Zhou, Webb are difference makers for LibertyvilleLibertyville's Cindy Zhou (no. 7) cheers with teammates Taylor Zant (no 3) and Kristen Webb (no. 2) after scoring a point against Hersey at Libertyville High School. | Josh Peckler~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 30, 2011 7:28PM
Cindy Zhou is a junior now, and a third-year varsity setter for the Libertyville High School girls volleyball team.
She utters more than one syllable per day these days.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t talk,” she recalled after a home match last week. “OK, maybe a little. I said, ‘Hi,’ to people. Maybe.”
A classmate, Wildcats libero Kristen Webb, stood nearby and nodded, affirming her good friend’s former affliction: utter, bone-deep shyness.
Zhou (rhymes with, wow) shed her painfully quiet ways before her sophomore year. Libertyville coach Greg Loika didn’t need to cover his ears last fall.
But, at times, the inner librarian in him had to make an appearance or two. He’d hear Zhou speak.
He’d “shhh” Zhou.
“He couldn’t get me to stop talking,” Zhou said.
The 5-foot-11½ Zhou — “I’m 6 feet tall, in shoes,” she claimed, smiling — became quite verbal on one of the biggest days of her life last November.
She verbally committed to play Big Ten volleyball for the University of Michigan.
When Zhou and Webb played for Libertyville’s varsity in 2009, they made program history. Never before had a pair of freshmen suited up for the Wildcats’ parent club.
“People probably thought I was crazy back then, putting them on varsity,” Loika said. “But those two earned it. Now, they mean everything to our team. They’re leaders, they have energy, and they have positivity. They’re gregarious, great personalities. And their knowledge of the game … they have so much of that.”
Zhou was a constant force on the home court in a 25-18, 25-23 loss to Hersey on Aug. 25. The setter didn’t just set. She also served well and popped for consecutive block kills late in the second game.
“Cindy, this year, is more offensive-minded,” Loika said.
The 5-6 Webb, meanwhile, is the consummate libero: active, scrappy, an organizer, willing to launch her frame, anywhere, to reach for a dig.
“The heart and soul of our back row,” Loika said of the Wildcats’ 2010 NSC Sportsmanship Award honoree and, like Zhou, a 2011 captain. “Opponents and her entire team respect Kristen. And she’s one of the nicest kids around.”
Webb and Zhou, along with their Sky High 16 Black club teammates, hit the courts at national tournaments earlier this summer. The results: nice.
Sky High 16 Black took fifth at AAUs in Orlando, Fla., and fifth at USA Volleyball Nationals in Atlanta.
“We didn’t go on any rides (at Disney World) in Orlando,” said Webb. “It was strictly business.”
Webb is taking three AP courses this fall. So is Zhou.
They’re lab partners in AP chemistry, a first-period class. Paper chromatography was Lab No. 1, and, like good servers, they aced it. Together.
Ask them anything about “Psych,” their favorite TV show, and their eyes double in size.
One of Webb’s inspirations is her father, Ken, a salesman and, according to Kristen, the fan leader at Libertyville’s volleyball matches.
“He’s been so supportive, and he loves to talk volleyball with me, with anybody,” said Webb. “He’s into ping-pong. And so am I. We’ve been playing a lot of ping-pong lately. I beat him. Write that, OK? Put that in the article.”
Zhou, standing to Webb’s left, spoke of her mother, Shelly, who passed away two years ago. Shelly was a standout regional middle blocker in China.
“My mom … she trained me,” Zhou said. “And she was the friendliest person in the world, a social butterfly.”
As Cindy spoke, her eyes welled up. Webb reached for Zhou’s right hand, squeezed it gently and held it.
Zhou regained her composure, reflected some more.
A volleyball, Webb had demonstrated so sweetly, isn’t always necessary to deliver an assist.
Good start: Libertyville topped visiting Conant 25-13, 25-21 in its season opener Aug. 23. Zhou finished with 18 assists and a pair of aces, and Webb had 13 digs. Julia Smagat (8 kills) and Eileen Knauff (7) paced the Wildcats’ attack. Kerry Risley, a senior middle hitter, contributed three kills, two blocks and two aces.
All even: Libertyville slipped to 1-1 with its loss to Hersey last week. Wildcats junior Taylor Zant smacked a team-high six kills to go with seven digs. Other significant LHS stats: Zhou (58-for-61 setting, 12 assists, 5 kills, 3 blocks), Webb (12 digs), Knauff (7 digs, 2 aces) and Rhiannon Prentiss (6 digs).
On the schedule: Libertyville visits New Trier at 6 p.m. Thursday.