HUDSON — Not much flies under the radar as far as Kylie DeBerg’s volleyball ability is concerned.
The 6-foot-4 senior from Hudson has played in five national tournaments for her local Six Pack and CIA club programs, finishing as high as third, while also competing in a variety of USA volleyball junior beach events.
She’s a dynamic, six-rotation weapon committed to continue her volleyball career with an Illinois program coach Kevin Hambly has directed to six NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances in the last seven seasons, including a trip to the 2011 national finals.
Yet, it’s inside high school gyms where DeBerg and her Hudson teammates are just beginning to pick up steam as legitimate Class 1A contenders. The program has never made a state volleyball tournament appearance, seeing strong 20-win seasons evaporate at the hands of recent 2A finalists Dike-New Hartford and Sumner-Fredericksburg each of the past three years.
Hudson is now the smallest member of an NICL East Division in which the nine teams took a combined 33-1 record into the start of league play. This year’s Pirates moved from Class 2A to 1A and entered Tuesday’s showdown against Class 3A’s No. 4 Union with a perfect 11-0 record.
“We’ve been building for this,” Hudson coach Steve Baird said. “I think our girls really believed when we saw that we were 1A that was an opportunity for us.”
Even with the strong start, DeBerg believes her team still has plenty of room to improve. The senior feels a more cohesive vibe within a group determined to make history at their school.
“We all played club volleyball this last year,” DeBerg said. “I can see how good we’ve gotten over the winter. ... This year we’re actually a team and we can bond together.
“It’s been really exciting. We haven’t played our best volleyball. Knowing that we can do better but we still win is really cool.”
Most of Hudson’s work this season has involved putting DeBerg in position to finish points. The senior leads the state with a gaudy average of 6.77 kills per set at a .487 hitting efficiency. She also leads her team with set averages of 1.27 blocks, 3.15 digs and 0.58 aces.
Often elevating over double blocks, 176 of Hudson’s 256 kills have come off DeBerg’s hand. She projects as a collegiate outside hitter, but her height makes her a valuable high school middle attacker who hits outside on her team’s first rotation.
“We try to get her the ball out there and get us off to a good start,” Baird said. “She can hit over any block. We move her around a little bit, run some slides and things like that, but until we face somebody that can actually stop her, you know the old saying, ‘If it’s not broke don’t fix it.’”
Last weekend, DeBerg saw triple blocks and still finished with 16 kills during a two-set sweep of Benton Community. She credits the team’s accurate passing, including senior setter Madison Sallee, as a key to countering the constant attention from opposing defenders.
“Our setter does a really good job of setting the ball where it needs to be,” DeBerg said. “If there’s a triple block, I know I can hit around it based on the set.”
Each of DeBerg’s parents are accomplished volleyball players, while her older sisters Amanda and Alisa competed in the sport with Alisa DeBerg Roth competing at the collegiate level for Drake.
In addition to work on technique with pepper games alongside Alisa in the backyard, Kylie also took advantage of the opportunity to play club sand volleyball once the indoor club season was completed.
“When I first started indoor I couldn’t pass at all,” DeBerg said. “Then I went to sand and my passing really improved so I could be in the whole game.”
Major college programs started recruiting DeBerg as a sophomore and she committed to Illinois following school visits the summer before her junior year. She was drawn to the competition provided by a Big Ten Conference that has produced the last three national champions and is loaded with Top 25 programs.
“I wanted a Big Ten school,” DeBerg said. “Every night will be competition. I knew Illinois, we will be good, so seeing that was really cool.”
Baird says DeBerg is a fun competitor to be around, and he knows she’ll never back down from a challenge. That toughness was exemplified during a recent match against Wapsie Valley when she injured her ankle in the first set and still finished with 33 kills.
Just as important is the leadership she provides for a program that’s looking to end its state tournament drought.
“It would be very important not only for the program and the girls that are playing, but also the younger girls,” Baird said. “If we could make a huge run and get to the state tournament I think that would help us tremendously.”