CHAMPAIGN — Lauren Cloyd has learned when is a good time to say never.
Had the Centennial senior stuck with her first impression of volleyball, she would have never:
— played for a middle school state championship team;
— played for four high school varsity teams that all won at least 30 matches;
— played for the state’s third-place Class 3A team as a senior;
— earned a full-ride scholarship to continue playing volleyball at Rutgers University;
— received Player of the Year honors on the 35th News-Gazette All-Area volleyball team. She was a narrow choice over the area’s other two premier players, her teammates Kara Johnson and Rachel Jones.
Cloyd’s education has been a good one.
It all began — and almost ended — for Cloyd in 2003.
“In third grade I went to a Central volleyball camp and hated it,” she said. “I wanted to quit after the first day.”
Her mom, Pam, had other ideas.
“My mom forced me to at least finish the camp,” Lauren Cloyd said, “but I was not very happy about it.
“I told my mom I would never play volleyball ever again.”
Her self-imposed exile ended in 2006, thanks to a persuasive coach who was also her science teacher. Lauren Cloyd was one of the students in Stan Bergman’s class at Jefferson Middle School in sixth grade.
As Cloyd remembers it, “he was trying to get a team together, and in order for him to leave me alone I agreed to play,” she said.
The last laugh belonged to Lauren Cloyd.
“For some reason, the team never actually played,” she said.
Cloyd was plenty active in youth sports. She started playing soccer as a 5-year-old, and by age 9, the goalkeeper had joined what was then known as the Little Illini Soccer Club.
She took up basketball as a second-grader and showed sufficient potential that Stu Meacham added her to his Illini Swish AAU roster when she was in fifth grade.
“I’ve been playing (basketball) ever since,” she said.
Volleyball was a different story. When Cloyd entered seventh grade, Bergman remained persistent.
“He pretty much dragged me into the gym on the day of tryouts and put me on the team because I was tall,” said Cloyd, who stood 6-foot in middle school.
It was a sport she hadn’t played since the camp four years earlier. Not surprisingly, the seventh-grade Cloyd didn’t play much for Jefferson. She recognized that she got the playing time she deserved.
“Compared to my teammates, who had been playing since they were like 5, I was terrible,” Cloyd said. “I was horrible at the fundamentals.”
Bergman was convinced it was a matter of time before Cloyd would be an impact player. However, he wasn’t yet ready to classify her as a Division I recruit.
“At that point, you never know who will be on top,” he said.
Cloyd had the conditioning from basketball, he reasoned, and, “she had been in soccer, so her footwork was good. It was a good mix between those sports. Athletically, she is so gifted that she adapted to the game quickly.”
Speeding up the transition was Cloyd’s decision to join the Bloomington-based Illini Elite club team. In her first year, following her seventh-grade season, she was immediately promoted to the club’s top 13-and-under team.
Her quick progression even surprised Bergman, who coached Jefferson’s eighth-grade team to a state championship. That year, Cloyd was a starting middle hitter.
“She had gotten better by leaps and bounds,” Bergman said. “In her eighth-grade year, she was playing like a sophomore would be on JV.
“The mistakes were experienced-based, like how to read a blocker or how to read a hitter. When you’re playing like a JV member — like a lot of our kids were that year as eighth-graders — and progressing through club, and every year getting a little bit better, you’re always taking a step up.”
“She is extremely ready for the college experience,” Bergman said.
Cloyd committed to two varsity sports while at Centennial, following up with the fall volleyball season by joining the girls’ basketball team for the winter. She will be a four-year letter winner in each sport.
“What impresses me most about her is that she plays basketball still,” volleyball teammate Rachel Jones said. “In middle school, Lauren, Lindsay (Rogan) and Libby (Cocagne) and I did both sports, but us three stopped playing to get better at volleyball while she continued to get better at both.
“She’s an athletic and a great player. She’s become really good at the sport.”
Though Lauren Cloyd continued to also work in club volleyball, she believes there’s still room for growth.
“It has always been hard going from volleyball to basketball because the sports are so different,” Lauren Cloyd said. “I think basketball made me tougher and helped me develop good stamina.
“Focusing on volleyball for 12 months straight, it is very exciting to think how much I will be able to improve not having to get out of volleyball mode and into basketball mode.”
A News-Gazette All-Stater, Cloyd benefited from the time she devoted to club volleyball.
“She developed a fast, hard snap on the ball,” Bergman said. “She hits it faster and gets it past them (blockers). How fast she hit on the ball made her unstoppable on the slide.”
When Cloyd was the hitter of choice for the Chargers, her teammates were confident.
