The Sauk Valley Community College volleyball team stretched on the sidelines as the men's basketball team finished up a practice Tuesday night.
When the basketball team finished promptly at 6 p.m., the volleyball team set about putting up a net and beginning warmups.
Just like they were second to take the court, there was a time when Sauk's volleyball program was thought of as secondary to sports like basketball, baseball and softball.
Those days have passed.
The Skyhawks are coming off a 27-14 season, return an All-American second-team selection, and have a recruiting class made up of some of the best players from the area.
"I think there is more enthusiasm," sophomore hitter Karly Koch said. "Last year was a big step forward. We had a good year, and we've brought in top players from some of the top programs in the area."
"It's a product of success," coach Jay Howell said, "and I think it's a product of the economy, too. We're an inexpensive way to continue their education and continue playing sports. There was a time that volleyball was sort of secondary here, but it's not with this group."
Koch, a Dixon graduate, had more than 1,000 assists last season. She is one of three returning starters, the other two being All-American Kalli Scheppers – a Mendota grad – and Kayla Kurz, a middle hitter from AFC.
"I think that's the first All-American we've ever had in volleyball," Howell said. "Kayla led the team in blocks. Our front line should be a strength."
"We should have the firepower," Scheppers said. "We'll be strong blocking and hitting, and we have the girls that can set all that up."
Adding to the lineup will be newcomers like Morgan Mammoser – SVM's volleyball player of the year in 2011 – Autumn Day, a standout from Dixon, and Kristyn Kasner from Pecatonica.
Like Koch, whose mother, Jenny Kirchner, built a strong volleyball program at Dixon, Mammosser has a strong family background in the game.
Her mother, Sheila, has coached Rock Falls for the last 15 seasons. The Rockets have been one of the strongest programs in the Sauk Valley during that time.
"We have a lot of girls that have been a part of the game for a long time," Koch said. "They have a high volleyball IQ. Morgan comes from a volleyball family, and a lot of the others girls have been playing club for years."
The Skyhawks open the regular season against the defending NJCAA Divison III champions Rock Valley College on Thursday at home.
Sauk Valley lost to Rock Valley last year, but knows this will be a chance to make a statement.
"We had three or four close matches with them last year," Scheppers said. "It'll be a great test. We know they lost a few players, but they'll still be really good."