The only Mid-Suburban League girls volleyball coach to win 1,000 matches has resigned.
Hersey hall of famer Nancy Lill, one of only four Illinois girls volleyball coaches to reach that milestone, has announced her retirement after nearly 40 seasons.
Only Wheaton St. Francis’ Peg Kopec (1,248) and Mt. Pulaski’s Donna Dulle (1,127) have more wins than Lill, who closed her career with 1,046 wins, tied for third on the all-time list with Breese Mater Dei’s Fred Rakers.
“Nancy is and always has been a figurehead for high school girls volleyball.” said Hersey girls athletic director Julia Barthel. “It will be a new chapter moving forward but the book will always have Nancy’s name on it.
The storyline began when Lill served as Wheeling’s head coach from 1983 to 1985 before taking over at Hersey for the 1986 season.
Lill directed the Huskies to 24 Mid-Suburban League title matches, winning 11. Her teams remarkably won or shared the East title the last 19 seasons.
When she began 39 years ago, Lill said she could never have imagined she’d become one of the all-time winningest coaches in the sport.
One year led to another, she said from her home in Florida. “Every season was a new challenge, a new team. I loved every minute of it and it never got old.”
Her focus has always been on her athletes.
“Now that this chapter of my life is over, I’m honored and proud of these achievements and I give credit to all the talented athletes and assistant coaches I’ve worked with through the years.”
Lill started coaching when she was 15 years old.
“It was a Little League softball team in Brookfield,” she said. “I knew at a young age how much I loved to work with young athletes and wanted to be a teacher and a coach.”
Lill played high school volleyball at Riverside-Brookfield).
“My volleyball coach Julie Grundstrom had a huge impact on my life,” she said. “Then at the University of Illinois my volleyball coach Chris Accornero was a great mentor to me. They both were great role models to me as a coach.”
Just like Lill has been to her players at Hersey.
“Her athletes revere her for her leadership, her high standard of play and her commitment to them as young women and not just athletes,” Barthel said. “Hersey volleyball has been a top program in Illinois because Nancy always believed that her athletes could succeed and never settled for less than the best.”
Due to her retirement plans and those of her husband Jamey, Lill is stepping down.
“As much as I still love Hersey volleyball, I knew I couldn’t commit to two more years because of our plans. I couldn’t walk away (in 2021) from our talented sophomore group going into their senior year.
“That’s because I’ll never forget what my senior-laden team at Wheeling went through when they had to adjust to a new coach when Forest View closed (1986) and I was replaced with the Forest View coach. It was one of the most difficult times of my life and theirs.
“I’m hopeful Hersey will replace me with someone who will continue the tradition of excellence in Hersey volleyball and who will be able take this team to the next level.”
Lill’s teams have won 27 regionals, eight sectionals and six supersectionals. They’ve placed second (1988), third (1994) and fourth (1997) in the state finals.
Assistant coach Amy Ohrt has worked alongside Lill for 20 years.
“She is the most competitive person I know,” Ohrt said after Lill notched her 1,000th win in 2019. “Her love for the game and love for the kids is amazing. It’s what drives her entire program.”
When she reached No. 1,000 that night at Maine South High School, Lill’s coaching staff included Jodi Olson Blazek, Ohrt, Ben Chin, Mary Williams and Daiva Fuerst.
“We all just love working for Nancy,” Chin said. “It is so much fun to watch her and see the girls improve from where they are in summer camp, to preseason, to now. The way she prepares, trains and evaluates talent is second to none.”
And when it comes to winning in MSL girls volleyball matches, Lill is second to none.
“I’m going to miss my assistants and athletes,” Lill said. “I still can’t imagine not being in the gym this fall. I love these kids and coaches. I will miss volleyball, period. I have either been playing or coaching volleyball every year since I was 12 years old. I’m sure I’ll be a fan in the stands.
“The most satisfying part of all these years is seeing the pride that all athletes have after having been part of the Hersey volleyball program. We’ve had much success but the memories and relationships built along the way are priceless. So many of my athletes have achieved great things at the next level and in life and many have continued on as volleyball coaches.”
The team that won Lill’s 1,000th included Kati Kaburov, who was one of the top players in the state before committing to Boston College, the same school where former Hersey standout setter Jessica Brizzolara attended.
“She is such a great coach,” Kaburov said of Lill after that milestone evening in Park Ridge. “Even when we are struggling she knows how to get us through it. It’s crazy but she is so humble. That’s what makes her such a great coach.”
Lill’s daughter Katie was one of her all-time greats. Katie was the Daily Herald all-area captain in 2009.
“I am so thankful to my husband Jamey and my kids Katie and Nick who have been so supportive of my coaching as well as the special time it was coaching Katie (2006-2009),” Lill said.
Lill’s future days will be spent on a different court (pickleball) where she plays every day, including winters in Florida.
“I’ve already been recruited to help coach beginners here in Florida.” she said.
But her volleyball days will never be forgotten.
“There’s so much to remember,” Lill said. “Everyone who played on my teams will never forget ‘if you put your heart in it, it can take you anywhere’. My heart will always be with Hersey volleyball.”