High school volleyball spotlight: Claire Peterson

Tom Batters
Claire Peterson was an all-conference selection last year as a sophomore.

Claire Peterson did not start playing volleyball until she was in eighth grade, but it didn’t take her long to catch up with some of her peers who have played the sport for years.

Peterson, a junior middle hitter on the Dunlap volleyball team, was a first-team All Mid-Illini Conference selection last year as a sophomore. Her former coach, John Sutton, called her “one of the most dominant players in the league.”

Sutton, who resigned as Dunlap’s head coach in order to take a job in the Chicago area, said Peterson’s athleticism and maturity helped her have a breakout season.

“She’s tall and very athletic,” he said. “And, I could demonstrate something to her and she would pick it up right away. As a coach, you like to see that. That’s how she was able to improve her game so quickly.”

Sutton said it was hard to leave Dunlap, but he had to go where he could find a job in his field (Web design and development).

Pat Garst, a teacher at the high school, is the new head coach. Garst previously worked as head volleyball coach at Williamsfield and freshman/sophomore coach at Dunlap.

Sutton worked with Peterson this summer, and he said he will follow her career closely.

“I’m excited about her future,” he said. “She’s a special player.”

Peterson said she was a little surprised at the success she enjoyed as a sophomore. She said Sutton helped her a lot.

“I was just expecting to hold my own, and to try to help the team, if I could,” she said. “I never expected to be an all-conference player. Coach Sutton helped me take my game to a higher level. He taught me some of the slides and attacks that you need to have if you’re going to be a good middle hitter.”

Peterson attended a few volleyball camps and in a played club league this summer in an effort to improve her game even more, and to get the attention of college coaches. She also lifted weights and participated in open gym practices.

“I would definitely like to play in college,” she said. “It’s still early, but it was good to get my name out there this summer.”

Peterson, the daughter of Dunlap athletic director and girls track coach Duane Peterson, also runs track. She had team-best performances in the 200-meter, 400-meter, and high jump.

Her father was a long-distance runner, but she said she prefers the sprints.

“My sister (Mary) is more of a long distance runner. She got that from my dad,” she said. “I don’t know why I decided to become a sprinter. I guess I just like running shorter distances better than longer ones.”

She said she enjoys running track, but it is mostly a way for her to keep in shape for volleyball, which is her favorite sport.

She said she is looking forward to the volleyball season because the team returns several key players from last year.

“We lost two great seniors (Lauren Kier and Rachel Hamblin), but we have a lot of talent coming back. We have a year of experience to build on, and that will help us.”

The team will feature four seniors and six juniors.

“We want to finish in the top part of the conference, and we want to win a Regional,” she said. “We’ve all been working hard in open gym. I think it’s going to be a great year for us.”