[Head coach] Randi Smart, she acts like my mom. They’re high academics, beautiful campus,” Bellows said. “I loved how family-oriented the program was and how all of the girls were when I went to the camp.”
Benet defended its championship at the Wheaton Classic by beating Marist 25-20, 25-18 at Wheaton Warrenville South. Junior libero Aniya Warren was named MVP. 2022 MVP Ava Novak and Audrey Asleson also were all-tournament.
Other all-tournament players were IC Catholic Prep’s Ava Falduto, Hinsdale Central’s Emma Quast, Lyons’ Abby Markworth and WW South’s Bellows and Mlady-Gibson.
Glenbard West won its invitational by beating Kaneland 25-13, 25-7 behind senior Marin Johnson, the tournament MVP. The Hilltoppers’ Breccan Scheck, Glenbard East’s Sophia Sommesi, Hinsdale South’s Alexandra Fedinec and Lorelai Francis from the Glenbard West JV also were all-tournament.
At Manteno, Timothy Christian was second, losing in the final to Homewood-Flossmoor 25-16, 25-14. The Trojans’ Bella Potempa and Abby Vander Wal were all-tournament.