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“The regular season is important, but you have to go all out in the playoffs,” Lincoln-Way East's Nate Van Dellen said. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
There are two sports Lincoln-Way East’s Nate Van Dellen takes seriously — volleyball and ping pong.
“I started playing ping pong when I was 7 or 8 years old,” said Van Dellen, a 6-3 outside hitter. “My grandma gave me one of her tables when she couldn’t fit it in her home. We just got rid of it this year. It was heartbreaking. Now I usually play at a friend’s house. I take it very seriously.”
Van Dellen’s competitiveness is no surprise to Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore. He sees it every day.
“Nate is an absolute competitor and wants to win at everything he does, even if it is just a small drill at practice,” Fiore said. “I think he can be intimidating on the court because he plays with such fire.”
Van Dellen took up volleyball at the behest of his older sister Kaitlyn, an all-conference performer at East who will be a senior at Trinity Christian College next fall.
“She started the whole volleyball thing in our family,” Van Dellen said. “She made me try out for the volleyball team in seventh grade. I fell in love with it. I played basketball when I was younger, but gave that up after my freshman season.”
But Van Dellen hasn’t given up basketball entirely. During the winter, he played in a park district league. His team won the championship, something that has eluded Lincoln-Way East in volleyball.
The Griffins’ best showing was a fourth-place finish in 2007, the last time Lincoln-Way East qualified for the state quarterfinals. Last year, East was denied in the sectional finals by Lincoln-Way North, 29-27, 25-22. Two years ago, Brother Rice defeated the Griffins 25-17, 21-25, 25-17.
Those losses taught Van Dellen a valuable lesson.
“The regular season is important, but you have to go all out in the playoffs,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs in the playoffs, but we’ve learned from it.”
Van Dellen will continue his playing career at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri next fall. He will be joined by fellow Lincoln-Way East outside hitter Ryan Vorderer, who is also his teammate on the Ultimate 18 Blue team that qualified for the USAV nationals in Houston, Texas.
“We’ve played together for a long time,” Van Dellen said. “We have some great memories of playing volleyball together. But I am going to miss the other guys on the team. We’ve made some great friendships over the years. I’ll be sad to see them go.”
But not until they make a few more great memories together.