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Shelby Erickson a positive force for Naperville North

Naperville North middle blocker Shelby Erickson was so excited that she celebrated too soon.

The 5-foot-11 senior rose up and smashed an overpass back onto Wheaton Warrenville South’s side of the court and immediately raised her hands.

The play during the nonconference match on Wednesday wasn’t over, though. The Tigers dug the ball up and kept the play alive.

But the ball was passed over the net again, and Erickson smashed it one more time — to the floor.

“I’ve always believed in playing to the whistle and waiting until the ball is dead,” Erickson said about her celebration routine. “I was just so excited for that first ball because we’ve been working on overpasses so much.

“I feel those two in a row were just so big for our momentum and our energy. It was great.”

Erickson’s kill helped the Huskies stave off a comeback effort by the Tigers, who had cut Naperville North’s 14-8 lead in the second set to 17-16. She finished with four kills and three blocks in a 25-22, 25-22 victory.

“Shelby has been rock-solid for us this year,” Naperville North coach Jennifer Urban said. “She brought a lot of energy today.

“She took care of the ball on a couple overpasses and blocked really well for us. You could tell that she was very confident out there, and she is really developing as a leader.”

That is by design. As a junior, Erickson spent her first season on varsity as an understudy to Kara Oxenknecht, who plays at New Hampshire.

Erickson is eager to pass on what she learned from Oxenknecht.

“This year I really want to take more of a leadership role,” Erickson said. “Last year I was kind of taking an apprenticeship under Kara. Now that position has been passed to me. So I’ve really been working on taking the middles under my wing and helping them improve, as Kara did for me.”

Junior setter Leah Norris noticed the difference.

“Shelby sets a really good block,” Norris said. “I feel that as the season has gone on, she’s gotten stronger and we’re becoming a strong blocking team. Our blocks are definitely going to increase.”

That’s impressive considering the Huskies (6-2), while not a short team, aren’t particularly big. Norris, Wyoming recruit Paige Lauterwasser and backup junior middle blocker Simi Kapustova are the tallest players at 6 feet.

Yet they didn’t allow the Tigers, who started three players 6-1 or taller, to score a single point off a block.

Erickson was a key reason, but her physical gifts aren’t all she brings to the court. Positivity is one of her innate traits.

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“I really love Shelby,” Lauterwasser said. “She’s really stepped up as a senior into her role. She’s been really loud, and she’s super energetic. She’s always cheering, always super positive.”

Erickson’s attitude cannot be underestimated. Her teammates feed off of it.

“We give an award each week,” Lauterwasser said. “I had it last week, so I passed it onto Shelby to recognize her as a really good teammate.

“She puts in the work every practice, and I just appreciate her a lot. I know I can turn to her if I’m getting down on myself because she’ll be the one to pick me up.”

Erickson’s positivity is a part of her personality, but her work ethic was learned, in part from Oxenknecht.

“She taught a lot of discipline and to always keep working hard, even if you’re tired,” Erickson said. “It’s much more rewarding to be tired than lose a point and not do as well as you think you could have.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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