Five Morris Daily Herald-area players topped the 200-kill mark during the 2012 prep girls volleyball season. Kendall Korte's total of 203 was the lowest in the group.
Only two local players exceeded the 329 digs compiled by the senior outside hitter from Morris, however. Both are defensive specialties. Korte also led the Redskins with 387 serve receptions, served up 23 aces and blocked 30 kills.
For her all-around play on a 21-win Morris team, and specifically due to her improved defense, Korte is the 2012 Morris Daily Herald All-Area Player of the Year.
Hitting it off
Though she has always been of average, or slightly below, height relative to her peers, hitting has always come naturally for Korte. She emerged as one of the top hitters on her team quickly after joining the volleyball program at Immaculate Conception School in Morris. Within a year, she was playing outside of the school's program.
"My mom played volleyball and so I would say she helped me get into sports. I was always a gymnast, and then I joined the team at I.C.S. in fifth grade," Korte said. "I joined the club team (at Uno, where she still plays) in sixth grade and I have played year-round ever since."
Peer pressure, as much as a desire to improve her skills, caused Korte to join Uno.
"Maybe some of it was that I was pretty good, but it was also that my friends were doing it," she said. "I was the only one that stuck with it."
Korte remembers always being in the front row, though even at that age and at a school as small as I.C.S., she did not necessarily have the look of a dominant player in the net.
"I was always short," she said. "I always tried to make up for it with my vertical. Instead of working so much on quickness drills, I would work on drills to improve my jumping ability to try to make up for my height."
By 2009, Korte was a freshman varsity player at Morris. She made the MDH All-Area team and was All-Conference in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East in 2010, when she had 168 kills and 191 digs, and in 2011, when her totals increased to 254 kills and 281 digs.
By the standards of a typical outside hitter, Korte's dig totals and her defense could be considered better than average when she was a junior. But Korte, who has "always wanted to play college volleyball," knew that many college coaches would look at someone of her stature and question their ability to play in the front row at the next level.
Partly for that reason, Korte began taking defense more seriously than ever before. Her renewed focus was also necessitated by the complexion of the Uno roster during the last club season.
"My club team is what got me into that position. I was kind of forced into being a defensive player for my team," Korte said. "For an outside hitter, I'm pretty short — 5-7, 5-8 on a good day. I knew if I had any chance to play in college at a high level, I would have to work on my defense.
"In practices (at Uno), that was all I did. It was all defense, all the time. We had a bunch of good hitters in front of me. Stacey Perinar, last year's Player of the Year, is one you probably know. I figured that if I couldn't hit, I might as well be good at something, and it really paid off."
Amy Larson, who coaches at Plainfield South and is also coach of the 18 Elite team at Uno, says that she never doubted Korte's ability to play an unfamiliar position as a 17-year-old member of the team.
"She handled it very well; actually, she excelled in it," Larson said. "I trusted her and she trusted me, and I think it was a great experience for her, to be able to play defense against a bunch of 18-year-olds. The game was so much faster than she was used to, and to be able to just react and dig in that environment really gave her a leg up (as a high school senior)."
Though Korte had become a player who rarely left the court by her junior year, coach Jackie Litwiller could feel even more comfortable with her in the back row this fall. For Korte, who committed to Lander University during the season, she was giving college coaches another reason to want her.
"College coaches notice it, too. They want players who can be on the court at all times, who they don't have to take out," Korte said.
The Redskins finished two wins short of their 2011 total this fall, and it was the first season since 2009 that they failed to win a regional championship. Both of those things may have been different, however, had they not drawn Joliet Catholic Academy in the semifinal round of their own 3A regional. JCA is a three-time state champion that went on to lose a spirited three-game match to eventual state champion Wheaton St. Francis in the sectional final round.
"Her presence on defense was a huge help to us this season," Morris coach Jackie Litwiller said. "Her years of experience were also beneficial down the stretch and especially in the postseason, which we (relayed) on to the younger players."
Progressing a program
Morris went 13-18-3 during Korte's freshman season. The Redskins actually regressed record-wise to 9-22-2 in 2010, but the season might be viewed as a turning point. Buoyed by 42 postseason kills from Korte and the late-season promotion to the varsity of then-sophomore setter Katie Chatten, the Redskins advanced to a sectional final.
"We just got the confidence," Korte said of the unlikely sectional run her sophomore year. "I mean, we always worked hard. We were always in the gym. We always had that part of it. We wanted to win, and we wanted to set some of the records. I wouldn't change any of it."
In 2011, the Redskins went 23-14 and won another regional, and their winning ways continued with a 21-15 showing this fall.
"I'm so proud of us and what we did," Korte said. "Our five seniors (Korte, Chatten, Heather Dergo, Laney Torkelson and Marcella Toups) are five best friends. We all stuck it out. I don't know. We're just good girls. It was just fun while it lasted and we did something good."
During her four years, Korte totaled 740 kills with a 38 percent kill rate, 880 digs with an 81 percent dig rate and 991 serve receptions, 88 percent of which were on target. She teamed with Chatten, who had over 1,500 assists in two-plus varsity seasons, to form what was arguably among the most dynamic hitter/setter tandems in school history.
"Both girls have done tremendous things for the program and have created a great foundation for the program to continue to grow," Litwiller said. "All of their hard work in season and out of season has shown what can happen when you work hard."
Among the players who will be counted on to replace Korte is a freshman outside hitter who shares her last name. Kendall's younger sister, Kailyn Korte, played in 16 varsity sets this season.
"They have so much talent coming up, I cannot wait to watch their games online," Kendall said. "They also have the coach. Coach Lit knows what she's doing with them."