The Beverly Review
When Tommy Kleist walked through the doors at Br. Rice as a freshman four years ago, he didn’t have much in the way of volleyball experience—well, to be precise, he had none.
But wanting to join a sports team in the spring, the Beverly resident and Christ the King alumnus decided to give a new sport a try.
He found his rhythm quickly in volleyball, and Kleist starred for the Crusaders at libero in his two years on the varsity team. In addition, after putting together a dominant senior season, Kleist was named winner of the Lawless Award, presented to each sport’s top senior in the Chicago Catholic League.
As a junior, Kleist helped anchor the Crusaders’ defense behind a hard-hitting front line. He finished with 461 digs as Br. Rice finished fourth in state, the program’s first state trophy since 2004.
Kleist was a defensive force as a senior with 687 digs, 50 service aces and 74 assists; the season ended when Br. Rice lost in the sectional championship to eventual state champion Lincoln-Way East.
“My time at Rice went by really quickly, but I had such a great time,” Kleist said. “I’d play again at Rice if I could. We had a close-knit group of guys. Going to state and playing with some of your best friends, it was fun just to be there.”
In boys high school volleyball, where power and huge attacks often win the day, Kleist managed to stand out as a defensive stalwart.
Thrown into the defensive fire as a freshman, Kleist credited the Br. Rice coaching staff, especially Joe Bara, for teaching him to adjust.
“It did take a while to get the hang of it,” Kleist said. “Serve/receive was the toughest. It’s tough to get used to it. The ball is coming at you really fast, but the coaches really helped me and got me ready.”
Br. Rice Coach Dan Dwyer said Kleist didn’t need to direct his teammates by being a screamer in the back row; he just got the job done.
“Tommy has an exceptional volleyball IQ. He knows the game well, and he took the time to find out opponents’ tendencies,” Dwyer said. “He would take their favorite shots away. His teammates really fed off his mindset and approach to playing the game.”
Kleist couldn’t pick a favorite defensive save he made during his varsity career, but the 5’10” libero was active on just about every play.
In a nonconference match against Marist last spring, a ball was sailing out of bounds in Rice’s cozy gym. Kleist lunged to make the dig as the ball came over the net, and he ended up in a pile of backpacks in the corner of the gym. But, he didn’t mind.
Kleist will attend Marquette University and pursue a degree in biomechanical engineering. Marquette offers a club volleyball team, and Kleist admitted he’s considering joining.
Volleyball just has a pull on him.
“I love the team aspect. Other sports, one player can win the game,” Kleist said. “Volleyball really is a team sport. You have to rely on your teammates, and I loved that part of the game.”
Kleist’s win of the Lawless Award was the fifth straight year a Br. Rice player has won the honor, including Joe Kenzinger (2017), Steve Lona (2016), Jim Baker (2015) and Mitch Weiler (2014).
Also named to the All-Conference volleyball team in the Chicago Catholic League-Blue were Crusaders Dan Littleton (St. John Fisher), Matt O’Donnell, Tom Phelan and Kyle Springer.