Beth Vrdsky and Meghan Macdonald are hoping to lead the Illini back to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Aug. 11, 2006
Champaign, Ill. - Meghan Macdonald and Beth Vrdsky have been close friends ever since they were in the same first grade class at Indian Trails School in Downers Grove. That friendship has included many memories on the volleyball court, from junior high to winning a state championship at Downers Grove South High School to starting for the University of Illinois. Now the duo is preparing for their final season of volleyball together as seniors for the Illini.
Vrdsky and Macdonald's friendship lasted despite having to go to different elementary schools after first grade due to redistricting. The team has evidence of that on film. "They have this video that they made when they were young doing cheerleading routines together," said fellow senior Stephaine Obermeier. "We've all seen it. They break it out once in a while."
"Her family became my family and my family became hers," Macdonald said. "Her sister and brother are just like a sister and brother to me."
Together they hung out at the pool, played dress up, and acted out scenes from Saturday Night Live. Vrdsky tried to teach Macdonald how to water ski. "That was quite a site, me trying to get up out of the water," Macdonald said.
Then in junior high, the two were reunited at school and in eighth grade began playing together on the Club Elite Volleyball team.
"The only reason I got into volleyball really was because of Meghan," Vrdsky said.
Together with fellow schoolmate Kelly Collins, the trio became inseparable. "That's no joke," Macdonald said. "We went everywhere together."
Vrdsky and Macdonald were both multi-sport athletes growing up. They played in the Downers Grove South Dolls softball organization in fourth grade. In high school Vrdsky played a year of soccer while Macdonald also played basketball.
They saw some time on the volleyball court as freshmen in high school in helping the Mustangs to the Class AA State title in 1999. DGS reached the Elite Eight all four years they were in high school, placing third in 2000. The Club Elite Team, who has many of the same top players at Downers South, also made a run at nationals in the 16 and under category.
Their most memorable year, however, came as seniors in 2002. Macdonald, who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois, and Vrdsky were co-captains for the Downers South team that posted a 38-4 record and won the state title.
"To start on top as freshmen and finish on top as seniors was really awesome," Vrdsky said.
Although both ended up at Illinois, the decisions were made independently. "I came down to Illinois to talk to Don just about the recruiting process and felt really comfortable here," Macdonald said.
Later Vrdsky too decided to come to Illinois and they have enjoyed continuing their friendship on and off the court in college. "It was nice getting to the next level of volleyball together," Vrdsky said "We had done so much in high school. We wanted to accomplish it in college too."
"Anytime you go to a new school and to a new program, you are a little hesitant being away from home, so having my best friend there was really helpful." Macdonald said.
How would the two close friends blend in with the rest of the team? "I think Don (Hardin) was afraid we would be joined at the hip and not socialize with everyone else," Macdonald said. "He told us to make sure we sit with other people on the bus."
"That was honestly not a concern, though," Hardin reflected. "They had proven that with other teams growing up. They have used their friendship as a way of understanding what the other might need and have a way of pulling others in."
Still there's no doubt they beat to the same drum. "Mac and Beth it seems know every movie quote there is." Obermeier said. "Mac will blurt out a quote and Beth will be the only one laughing because no one else will know the inside story."
"Everyone knows we've been friends forever," Vrdsky said. "It is a little embarrassing, however, when we show up to practice wearing the same thing not knowing what each other was going to wear that day."
Obermeier says that two contrast each other on the court. "Mac is a little energetic, while Beth being in the military (with the Air Force ROTC) has her serious side."
"I like having her back there because I've played with her for so long that I have this trust that she's going to do awesome," Macdonald said.
"We have a good balance in personalities," Vrdsky said. "Even at Illinois, we have a great way of keeping each other in check."
"They have always taken on a leadership role," Hardin said. "I have been impressed with how they have the same instinct of seeing a need in others and helping to fulfill that need."
Neither say they feel any nostalgia just yet of this being their last year of playing competitive volleyball together. They are just excited about the season ahead. "The newcomers are looking good and the returning players have a mission to take the program a step farther," Vrdsky said.
When they were freshmen, Illinois made the Sweet 16. Now as seniors, Vrdsky and Macdonald want to take the Illini back to NCAA glory. "Kind of like high school," they said.