Close Menu Element

Mobile Search Element

Main Container Header

Upper Container

Lower Container

jths logo white

By Randy Whalen

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

That lyric from the classic Who song "Won't Get Fooled Again" could apply to Kevin O'Connell, who has been officially named the new girls' volleyball coach at Joliet Central.

Except this past season. O'Connell was the head girls' volleyball coach at Joliet Central.

So how exactly is he the new coach?

"I'm now officially the head coach for the girls," O'Connell said. "At the end of last summer (2023), I agreed to take it over on an interim basis because it opened up just before the season started."

O'Connell, recently completed his fifth season as the head boys' volleyball coach for the Steelmen this spring. He had been an assistant girls' volleyball coach in the fall of 2021 and 2022. When he took over as interim coach, he didn't expect to stay on after this past fall. So what changed?

"It was an unexpected but good surprise," he said of taking over as the new head coach. "As last season went on I enjoyed the hard work and the dedication the girls put in. We were competing with the top programs in our conference and we have one of the better conferences around for girls volleyball."

While the Steelmen were winless in the Southwest Prairie Conference this past season, they were right there in some matches. They also improved from two wins in the fall of 2022 to seven in 2023.

O'Connell has also been impressed that more and more girls at Joliet Central are making a dedication to the sport.

"We've had more girls play club and that helps with their development as volleyball players," he said. "There are more offseason opportunities to work with them year-round now and I'm ready for that. Our numbers have been up for both boys and girls volleyball."

Former Steelmen Athletic Director Jon Pereiro made the hire earlier this year of O'Connell to take over the girls' volleyball program on a full-time basis. 

"Joliet Central Athletics is excited to officially announce Coach Kevin O'Connell as the new head girls volleyball coach at Joliet Central High School," Pereiro said at that time. "Coach O'Connell's proven track record and dedication to our school and athletic community make him the ideal leader for our girls' volleyball program. 

"Having already demonstrated his coaching prowess as the head boys' volleyball coach at Joliet Central for several years, and stepping in as the interim head coach for the girls' volleyball team during the 2023 season, Coach O'Connell brings a wealth of experience and familiarity with our athletes. We are confident that under his guidance, our girls will continue to move onward both on and off the court. We look forward to witnessing the continued growth and success of our girls' volleyball program with Coach O'Connell at the helm."

A 2005 Joliet West graduate, O'Connell, 36, is an adaptive physical education teacher at Joliet Central. He knew Joliet athletics growing up. His dad, Dale, was a longtime coach in the District, taking the 2000 Joliet Township softball team to the Class AA State Championship. His uncle, Mike, took the Steelmen boys basketball teams to consecutive Class AA appearances, finishing fourth in the final one in 1994-95.

His late uncle, Pat was a boys soccer and wrestling coach at Joliet Central. 

"I played on the court that I coach on," O'Connell said of the Steel Gym. "There was only one team for Joliet Township when I was in school, so we played our home games at Joliet Central. I was a two-year varsity setter. I got my start in coaching at Downstate Casey-Westfield Junior High. 

"My parents are still very involved in every game. You can hear my mom (Karen) cheering from the stands. I coach against my cousin (Carrie OConnell-Prosek) at Minooka. We used to coach together at UNO. I've learned a lot from her over the years."

New Joliet Central Athletic Director Kevin Fitzgerald went to Joliet West, both graduating in 2005, with O'Connell. He knows O'Connell is going to continue the upward trend of the program.

"We are excited for coach O'Connell to bring the momentum from his successful boys season to the girls season," Fitzgerald said. "We know that he can elevate our girls' program to another level."

The Steelmen boys' volleyball is certainly on the upswing. They nearly matched their win total from the past five seasons combined and reached 14 victories (14-19, 2-9 in the SPC) this past spring. That's easily the most for Joliet Central since the Joliet District 204 schools went back to separate sports programs in the 2010-11 season.

"What a great season for the Joliet Central boys’ volleyball team," O'Connell said in May. "I have been coaching at the varsity level for 13 years, five as head coach and eight years as the assistant varsity coach, and I think this has been one of the best seasons in the program.

"These boys are very talented and versatile. They have passion and knowledge of the game. We had some obstacles to overcome over the past couple of weeks of the regular season, but they just played hard and trusted each other on the court."

But since he knew he was going to take over as the girls' volleyball coach this fall, O'Connell decided that this past spring would be his final one as boys head coach. The position has been opened up and a new coach has not been named yet. 

In the meantime, O'Connell is looking forward to this fall and more improvement in the girls' season. 

"We had seven wins last year and I'm looking for better things in the future," O'Connell said. "I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited to see what this season will bring."

  • Central
  • District