HINCKLEY – Hinckley-Big Rock junior Jacqueline Madden winced in pain with a half-smile on her face and shook her hands during the second game of the Royals’ 25-13, 25-11 loss Tuesday to the Crossroads Crusaders. It signified the sting Madden felt in her hands after trying to dig one of Alexis Simmons’ hardest spikes.
The loss wasn’t surprising or especially disappointing for the Royals. They were missing two of their tallest players against a talented team with a hitter, Simmons, who committed to Nebraska days earlier.
Matches like Tuesday’s make a team from a small school better, even if egos and hands are left with bruises.
“That was the first time playing somebody like that, so we’re not used to digging up some of those hits,” senior Lauren Paver said. “But yeah, we can learn from it. … They were good hits, so it’ll be better when there are not as good hitters as them.”
And overall, the Royals have started the season pretty well. After a 3-0 start, they went 2-2-1 in last weekend’s Somonauk tournament.
H-BR’s first few weeks weren’t just the start to the volleyball season – they were the start of an athletic year in which at least six female athletes will play volleyball, basketball and soccer.
Every humbling experience, every big win, every lesson taught should, in theory, carry over throughout the year.
“We all play together, so we all know how to play together, we know what we’re going to do,” Paver said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 6, 7 on little leagues all the way up to here.”
The unquestioned vocal leader of this group surprised even coach Joanne Weirich. Paver has shown the potential to be a top athlete at H-BR, but the quiet senior began to speak up this summer in a move that she admits was a little unnatural.
“I wasn’t sure how much she would talk this year as a captain because she’s always been more quiet, and she’s come out and she is the team leader on the court,” Weirich said. “That’s what I was hoping for and that’s what I got.
“She surprised me because she’s a lot quiet, and I wasn’t sure what she was going to do as a senior.”
So while they took their lumps early this week, the Royals know that winning games early in the season isn’t the end-all. Weirich is happy with how well-rounded her team is, and the leadership role that was mostly absent last season has been filled.
And as H-BR dives into the Little Ten Conference season, they’ll be better for their preseason success as well as their struggles.
“We had a great start and we played well over the weekend against bigger schools,” Weirich said. “I’m really happy. I think we have a good solid group this year. We don’t really have any big, empty weak spots out there. We have a good group of girls that have come together.”