By Mark Gregory

Four years ago, Ashley Shook came into Plainfield Central as a shy, quiet player with a world of potential.

As she leaves, she does so as a dominant leader and one of the best players to ever play for the Wildcats.

This season, she posted 547 assists, 207 kills, 204 digs and 32 service aces.

For her efforts, Shook is the 2016 Voyager Media Volleyball Player of the Year.

“She has improved every year which is hard to believe from a (6-foot, 2-inch) setter that is big and physical,” said Central coach Erik Vogt. “The big thing is that she has become an extravert this year. She has become an introvert most of her life – she has always been a very quiet kid. She is very intelligent and works extremely hard, but it is only this year that she has figured out how to get a whole team around her and she has done a great job of getting our program on the right track. No one wants to let her down because of how hard she works.

“She is just a phenomenal kid and I know people say that and I know I have probably said it, but she is the kid that she is the first one I ever let babysit my daughter outside of my family. I trust her 100 percent and her teammates trust her. She has been an instrumental part of our success every year.”

That success has not only come from Shook’s talent, but her willingness to adapt, which was shown this season when she began to set from the middle.

“She played in the middle at the end of the year and she did that because she wanted to win. She said if playing middle helped us win and had the best rotation on the floor, she would be in the middle,” Vogt said. “She is always thinking about the team and she is one of the most unselfish people you will ever meet.”

Shook feels the move made her a better player.

“Setting from the middle is different and I really like it and I think we have a really cool offense and it gives me flexibility of where I can play and what I can do,” Shook said. “I like it because I can get the perspective of all the players.”

That kind of growth has been something Shook said has come throughout the years.

“I have matured a lot over the years. Freshman year, I was quiet and a scared little freshman, but I have had to become a leader on this team and I have had to do what I could to help this team win,” she said.

In the last two seasons, the Wildcats win a pair of regional titles and advanced to the sectional final both years.

Shook will now take those talents to the University of Texas where she will try to win an NCAA title.

“I loved Texas and I got that gut feeling right away. It is far away, but it is going to be my home away from home and I felt at home there right away,” she said. “The coaching staff is amazing and that they will care about me as a player and a person and help me be a great person even after volleyball. It is also a winning program and I will have a chance to start as a freshman, which is important to me. And of course, I want to win a national championship.”

While Shook strives to be a national champion, Vogt says young players to look to strive to mimic her.

“If I was a fifth or sixth grader playing volleyball for the first time and I saw her play, I would want to be Ashley,” he said.

Other members of the team are:

Brooklyn Bachmann

The senior setter led the Indians with 993 assists, 180 digs and 26 aces to go with 43 blocks for the Indians, who fell in the three sets to the nation’s No. 1 team in the Class 4A state finals.

“Brooklyn was a fierce leader on the court and we will very much miss her,” said Minooka coach Carrie Prosek. “She would dive through bleachers to keep that ball alive for our offense to hit the ball.  She could push the ball to the pin no matter where she was and that is truly what kept us alive when things were off.  She took ahold of this young team and taught them how to be confident and want to win.”

Eleni Balourdos
Niles West

The setter for the Wolves’ fourth-place squad posted 845 assists on the season to go with 55 aces and 167 digs.

“Eleni has run our offense for all four years taking the team to one sectional and one final four trip,” said Niles West coach Stacy Metoyer. “She has also been all-conference three years and was runner up for player of the conference. Eleni has also received MVP two of her four years.”

Taylor Baranski

Junior libero tallied 583 digs and 45 aces for the Indians. She was All-Tournament team at the Mizuno Cup Tournament and first-team All-Southwest Prairie Conference.

“Taylor by far was the best libero, who brought so much energy to this team,” Prosek said. “We ran our serve receivE around her and forced teams to serve her knowing we could always count on a perfect pass. Defensively she can read every other teams offense and was always there to pick up any hard driven hit or tip that was thrown her way.  To have 553 digs in one season is just amazing.”

Lauren Barnes

Minnesota recruit, lead the Redwings in digs with 486, while putting up 23 aces and a 2.35 passing rating.

“She is one of the top two or three liberos in the state,” coach Brad Baker said.