“Whenever she got set, I knew the play was about to be over and the point was going to be ours,” senior outside hitter Kara Johnson said. “She moves with the setter really well and is always able to get kills wherever she was placed on the net.”
Even as a ninth-grader, however, Cloyd wasn’t sure what direction her sporting future would take.
“I knew I wanted to try and play something in college, but I wasn’t sure which sport I liked better,” she said.
It didn’t take long before she recognized which sport others considered her best.
“My first (recruiting) letter was from the Wisconsin volleyball coach after I attended their team camp with Centennial at the beginning of my freshman year,” Cloyd said.
Cloyd soon had an abundance of other suitors.
Besides visiting Rutgers, she also visited Xavier, Duke, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, North Carolina State, Cincinnati and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. All were interested in her as a volleyball player.
“Rutgers was nothing like I imagined,” Lauren Cloyd said. “I thought it was going to be all jammed up in the middle of a big, dirty city, but it was not at all. It is really spread out. The campus is very clean, and there are hills and trees around.”
If it sounds like she was sold immediately, that would be the wrong impression.
“During the recruiting process, I never thought I would be caught in the middle of so many different schools,” Cloyd said. “It also does not help that I am extremely indecisive.
“I have a hard time deciding what to eat for lunch on a daily basis, let alone where I want to go to college for four years of my life.”
Ultimately, she selected the school in Piscataway, N.J.
“The recruiting process is one of the most stressful things ever,” Cloyd said. “You get letters and emails almost every day from coaches. Some coaches are more creative than others.
“Rutgers was always very creative with their letters. So was Arkansas. Colgate recruited me for basketball, and they were also very creative with the letters they sent.”
Her interest in animal science — with the goal of eventually becoming a rescue veterinarian — helped Cloyd solidify her choice of Rutgers.
“I really like the academic performance of the school and the overall feel of the school,” she said.
As an added bonus, within weeks of signing her national letter of intent, Rutgers was admitted to the Big Ten Conference. It will take effect when Cloyd is a sophomore. At some point in her career, there will be a homecoming and she will play in Huff Hall against the Illini.
“Playing in the Big Ten has always been a dream of mine,” she said. “The Big Ten is a strong conference and to be able to play against the type of players that go to those schools is an honor.”
In imagining what it will be like stepping on the court at Huff, Cloyd harkened back to her third-grade year.
“I never thought I would ever come back to Champaign and play,” she said. “I also never thought I would be playing against Morgan Leach (from Indiana) again, who is an amazing player from my high school. Being able to come back to my hometown will be awesome.”
Imagine where Lauren Cloyd would be today had Pam Cloyd coddled her daughter back in 2003 and said soothingly, “Sure, Honey. You don’t need to go back to that volleyball camp any more.”
Lauren Cloyd now believes her volleyball career will end after college.
“Unless I am asked to play in the Olympics,” she said.
If she has learned nothing else in the past decade, it’s to not say that will never happen.
Volleyball Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL POS.
2012 Lauren Cloyd Centennial MH
2011 Mariah Coleman Heritage MH
2010 Morgan Leach Centennial MH
2009 Cori Harris Centennial OH
2008 Alexis Braghini Centennial MH
2007 Lucy Coleman Monticello MH
2006 Ali Omahen Schlarman S
2005 Kylie McCulley Clinton OH
2004 Kylie McCulley Clinton OH
2003 Amber McKean CPCI MH
2002 Melissa David Champaign Central MH
2001 Carly Hill Monticello OH
2000 Carly Hill Monticello OH
1999 Julie Leman Champaign Central S
1998 Jenn Rousey Champaign Central OH
1997 Kate Hill Monticello OH
1996 Heather Wilson Rantoul S
1995 Amanda Ennis Champaign Central OH
1994 Sigele Overstreet Champaign Central OH
1993 Lori Greenwood Champaign Central OH
1992 Missy Erixon Tuscola S
1991 Missy Erixon Tuscola S
1990 Melanie Ward Prairie Central MH
1989 Jane Prasse Hooopeston-East Lynn MH
1988 Mindy Thompson Shiloh OH
Volleyball Coaches of the Year
2012 Stan Bergman Centennial
2011 Stan Bergman Centennial
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS. COACH
Lizzy Barnard Tri-County Jr. 5-9 OH Drew Robertson
Lauren Cloyd Centennial Sr. 6-2 MH Stan Bergman
Elise Dahlke Mahomet-Seymour Sr. 5-11 OH Ron Hoppe
Laura Gross Schlarman Academy So. 5-11 MH/S Heidi Crane
Morgan Hickman Clinton Sr. 5-6 S Tracey Huls Mathis
Kara Johnson Centennial Sr. 5-10 OH Stan Bergman
Rachel Jones Centennial Sr. 6-0 MH Stan Bergman
Amber Meyer Tri-County Sr. 5-7 S Drew Robertson
Lexi Wallen St. Thomas More So. 5-11 OH Brad Dalton
Jaelyn Westfield Champaign Central Sr. 6-0 MH Evan Hook
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS. COACH
Kayla Cowan Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. 5-6 S Kristin Oyer
ChaQuera Cross Rantoul Sr. 5-8 L Jay Bennett
Rowan Crozier DeLand-Weldon Jr. 5-11 MH Jay Schatz
Kat Grimes Watseka Sr. 5-4 S Krista Pufahl
Kaitlyn Hunt Monticello Sr. 5-2 L Emilie Walk
Jordan Marganski Schlarman Academy Jr. 5-10 MH/S Heidi Crane Mia McDonald Champaign Central Sr. 5-5 S Evan Hook
Shelby Simmons St. Joseph-Ogden Jr. 5-6 OH Abby McDonald
Kyla Skinner Tri-County Sr. 5-8 OH Drew Robertson
Sydney Stone St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-5 S Abby McDonald
NAME SCHOOL YR. HT. POS.
