Former KHS standout Drendel having a ball at Normal West
KANELAND—You’ll have to excuse area volleyball fans if there is some positive sentiment for another team besides Kaneland High School.
That’s because the incoming Normal West Wildcats program comes into the usual late October Spikefest competition with a bit of Kaneland presence itself.
The visitors are coached by Class of 2005 Lady Knight Kelsey Drendel, who continues to add to the Drendel line of coaching capability, along with her coaching legend father Ralph and brother Andy, who currently helps staff cross country and track and field at Kaneland.
Kelsey, a former volleyball standout at Kaneland and a former Division I asset for Northern Illinois, is in her second year of coaching NW. She also coached Kaneland sophomores from 2008-10 under former varsity head coach Todd Weimer.
“When I was applying everywhere for jobs, my parents told me to apply in Unit 5 (Normal West’s district), because they went to ISU and I have some family in the Bloomington-Normal area,” Kelsey said. “I was super pumped when I got the video interview and was convinced I bombed it, but they called me back for a second interview. This is my third year teaching here, and I’m loving it.”
For Kelsey, the Bloomington-Normal landscape gives her some comfort, being not too dissimilar to the Elburn and Tri-Cities area.
“I do think it’s similar to Kaneland and kind of like the St. Charles area. It reminds me of a suburb but without the traffic, long travel times, and everything is way cheaper,” Kelsey said.
Her family tree so heavily involved in coaching also seemed to give her a leg up on the sideline.
“Growing up with my parents both highly involved in their schools definitely made an impact on my decision to coach. I knew I wanted to be a head coach when I was in high school. Seeing my Dad coach at track meets and basketball games was always so cool and I knew I wanted to follow in those footsteps,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey’s also loving the fortunes of her Wildcat lineup, who before Tuesday were 18-2-1 and undefeated in conference at 7-0, on the cusp of a conference title.
“I didn’t like know in August things would be going as well as they are, but I knew we had a lot of potential,” Kelsey said. “The girls have done an awesome job of taking on the challenge of long practices, conditioning, tough rivalry matches. It’s kind of been an uphill ride the entire season.”
In her first season, NW went 22-13-1 and made it to the Class 4A Normal Sectional Championship before bowing out.
As a young coach, Kelsey still has the presence of mind to accumulate coaching influences throughout her playing and assistant coaching days.
“I have been influenced by every coach I’ve had. I kind of made it a point to remember things I liked or didn’t like all through college so I could apply it when I started coaching. Kris Weiss was a big influence on me especially for learning how to build a team atmosphere. My club coach Joe Brudzinski was a huge influence on me and always pushed us to the limit,” Kelsey said.
“I really owe a lot to Ron Sweet,” Kelsey added. “He gave me the opportunity to continue playing volleyball after my freshmen year at Western Illinois when I had no confidence at all. He also showed me that we can work hard on the court but also have a lot of fun. He opened up the door for me to start coaching at Club Fusion in Rockford, Ill. Not only have I been influenced by the coaches I’ve played under, but also the coaches I have coached with or against,” Kelsey said.
Kelsey and company head to Maple Park for Spikefest, which provides an ample tune-up for what’s ahead next week in the postseason, and add to what’s been a rewarding experience.
“We try and take every opportunity we can to get better whether it’s practice or a match,” Kelsey said. “My team and I have had a lot of fun this year and there are some personality traits that they have picked up from me and vice versa. I’m super-dorky and they have become a little more nerdy every day, which is awesome. They do a great job of focusing and working hard but while also having fun because of that. It’s been a really fun year for sure.”