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Long hours of work made Benet’s Hattie Monson one of state’s best-ever liberos

Notre Dame recruit combines elite serve-receive skills, innate ability to read balls defensively

Hattie Monson maybe wasn’t born to play volleyball, but it’s pretty close.

She did the rest.

Monson, Benet’s senior libero, has been told stories of when she was a baby and her mom, Susan, coached volleyball at Shabbona Middle School and Morris High School.

“Her players would pass me around as they were watching kids,” Monson said. “I grew up watching her coach and watching her transform players.”

Now people stop and watch Monson.

She started at defensive specialist as a freshman at Benet, and was the starting libero the next season. In 2018, she made the USA Volleyball Youth National team, which won gold at the NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation) championships in Honduras.

To cap it all off, Monson last weekend led Benet to its fourth state championship this decade and its first since 2014.

“It’s like a surreal thing that happened,” said Monson, who will play collegiately at Notre Dame. “We celebrated, had some pizza, had a good time, but it was the last time I put my Benet jersey on. It was sad after the party. When I had to take that jersey off for the last time, it was a special moment.”

Monson, the Suburban Life Player of the Year, is special. In a long line of stellar Benet liberos, girls such as Tiffany Clark and Sheila Doyle, Monson is as good as it gets. This year she had 370 digs, 98 assists and 23 aces.

“If we are putting together a team of liberos, Hattie is one of the best to ever play in the state,” Benet coach Brad Baker said.

Monson’s first contact skills on serve-receive are what sets her apart. Monson came to Benet with elite serve-receive ability and it’s continued to grow.

“Her numbers stayed the same, but we asked her to cover more ground,” Baker said. “Last year, literally, she’d have half the court. If someone was serving her the ball, it was a mistake. They weren’t trying to.”

Funny thing is, Monson was more a softball girl growing up. Her dad was her softball coach and Monson played shortstop. Her mom suggested she try a volleyball camp. Monson as a 7-year-old at Christmas was told she could try out for volleyball club the next season.

“I wasn’t good yet, but I was fast and wanted the ball,” Monson said.

She wanted the ball and spent extraordinary hours running after it.

Susan Monson made the hourlong drive from their home in Morris to the Sports Performance club in Aurora so Hattie could play balls off walls and do drills. Monson worked endless hours with coach Don-Joe Lei at Sports Performance, and practices three days a week, the other two days going in for two hours to take hundreds of balls.

“We would have to turn the lights off,” Monson said. “All the extra hours is why it comes naturally.”

Monson realizes that her job is to be the calm one on the court, keeping everybody relaxed, and she needs calm to be a passer. All those hours make that possible.

“It’s like shooting a basketball. If you want to be a good shooter, you better be there a lot,” Baker said. “It’s no secret why people are good shooters. Same thing with serve-receive. You better do it a lot.”

At the same time, Monson can defensively make reads on balls that other girls her age can’t. It’s a different mentality than serve-receive.

“It’s the opposite for defense, which is body before everything,” Monson said. “I’ve determined that I have two skills: one side is calm, the other side is an animal to dig that ball out. It took a lot of time to differentiate those two. There were times that I was jittery on defense because I was eager on defense. I had to separate those two skills.”

Monson, who grew up next to cornfields in Morris, plans to study agricultural science at Notre Dame. Owning or running a farm is a possible plan.

Staying close to her roots seems to fit her.

“She’s about as humble a kid as you can get,” Baker said. “She’s won basically every Player of the Year award, played for the USA team, All-American, and you would never know. She is super encouraging and super positive. She is the kind of person you want your kids to look up to.”