By Phil Brozynski
Katie Schumacher is returning to her roots to help volleyball blossom in the inner city.
Schumacher, a native of the Beverly area on the south side of Chicago, was one of the most dominant athletes in Illinois high school history. She led Mother McAuley to Class AA state volleyball titles in 1994 and 1995 and a second-place finish in 1996, and took the Mighty Macs to the Class AA state basketball finals in 1995.
Today, the former Penn State volleyball standout is coaching Powerhouse 16 Elite (located on the near south side of Chicago) and preparing for her new role as the head women's volleyball coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC).
Schumacher, whose club team competed at the Presidents Day tournament at the Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora February 14-15, is enjoying the surge of interest in volleyball among inner city girls.
"It's awesome," she said. "There's so many clubs now in the city. Powerhouse is the first club in the downtown Chicago area. A lot of these kids haven't played club volleyball before. They're learning, and they're excited to play at these tournaments."
Schumacher's players hail from several city schools including Whitney Young, Jones College Prep, St. Ignatius and Payton Academy. Last fall, Payton became the first Chicago Public League school to qualify for the state finals since the end of the automatic qualifier era.
Three girls from that Payton team - 5-9 outside hitter Michelle Schultz, 6-2 middle Mari Faines and 5-5 setter Roxanne Rivera - form the nucleus of the Powerhouse team. Powerhouse also boasts 6-0 Loyola middle Shannon Sullivan and St. Ignatius libero Mary Grassano.
Seven of the 11 members of the Powerhouse 16 Elite team are high school freshmen.
"These girls are getting better and better," Schumacher said. "This is a great experience for them. I am trying to help them any way I can."
Although her new role as a head coach of the Division I volleyball program at UIC will be time-consuming, Schumacher hopes to be able to continue working with Powerhouse.
"It's going to be a challenge, but I think I can handle it," she said.