ORLAND PARK, Ill. -- Standing 6-foot-2, Sandburg senior Kevin Groeper is by no means short.
But when Groeper is surrounded by 6-9 Tommy Carmody and four other teammates all taller than him on the volleyball court, he appears to be the runt of the group.
It’s no surprise opponents tend to turn their attention to Sandburg’s giants, and Groeper is often forgotten.
“You have a 6-9 middle and a 6-5 outside,” Sandburg coach Sean Airola said. “Those are big boys. I think a lot of their game plan is they have to focus on the larger players, and Kevin kind of sneaks up on them and does what he does. I don’t think they expect him to perform at the high level he does.”
Groeper’s days of going unnoticed are likely coming to an end. With his 38-inch vertical leap, powerful swing and improved serve, Groeper has quickly distinguished himself this season as one of the state’s top outside hitters and has been a key reason Sandburg is ranked in the top 10 in the country by ESPN RISE.
Groeper, who is ESPNChicago.com/Muscle Milk Prep Athlete of the Week, has been a fixture as Sandburg’s right outside hitter and has been among the team’s top players since he was a sophomore. He played a major role in last season’s regional championship run.
But this season has been different. Expectations have risen, and nothing short of a state championship will be satisfactory for a team made up of nine seniors and six underclassmen. Sandburg’s strength is its balanced group of experienced and talented players.
On any given night, the Eagles could be led by a variety of players. But Groeper has been the team’s most dominant player of late. He has asserted himself more, and now opponents are paying for it.
In the recent Tiger Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South, Groeper earned MVP honors while helping Sandburg to the tournament title and a victory over Marist, the area’s second-best team. A week later, Groeper again stepped up against Marist and delivered the game-winning kill to defeat the RedHawks before their home crowd.
Groeper wasn’t expecting to be named the MVP at the Tiger Classic and has been flattered by the compliments.
“It shows people are watching and know I’m there,” Groeper said. “On some teams the right side is like the backup, not the go-to guy. On this team, we have so many go-to guys. We have so much talent all around the place. It’s so easy for everyone to play well when you can depend on the other players.”
Airola hopes Groeper’s play will now catch a top college volleyball program’s eye.
“He’s overlooked,” Airola said. “He’s overlooked by a lot of people. I’m surprised that he’s not getting offered by bigger people. He does fly under the radar because we have talented players on the team. His serving has improved. His blocking has gotten better. It’s finally coming together.”
Plus, there is that near 40-inch vertical.
“He jumps out of the gym,” Airola said. “You don’t really notice it every day. I’ve gotten used to it. I almost take it for granted. It’s something to watch. He flies into the air, and it’s like, ‘Wow.’ He can leap. Ask any of our guys, and he is probably the best athlete on the team.”