AJ Robateau wants to “start building some history” in Maryville. First, he can help Oak Park-River Forest make history. – Chicago Tribune


Oak Park-River Forest senior AJ Robateau is one of the best middle hitters in the state, which seemed unlikely to him as a freshman.

Robateau was new to the sport in 2019, and he spent that season playing on the freshman team of Justin Cousin, who knew he had a diamond in the rough.

“Yeah, I did, just watching him move,” Cousin said. “He played football and was actually kicked out of the football team in his freshman year. I was like, ‘Why would anyone cut this guy who’s athletic and can move?’

Robateau was already 6-foot-6, barely an inch shorter than his current height. He did so well in freshman year that Cousin invited him to a varsity practice, where he impressed veteran varsity coach Don August.

“Don was like, ‘Wow, he can handle it,'” Cousin recalled. “He even went well in the back row against a team that took fourth place.”

August, who died in October 2020 and was replaced by Cousin, urged Robateau to play club volleyball and keep working hard.

Robateau did just that, inspired by watching the Huskies’ run to the state semifinals.

“Watching this team launched my career,” Robateau said. “It motivated me a lot, convinced me to join the club in my second year.

“After my sophomore year, I started getting looks from colleges. I was like, ‘Wow, I can really take this really seriously and play at the next level in college.’ »

Robateau’s career has since taken off. He led the Huskies to the state quarterfinals last season, racking up a team-high 67 kills and 21 blocks in just 17 games.

Oak Park-River Forest has a rich tradition in the sport. The Huskies have advanced to the state quarterfinals a record 17 times and won six trophies, including runners-up three times.

But they didn’t win a state championship. Robeau would like to change that.

“We go to the state pretty much every year,” Robateau said. “It’s something we try to defend. This year, I actually hope we go further and maybe win the whole thing.

If the Huskies (15-4 through Saturday) do that, Robateau will be a big reason. He is ranked 29th on Illinois Prep Volleyball’s list of the top 100 seniors in the state. Only three middle hitters are rated higher.

“He’s extremely coachable and good-natured with good manners,” Cousin said. “He’s a very good teammate.”

Robateau doesn’t think he has all the answers. He is ready to absorb as many instructions as possible.

“I think the best way to get good fast is to just listen to your coaches,” Robateau said. “All the coaches I’ve had have said that I learn quickly and listen.

“I make sure what they tell me, replicate it and use it in games. I’ve had great coaches over the past three years who have helped me be the player I am. today.

Robateau is not yet as good as he hopes to become in college. He chose Maryville because the Division I program in Missouri just finished its inaugural season and he wants to help establish a tradition.

“What made me go there was because I knew I could bring a lot to the table,” Robateau said. “I would be able to have an immediate impact there.

“The coach is really passionate and I like him a lot. He seemed to have big dreams, and I have big dreams too. So it just went downhill. I can’t wait to start from the bottom and work my way up .

It’s a journey Cousin, a 2010 Oak Park-River Forest graduate, knows well. He joined the St. Xavier program in his second season. The Cougars have reached the NAIA Tournament in two of the past three seasons.

“That was my goal when I went to Saint-Xavier,” Cousin said. “When I was there we were barely winning games, but we worked hard and got some good recruits, and now they’re some of the best in the country.

“In Maryville, AJ can spark the same type of trend because he works hard. No one should ask him to work hard.

Robateau, who has a 4.6 GPA, will be part of a freshman class at Maryville that includes outside hitter Benet Drew Rogers.

“By the time we graduate, we want the school’s name to be known as a team that when you play against them, it’s not an easy game,” Robateau said. “We’re going to start building some history so new players want to come to Maryville.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance journalist for Pioneer Press.


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