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October 25, 2009

For Mighty Macs, volleyball is a labor of love Program has seen lots of success

By Neil Milbert


Relatively few residents of the Archdiocese of Chicago may know that Mother McCauley is the largest all-girls Catholic high school in America.

But virtually every aficionado of Chicago-area girls’ high school sports knows that Mother McCauley has one of the nation’s most successful volleyball programs.

The history of Mother Mc- Cauley volleyball brings back memories of the glory days of Notre Dame football, when the Fighting Irish won six national championships in 13 seasons under Knute Rockne and four in 11 seasons under Frank Leahy.

Third in last season’s Class 4A State Tournament after finishing second the preceding year, the Mighty Macs began this season with by far the best record of any girls volleyball team in Illinois. Since the inception of the program in 1977, Mother McCauley has won 13 state championships and earned 20 Final Four trophies.

Legacy coaches

“Most of the coaches on our volleyball staff went here before playing in college and we have a great relationship with the area parishes,” said Athletic Director Laurie Jakubczak. “We’re the largest Catholic all-girls school in the country (with an enrollment of 2,952) and we’re very proud of that. Faith is a very large part of athletics here at Mother Mc- Cauley. It is a great source of inspiration.”

The program has had only four coaches: Donna Smith who started the program; Mary Anne (O’Neill) Malone, whose teams had a 124-0 record from 1980-82; Nancy (Wichgers) Pedersen, who retired in 2004 with a 22-year career record of 788-110 and then passed the torch to Jennifer De- Jarld, her former player and longtime assistant.

“I remember when I was in sixth grade my dad bringing me to watch a state playoff game,” DeJarld said. “Anne Malone was the coach here at that time. Sitting there watching, I just knew this is where I was coming even though all of my friends were going to different schools.

“When I was a player my first year was Nancy Pedersen’s first year. My first year of coaching here was 1995. I coached all levels — frosh, junior varsity, assistant varsity before taking over the program in 2005.”

DeJarld’s assistant, Meg Griffin, has a similar story. “Mother McCauley volleyball always has been something that has been very special to me,” said Griffin, a member of the 1999 state championship team. “My first year out of college my coach, Nancy Pedersen, asked me to join her staff. That was Nancy’s last year and we won the state championship.”

Like DeJarld, who played at the University of Iowa, and Griffin, who played at DePaul, the eight seniors on last year’s team have gone on to play collegiate volleyball.

This year’s varsity has four seniors (all of whom are returning starters) — Jessica Galotta (from Christ the King Parish), Paulina Sambor (from St. Germaine), Ellen Carberry (from St. Catherine of Alexandria) and Jessica Falk (from St. Gabriel). Joining them on the varsity are seven juniors and two sophomores.

Starting young

Many are called but few are chosen.

“We had about 62 come out for our tryouts,” DeJarld says. “The top players usually have attended our summer camps but there always are a few surprises when tryouts come along. We have a long relationship with most of these kids from our camps. I remember Sue Hayes and Kelly Griffin from last year’s team from when they were in kindergarten and first grade.”

“Family values” is no cliché at Mother McCauley and the values near and dear to the Sisters of Mercy are instilled not only on the volleyball court during the season but in the classroom and the chapel day in and day out.

Numbered among the alumni are Galotta’s grandmother, mother and aunt and Carberry’s mother and aunts.

For DeJarld, coming to work at 3737 W. 99th St. is a labor of love.

“I feel I have one of the best jobs in the world because we’re getting highly motivated kids who know what the program is about and have high expectations of themselves,” she said. “Yes, I get really talented kids but along with that come the work ethic and desire and a lot of heart.”