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Girls Volleyball: South Elgin’s Joni Plach is Coach of the Year

South Elgin's Joni Plach is The Courier-News Coach Year. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

South Elgin's Joni Plach is The Courier-News Coach of the Year. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 22, 2012 5:29PM

South Elgin’s Joni Plach had been a part of success on area volleyball courts as a player, and now as a coach.

The former Larkin and Elgin Community College star has been the only head girls volleyball coach South Elgin High School has ever had, and last season led the Storm to their winningest campaign ever. As a result, Plach has been named The Courier-News Volleyball Coach of the Year.

“This was a group that I always knew had potential, but it seemed like we never could focus on playing one match at a time and really being focused — until this year,” Plach said.

Certainly other programs in the area had more wins this year, or stayed around longer in postseason play. But Plach’s team overcame the decline that had engulfed Elgin School District U-46 volleyball teams the past several years, and achieved the Storm’s first-ever 20-win season without benefit of Division I players.

South Elgin had set the bar at a new height with 16 wins the previous year, but then went well beyond it during a 20-10-4 season that included a victory over defending Upstate Eight Valley champion Waubonsie Valley 25-22, 14-25, 25-19 — their first ever over the Warriors.

“That was a real highlight,” Plach said. “We’ve always had trouble with Waubonsie Valley. That was the level of play I had been trying to get the girls to be at all year. It was a real memorable night for our seniors.

“We had seniors early in the year who were putting a lot of pressure on themselves because they knew their volleyball playing was coming to an end and when they got over that and started going out and having fun with volleyball, it made it a little less hard on them and they played better.”

Unlike many area teams, the Storm got by without one or even two real go-to players.

“We had a real balanced team,” Plach said. “We tried to focus on getting it to who was having a good game. In a way, it was nice to have a wide variety of people you could go to because you could mix it up and the other team didn’t know who to block, who you were going to set.”

If anyone knows what it’s like to achieve success in U-46 volleyball, it’s Plach. In high school, she played for some of Larkin coaching great Mary O’Brien’s better teams before there was a South Elgin High.

“I grew up in South Elgin, and have been here all my life, except in college” she said.

As a senior, she played middle hitter on a 1997 Larkin team that went 30-5-2. Then she was one of seven Royals who went to Elgin Community College and finished second in the nation in 1999.

Plach, when she was still Joni Melahn, earned second-team JUCO All-American status and then went on scholarship to Division I University of Maryland Baltimore County before a shoulder injury ended her career.

Plach, who is South Elgin assistant athletic director, also was Storm boys head volleyball coach until her husband, John, took over the team. She has assisted him, and he assisted her with the girls until their baby son, Dillon, came into the picture in the last year.

“It’s a funny thing, but we really don’t talk that much about volleyball at home,” she said. “We might talk about the girls and how they’re doing more than the actual sport.”

There was plenty to talk about with South Elgin’s team in all regards in 2012, and their coach was a major reason why.

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