Taylor Bauer Watseka So. 5-10 OH
Abby Bergman Bismarck-Henning Sr. 5-11 MH
Ella Black Schlarman Academy Sr. 5-7 OH
Maddie Bounds Prairie Central Jr. 6-0 MH
Nicholle Brown St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. 5-9 MH
Kailyn Demith Champaign Central Sr. 5-6 OH
Taylor Filkin Clinton So. 6-1 MH
Emily Gewirtz Judah Christian Jr. 5-4 L
Karly Goodman Arthur-Lovington Jr. 5-10 MH
Hillary Hines Cissna Park Jr. 5-10 MH
Sabrina Hinton Bement Sr. 5-6 MH
Emma Hoyer Urbana Uni High Sr. 6-0 MH
Cate Hummel Urbana Sr. 5-5 L
Kailey Kleinert Paxton-Buckley-Loda Jr. 5-10 MH
Maddie LeGrande Champaign Central Fr. 6-0 OH
Alexus Jimson-Miller Danville Sr. 5-6 OH
Mikayla Jones DeLand-Weldon Sr. 5-10 MH
Louisette Lukusa St. Thomas More Jr. 5-10 MH
Devin McFadden Hoopeston Area Sr. 5-6 S
Lauren McKenzie Bismarck-Henning Sr. 5-4 S
Lindsay Rogan Centennial Sr. 5-11 L
Lauren Russell LeRoy Sr. 5-8 S
Stephanie Sanderson Heritage Sr. 5-5 OH
Kaitie Shaw Westville Sr. 5-10 OH
Alex Stupek Argenta-Oreana Sr. 5-8 OH
Ashley Tabb Arthur-Lovington Sr. 5-4 L
Hannah Wascher Rantoul Sr. 6-1 MH
Maranda Witty Bismarck-Henning Sr. 5-5 OH
Sirena Woo Mahomet-Seymour Jr. 5-4 L
Emily Zelhart Blue Ridge So. 5-6 S
ARCOLA — Taylor Edwards, So., 5-7, OH.
ARGENTA-OREANA — Alexa Jones, Jr., 6-1, MH.
ARMSTRONG-POTOMAC — Rachel Miles, Jr., 5-10, OH; Erika Sieberns, Sr., 6-0, MH; Morgan Zindars, Jr., 5-6, S.
ARTHUR-LOVINGTON — Julia Cohan, Sr., 5-8, MH; Sherelle Coller, Jr., 5-5, S.
ARTHUR OKAW CHRISTIAN — Alysha Beachy, Sr., 5-7, MH; Natalie Chesnut, Sr., 5-3, S.
ATWOOD-HAMMOND — Chantell Bonham, Jr., 5-9, OH; Kaitie Wildman, Jr., 5-7, OH.
BEMENT — Taylor Wegrich, Jr., 5-6, OH.
BISMARCK-HENNING — Taylor Ellis, Sr., 5-4, S; Morgan Gerbsch, Sr., 5-5, L.
BLUE RIDGE — Gabby Pearl, So., 6-1, MH.
CENTENNIAL — Libby Cocagne, Sr., 5-9, OH; Paulina Nottingham, Sr., 5-6, S; Kelsey Olion, Sr., 5-10, OH; Allie Shannon, Sr., 6-2, MH; Maddie Weldon, Sr., 5-7, S.
