Aug. 15, 2007
IOWA CITY -- The population of St. Charles, Ill., has risen steadily above 32,000 for the past few years. Even though more people are locating to the city situated north of Aurora and west of Chicago, the head count diminishes slightly when the University of Iowa opens volleyball camp in August.
Three members of the Hawkeye volleyball program -- senior Stacy Vitali and juniors Kiley Fister and Catherine Smale -- live in St. Charles. They all attended different high schools -- Vitali at East, Fister at St. Francis and Smale at Rosary. Annual head-to-head on-court battles were common.
"There's no more rivalry, we're all on the same team now," Fister said. "There might be a little friendly competition here or there, for sure."
Vitali is a 6-foot outside hitter, Fister is a 5-10 setter and Smale is a 6-1 outside hitter. Vitali was the first to become a Hawkeye and during her freshman year she hosted Fister and Smale when they took their official visits to the UI. Fister and Smale have been best friends since they were three years old. The three were not prep teammates, but they did share a common club program called Sports Performance.
"I knew of (Fister and Smale)," Vitali said. "We weren't very close, but we were acquaintances and we knew each other."
Now they share rides to and from St. Charles and have become tighter friends than ever before.
"It's nice to have that piece of home with you," said Smale, who rooms with Fister at the UI.
"It's always nice because of the Chicago lingo we have," Vitali added. "It's like being home but not having to be at home."
UI Head Coach Cindy Fredrick appreciates the fact that she has been on the receiving end of the St. Charles connection. When Fredrick accepted the position at Iowa, Vitali was already a Hawkeye and it didn't take much coaxing to lure Fister and Smale.
"We actually didn't realize that they were all from the same city when we got here," said Fredrick, who spent the preceding 15 seasons at Washington State. "We weren't that familiar with their area since we were from the Pacific Northwest. Kiley is a wonderful setter who is getting better every day. Stacy has battled through a lot of injuries and I'm amazed at how well she has played. Catherine holds almost all of our hitting records and surprisingly she is also one of our best passers and ball-handlers on the team."
Smale has compiled 807 career kills (3.45 per game) with 686 digs, 62 blocks and 40 ace serves. Vitali has 701 kills (3.00 per game), 162 blocks and a .254 hitting percentage. Fister has handed out 2,486 assists (10.5 per game) with 193 kills, 100 blocks and 56 ace serves. Those totals have helped turn St. Charles into a primary recruiting hotbed for Fredrick.
"You can't ignore that area," Fredrick said. "It's too special. There are a lot of great players coming out of there."
"There's no more rivalry, we're all on the same team now. There might be a little friendly competition here or there, for sure."
UI junior setter Kiley Fister
Vitlai wanted to follow her sister's footsteps (who attended Purdue University) and play collegiately in the Big Ten Conference. She was the first of the St. Charles Trio to make the three-hour trek west to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"I liked the idea of building a program and I wanted to be able to play right away as a freshman," Vitali said. "I knew I would be given the opportunity to play here and just the thought of building Iowa up to where it needs to be in the Big Ten."
The Hawkeyes were 10-22 during Fredrick's (and Vitali's) first season in 2004. Iowa was 14-19 in 2005 and 13-19 in 2006.
"I knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten and I actually knew I wanted to go to Iowa," Fister said. "Iowa was close enough to home that my family could watch the matches, too."
Iowa opens the season Aug. 25 by hosting Brigham Young beginning at 7 p.m., in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The next day the Hawkeyes conclude the Hawkeye Challenge against Marquette at 2 p.m. The three players from St. Charles will play important roles in the success of the Black and Gold.
"It's so fun," said Fister, referring to playing with her neighborhood pals.
For the Hawkeyes, the fun could be just beginning.
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