Leading by example, Pettke sets volleyball in right direction

By Kate Fratar

It’s one thing to experience playing sports at the collegiate level. It’s quite another accomplishment to help define the goals and expectations of a program.

As one of three fourth-years on the 2005 volleyball squad, right-side hitter Erica Pettke was part of a core that helped shape the Maroons volleyball program. Pettke leaves Hyde Park with her name all over the record books, ranking in the top ten in eight of the nine career categories. With 1,087 kills and 1,131 digs over her four years, she’s second and third in the all-time list.

Using the game as an opportunity to play alongside her friends, Pettke first hit the volleyball court ten years ago at the age of 12. She decided to stick with the sport, and played throughout middle and high school at the competitive club level, traveling around the country for matches and seeking a shot at playing in the national tournament.

“When you’re in club volleyball most of the girls get athletic scholarships,” Pettke said. “That’s the kind of environment you’re in.”

Knowing that she didn’t want to pursue volleyball as a profession but wanted to continue playing in college, Pettke turned down athletic scholarships from Division I schools to come to Chicago instead. She arrived on the South Side in 2002 to join a program being rebuilt by head coach Dorinda von Tersch. As one of the first recruits by von Tersch, Pettke spent much of her first two years as a Maroon helping to strengthen the team.

“We were just in survival mode,” Pettke said. “We were just trying to get bodies, trying to get people on the court, trying to get some continuity into the program. But now it’s like improving expectations rather than defining them.”

Pettke’s training before coming to Chicago concentrated largely on strengthening the physical skills required in the game. The first two years of her career in maroon and white challenged her to improve her mental approach to the sport by stepping right up into a leadership position. Rising quickly to meet the new demands thrown at her from the college level, she burst onto the scene, notching 174 kills, 243 digs, and 45 total blocks in her first season. Pettke followed her rookie year with another solid outing, putting up solid numbers in digs (245), and total blocks (45) while increasing her kills to 238.

“I feel like the preparation I had to do for my freshman and sophomore years is distinctly different from junior and senior years. I didn’t have to focus more on the team because it was there. You no longer had to fake it,” Pettke said. “I think here with the coach, I’ve been able to develop a more mature mental approach to the game through strategy.”

By 2004, the volleyball program had expanded to include a deeper bench. The fresh talent on the team helped boost the squad above .500 with a 20–14 mark and gave veterans like Pettke a chance to stay healthy down the stretch.

“I came in here and there were about eight girls, and it was a struggle. Everyone was injured just because of over-training,” Pettke said.

With a little less pressure to help carry the team through the season, the Sussex, Wisconsin native turned in her most impressive performance. As a third-year in the Maroons’ breakout season, the right-side hitter tore up the court with 357 kills, 361 digs, and 61 total blocks. She capped off the great year by garnering her first conference honors in the notoriously tough UAA, earning a spot on the second team all-conference squad.

While she continued to improve upon her own game, Pettke took her job as a team-leading veteran very seriously.

“When I was a freshman we didn’t really have upperclassmen. There were a lot of things that my class just kind of stepped into,” Pettke said. “You just try to pass on things that you’ve messed up on or that you wish that somebody would have told you.”

In her final season at Ratner, the team failed to convert another winning season, falling back below .500 to 12–23. While her individual statistics may have slipped slightly from her third-year level, Pettke continued to be fierce force to be reckoned with. She nailed 318 kills, reached down for 281 digs, and put up 71 total blocks to earn honorable mention all-UAA honors.

With her time to walk just around the corner, biology major Pettke looks forward to life after Chicago. Bound for a two-year program with either Yale or George Washington University for a Master’s in public health, Pettke doesn’t see volleyball in her near future.

“I definitely enjoy playing volleyball. It was great to have a physical outlet for the rigors of academics,” Pettke said. “I also love the girls. You spend so much time together that they become your best friends. I think it’s definitely the people who have kept me in the program.”