Girls volleyball: Slavik sets Saints to special season

Updated 11/9/2018 10:51 AM
  • McKenna Slavic of St. Charles East High School is the All-Area Team Captain in girls volleyball in the Fox Valley.

      McKenna Slavic of St. Charles East High School is the All-Area Team Captain in girls volleyball in the Fox Valley. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Great players not only put up their own eye-popping stats, they find a way to make their teammates better.

That was the story of McKenna Slavik's senior season this fall at St. Charles East.

Slavik, the captain of the Daily Herald's Fox Valley All-Area Team, had those impressive individual numbers. The Clemson-bound setter not only set 616 assists, she also led the Saints with 249 kills and 47 blocks while serving 30 aces.

But it was the way she brought out the best in her teammates, especially late in the year when St. Charles East beat 31-3 Belvidere North and 35-3 Huntley to win the Class 4A Huntley sectional title, that really stood out.

"With her leadership we were able to play in matches we might not have been able to without her," Saints coach Jennie Kull said.

"The player that is most important to her team is Slavik," is how Wheaton Warrenville South's Bill Schreier put it. "There is no way that they are as successful as they have been without her. I think the other teams would drop, but not nearly as much as St. Charles East would."

And from St. Charles North's Lindsey Hawkins: "She has taken a decent group of volleyball players and made an exceptional team out of them. That's nothing short of amazing and she should be credited for that."

Slavik comes from a volleyball family. Both her sister and brother play, as did her dad Ryan in high school and her mother Laurie at Wisconsin.

That can be a blessing and a curse -- though much more the former.

"My mom has taught me so much," McKenna said. "Since they both know so much about volleyball it can be annoying at times because they will tell me I should have done this. But in the end they are just trying to help and they have taught me some things that really helped me on the court."

Kull certainly sees the positives in that relationship.

"Her mom was a role model for her," Kull said. "If she was struggling her mom would step up and help and demand her to work hard. She was a great mom to have because she never made excuses for her. That was important. Her mom had lived it. That was important to her success as well."

Slavik said her parents encouraged her to try other sports growing up but none of them stuck. "At least for me I didn't really like any of them until I tried volleyball," Slavik said.

She credited much of her improvement from playing for her Spry volleyball club.

This past summer she set the 18U team to the national title which gave her plenty of confidence coming into her senior season.

"I think that taught her how to win, how to compete," Kull said. "That was a real bonus for us this year to have her leadership. Sometimes frustration because she didn't have as many weapons as she did club season but she was able to utilize what she had and we were able to benefit from her great skills. She knew how to win."

Slavik said there definitely was a carry-over effect. While the Saints lost 14 times in the regular season, they peaked at the right time in the postseason.

"I just tried to take everything I learned from past club season and winning nationals," Slavik said. "I knew after that what it takes to win as a team even if you are not supposed to win. We weren't the first team in the country but just pushing through and playing together.

"Some of the younger kids (on the Saints) would be nervous on the court and I just tried to help them out. Then they felt comfortable and ready to go. And I felt pushing them in practice was really important."

Kull saw that every day -- "She loves to compete. Even in practice. Every day she would work really hard and she would expect everyone else to." -- while opposing coaches saw it from Slavik on game day.

Slavik was as good as anyone at sending a quick tip back over the net and finding a hole in the defense.

"She is so smart," Plainfield North coach Matt Slechta said. "She sees the court so well."

"That setter is so good," Cary-Grove's Patty Langanis said. "She takes us out of our game plan a lot. She keeps us guessing. You are playing a collegiate style setter at the high school level."

Slavik's next chapter will come at Clemson, which she picked over Ohio State, Iowa, Duke and Villanova, among others.

"The coaching staff is amazing," Slavik said. "I clicked with them right away. When I was on campus I just felt I could go there for four years."

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