MINOOKA – Only special players land in the record books. They’re the ones who set a goal and don’t stop until it happens.
For the past two years, Alli Papesh has led the area in kills and in her senior season became the first player to reach the 1,000-kill mark in Minooka history. The outside hitter also helped the Indians play in the state championship match for two consecutive years, a huge goal of hers.
Papesh has earned numerous accolades throughout the past four years. She will go down with another back-to-back accomplishment: Morris Herald-News Player of the Year.
“Receiving this award two years in a row means a lot to me,” Papesh said. “I didn’t know it was possible to receive it as a junior, so I really worked hard this year to be back-to-back player of the year and receiving it again as a senior shows validations of hard work. I’m very grateful to be chosen for this honor two years in a row.”
Going into this season, Papesh had a huge summer where she competed in the GYA2 camp at the Olympics training center and traveled to Washington, D.C., with coach Carrie Prosek after being named a Semper Fidelis All-American.
The Dayton-bound outside was always known as a hard hitter, but with the GYA2 camp she learned new shots that will be valuable in college, where placement is more important than strength.
Semper Fidelis All-Americans are athletes who excel athletically and academically and are invited to the Battles Won Academy. At that event, Papesh met fellow athletes who also had 4.0 GPAs while playing at a high level. Meeting athletes similar to her motivated her even more to keep working hard.
Going in, Papesh wanted to make this season memorable. And it was, but she had obstacles in her way.
Right off the bat, she had a shoulder injury from overuse. During post-season, she battled through a health issue and in the third set of the state championship, she went for a ball and ended up with a partial tear in her hand.
When it rains, it pours.
“[Injury] was a big thing for me this year. I didn’t have as good of stats as I did last year, but we still ended up in the same position because everyone on the team got better,” Papesh said. “When I wasn’t at my best, everyone else was. Many teams just have one player to go to, and we had six. That’s a really big thing for us.
“I’m not focusing on things that happened to me in a bad way, because we still had a successful season. I think it showed my strength playing through those things because I could have easily sat out and said I was done.”
Papesh was not 100 percent, but still led the area in kills because she played smarter. She totaled 355 kills, 208 digs, 75 blocks and 50 aces.
She also accomplished her goal from Day 1. When she came in as a freshman she wanted to hit the 1,000 mark.
“I didn’t know I’d be the first player to do that,” Papesh said. “When coach Prosek told me I was, I was obviously super happy. It was validation. It was a goal that I set for myself, and four years later I accomplished it. I give thanks to Brooklyn Bachman, Kelly Clucas and Zoey Seput for trusting me to put the ball away.”
Now Papesh has a new goal.
The athletic and academic stud will graduate Minooka early and head off to college for the spring semester. After committing her freshman year, she’s counting down the days.
Papesh can hardly contain her excitement because this move will help her improve her game and develop relationships with her teammates and coaching staff.
When she goes to Dayton, Papesh wants to be a six rotation outside straight out of the gate. She’s willing to put in the hard work to make that happen.
The focus this spring will be passing and defense so she can put herself in the position to accomplish her goal. Papesh worked out those two aspects of her game this season.
“My serve receive has never been better,” Papesh said. “I used to struggle a lot on serve receive when I was a freshman and sophomore. It got a little better my junior year, but at the end of this season teams weren’t serving to me because they knew I could pass the ball. That’s a really great feeling knowing that my main focus was serve receive and defense, and it tremendously improved.”
When Papesh puts her mind to something, she finds a way to make it happen. Her hard work ethic and dedication separates her from others and truly makes her the best player two years in a row.
“Alli is one of the best volleyball players to come out of Minooka Community High school,” coach Carrie Prosek said. “Her hard work, determination and goals she set for herself as a freshman all paid off in the end. Not only did she receive her 1,000th kill and record high for the program as an individual, but she had always said to me that she wanted to make it to the state playoffs with this group of girls and she did twice. I am so proud of her and cannot wait to see her play at Dayton these next four years.”
“It’s pretty awesome to make a name for myself over the last four years,” Papesh said. “No one knew who I was coming in, so being able to make a name over the past four years is an awesome feeling.”