Kelly Lamberti already was a prolific outside hitter when she arrived two seasons ago at Ohio University.
She dedicated her first offseason from college volleyball to improving her defense, and the results spoke volumes.
Along with leading the NCAA Division I Bobcats in kills (435), the Cary-Grove graduate also was second in digs (370).
Her improvement and new skills caught the eyes of Mid-American Conference coaches, who voted her the MAC’s Player of the Year last month.
“It was kind of a surprise,” said Lamberti, a sophomore who is only the eighth player in Ohio history to win the award. “It’s an honor to win something like that.”
Lamberti’s 3.95 kills a game average ranked second in the conference, while she was seventh in service aces (0.26 a game).
Lamberti’s all-around skills earned her plenty of attention, according to Ohio coach Ryan Theis.
“She does a lot for this team, and I’m thrilled to see her recognized for her efforts,” Theis told OhioBobcats.com. “Kelly has been instrumental to our success this season.”
Ohio (21-10) won its seventh regular-season MAC title this season, finishing 14-2 in league play. The Bobcats lost a five-game match in the MAC tournament semifinals to Northern Illinois.
In the season’s final 18 matches, Ohio went 16-2 with both losses coming in five games.
“Everyone contributed so much, every person on the team,” Lamberti said.
Among those contributors was setter Abby Gilleland (Marian Central), who earned a spot on the MAC’s All-Freshman team after averaging a team-best 9.42 kills a game for the Bobcats.
For Lamberti, her improvements on defense were forged with plenty of hours of work.
“The repetitions in practice helped a lot,” she said. “I knew we have three really good [defensive specialists]. I had to earn my spot in the back row.”
Heading into her junior season, Lamberti would like to sharpen another part of her game.
“I want to improve my blocking,” she said. “That’s always been a weakness of mine.”
Great Gator: Prairie Ridge grad Taylor Brauneis, a junior setter at Florida, on Dec. 12 was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-America Honorable Mention list.
Brauneis, a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection, led the league with 11.65 assists a game this season, including a career-high 67 assists in a match against Tennessee.
While also earning AVCA All-South Region honors, Brauneis helped Florida to a.298 hitting efficiency percentage, which led all SEC teams and ranked fourth nationally.
Florida (27-5) finished 10th in the season’s final AVCA rankings. The Gators have been ranked for 336 consecutive polls, dating to 1991.
Benedictine leader: Michelle Gaede, a junior guard at D-III Benedictine University in Lisle, is leading the Eagles in three categories this season.
Gaede, a Crystal Lake South grad, is the team’s leading scorer at 10.1 points a game and had a team-best 21 steals and 14 3-pointers. She also ranks second with 24 assists for the Eagles (5-6).
Gaede also is averaging 3.4 rebounds.
Fellow starting junior guard Sierra Dunner (Jacobs) is contributing 4.5 points and 3.0 rebounds a game. She has 23 assists and 12 steals on the season.
Elmhurst honor: Harvard grad Vince Gabrys was honored this month as an All-North Region third-team selection by D3Football.com
Gabrys, a junior tight end at D-III Elmhurst College, was a first-team All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin choice after helping Elmhurst (10-2) to its best season in school history. He had 29 receptions for a team-high 436 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also rushed for another score.
Elmhurst finished the season ranked eighth in the D3Football.com national poll and ninth in the American Football Coaches Association rankings. The Bluejays won a share of the CCIW title this season for the first time since 1980, and made the school’s first trip to the NCAA playoffs, where they went 1-1.
Carthage’s ACE: Cary-Grove grad Tyler O’Brien was honored last month by his school and conference.
O’Brien, a senior defensive end, was chosen for the All-CCIW first team after leading the league with 1.7 tackles for loss a game.
O’Brien also was named the team’s ACE Award winner.
ACE is an acronym for Attitude, Character and Enthusiasm, according to Carthage coach Michael Yeager, who said the award is given annually to the team’s most valuable player.
O’Brien started every game for Carthage (3-7), compiling 44 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and six sacks.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him@BarryOnCampus on Twitter.