Clare Delaplane
Downers North

Junior is committed to Villanova.  She paced the Trojans with 426 kills, 223 digs and 33 aces. She was named to the all-tournament teams at the Wheaton Classic and Waubonsie Warrior Blast and was also named to WSC Silver All-Conference team. 

“Clare was clearly one of the state’s most prolific attackers,” said coach Mark Wasik. “Probably what was most impressive is that she made strides in her serve-receive and defense as teams figured out that she was one of our steadiest passers and consequently, teams avoided serving her. I look forward to her continued growth as a leader who will positively impact her team as she grows both physically and emotionally leading up to her senior year.”

Emily Holbrook
Joliet Catholic

Sophomore outside hitter tallied 183 kills and 13 aces on the season.

Kaila Johanson
Niles West

Senior tallied 363 kills and 180 digs for the Wolves, while adding 35 blocks and 40 aces.

“Kaila has been on varsity for four years and was our starting outside for three years and all-conference for three years,” Metoyer said. 

Jenny Koerner
Joliet West

Junior outside hitter tallied 326 kills, 302 assists and 60 aces for the regional champions.

JoDee Kovanda

Senior was a six-rotation leader for the Porters and the team MVP. She was lost at the end of the season to injury, but posted 190 kills, 244 assists and 42 aces.

Taylor Landfair
Plainfield Central

Freshman tallied 351 kills for the regional champions.

Lyric Miles

Senior tallied 241 kills, 195 digs and 33 aces to lead the Spartans.

Sara Nielson

Senior setter was a three-year starter for Benet. This season she posted 1,034 assists, 32 aces and 28 blocks. Her assist total is good for fourth all-time in a single season in IHSA history.

The Minnesota recruit was named as one of the top 100 recruits in the nation.

Ali Papesh

Junior outside hitter helped the Indians to second place in Class 4A. She posted 417 kills, 276 digs, 87 blocks and 46 aces.

She was Illinois Player of the week for Prep Volleyball, was All-Tournament team at the Mizuno Cup Tournament and was first-team All-Southwest Prairie Conference.

“I believe Ali is the most explosive player in the area,” Prosek said. “She can definitely put the ball away but this year she has really learned to use different shots so defenses had no clue where she was going every time she went up! 

“Her defense has improved tremendously since last year and she has the drive to keep getting better and better in all areas of the game. We ran her out of serve receive out of the middle and right side to keep people wondering where she was going. She is a blast to watch play.”

Natalia Pehar
Niles West

Sophomore led Niles West in kills (376) and blocks (42) while adding 143 digs and 35 aces on the way to a state final four appearance.

“Natalia is a sophomore and has started for us the last two years,” Metoyer said. “She led our team in kills this year and won two of the playoff games for us right at the end”

Rocky Perinar

Junior tallied 330 kills, 67 blocks and 249 digs for the Class 4A runner-up Indians.

“As the season progressed Rocky got stronger and stronger and more confident in herself,” Prosek said. “She turned into a powerhouse and that was the turning point of our season. 

“She started taking risks and trusting herself and then she was unstoppable in all aspects of the game.  Not only in her offense but also in her defense. 

“She has such a high reach, and quick arm swing teams could not stop her.  She is a fun player to watch who really has fun while she is playing”

Veronica Snelling

Senior outside leads the Redwings in kills this season with 374. She also posted 34 aces, 170 digs, 37 blocks. She will play at Missouri State next year. She was a member of the Wheaton Classic All-Tournament team and the Benet Invite MVP.

“She is the best right side attacker in the state,” said coach Brad Baker.

Bianca Tomuta
Niles West

Senior posted 414 digs and 34 aces for the state final four team.

“Bianca is a senior libero and leads our team in digs,” Metoyer said. “Her serving has been the best on the team in the playoffs and she had some key digs for us in close matches.”

Kendall Tucker
Downers North

Tallied 277 digs this season to lead North and was named to the all-tournament team at the Waubonsie Warrior Blast

“She is one of our captains and has been a consistent contributor and steadying force for our young team,” coach Mark Wasik said.

Francesca Wagoner

Junior totaled 264 kills and a .186 hitting percentage on the season.

“She was by far the best player in our conference according to all the coaches at our coaches conference meeting,” said Lisle coach Bonnie Pettigrew said.

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