CERRO GORDO — Makenzie Wagoner, Jr., 5-8, MH.
CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL — Lexi Schweighart, Sr., 5-10, MH; Katie Sloniger, So., 5-4, L; Dana Westfield, Fr., 6-1, OH.
CHRISMAN — Brett Bishop, Sr., 5-10, MH.
CHRIST LUTHERAN — Andrea DeBella, Jr., 5-10, MH; Olivia Janssen, Sr., 4-10, S.
CISSNA PARK — Gabbi Jennings, Sr., 5-8, OH; Amanda Montgomery, Jr., 5-7, OH; Kaitlyn Redeker, Sr., 5-8, L.
CLINTON — Bailey Walker, Sr., 5-7, OH.
DANVILLE — Jordan Ogle, Sr., 5-5, S.
DeLAND-WELDON — Alexis Dick, Jr., 5-10, OH.
FIRST BAPTIST — Rachel Wells, Sr., 5-8, MH.
FISHER — Carli Clifton, Sr., 5-6, S/OH.
GEORGETOWN-RIDGE FARM — Kelsey Buckman, So., 5-3, OH/S.
GIBSON CITY-MELVIN-SIBLEY — Katie Massey, Sr., 6-1, MH.
HERITAGE — Taylor Wienke, Jr., 5-8, S.
HOOPESTON AREA — Cayla Davis, Sr., 5-8, MB.
IROQUOIS WEST — Courtney Conrad, Sr., 5-5, S/OH; Taylor Cultra, So., 5-10, MH.
JUDAH CHRISTIAN — Kylie Beaumont, Fr., 5-7, S; Brooke Childers, So., 5-7, OH.
LeROY — AshLynn Cowles, Jr., 5-8, OH.
MAHOMET-SEYMOUR — Mason Moore, So., 5-5, S.
MILFORD — Kinsey Knauth, Sr., 5-5, S; Alissa Totheroh, So., 5-4, L.
MONTICELLO — Elise Pontious, Sr., 5-9, S; Lizzie Rupkey, Fr., 5-5, DS.
OAKWOOD — Peyton Jones, So., 6-0, MH.
PAXTON-BUCKLEY-LODA — Kandace Hofer, Sr., 5-6, OH; Kortnie Schroeder, Sr., 5-3, OH; Amanda Ypya, Sr., 5-6, MH.
PRAIRIE CENTRAL — Laura Crane, Jr., 6-0, MH; Katie Kupferschmid, Jr., 5-8, L; Shania Scurlock, Jr., 5-8, S.
RANTOUL — Allison Carver, Jr., 6-0, MH; Taylor Wood, Sr., 5-8, S.
RIDGEVIEW — Taylor Williams, Sr., 5-5, OH.
SALT FORK — Kalyn Learnard, So., 5-6, OH; Emilie McFadden, Jr., 5-8, OH.
SCHLARMAN ACADEMY— Janelle Marion, Jr., 5-7, OH.
SHILOH — Lexie Minott, Sr., 5-10, MH; Lauren Moses, Jr., 6-0, MH.
ST. JOSEPH-OGDEN — Kenzie James, Sr., 5-4, L.
ST. THOMAS MORE — Brooke Plotner, Sr., 5-4, L.
SULLIVAN — Taylor Wallis, Sr., 5-5, S.
TRI-COUNTY — Heidi Dague, So., 5-11, MH; Autumn Meyer, Sr., 5-3, L; Abby Smith, Jr., 5-11, MH.
TUSCOLA — Mackenzie Seip, Sr., 5-10, OH.
UNITY — McKenzie Martin, Jr., 5-9, OH.
URBANA — Alayna Jackson, Jr., 5-10, MH.
URBANA UNI HIGH — Kaila Simpson, Sr., 5-10, MH; Juliana Trach, Sr., 5-6, S.
VILLA GROVE — Katie Douglas, Sr., 5-8, MH.
WATSEKA — Natalie Castonguay, So., 5-3, L; Hayley Gray, Jr., 6-0, MH; Allison Kaper, Sr., 6-0, MH.
WESTVILLE — Mikayla Rolinitis, Jr., 5-5, L.
Final N-G rankings
TEAM (previous) W-L
1. Centennial (1) 37-5
2. Tri-County (2) 36-3
3. Watseka (4) 32-4
4. Schlarman (3) 29-6
5. Arthur-Lovington (7) 26-6
6. St. Thomas More (5) 21-15
7. Bismarck-H. (6) 19-7
8. Heritage (8) 21-16
9. Mahomet-S. (9) 21-13
10. Central (10) 28-8