By Phil Brozynski
Only one thing stood between Immaculate Conception and the Class 1A semifinals last year - Keith Country Day School's imposing 6-foot-1 Jordan Haverly.
Haverly single-handedly prevented Immaculate Conception from reaching the state finals in Bloomington for the ninth time overall but first since 1993, amassing more than 25 kills in a tension-filled 25-21, 22-25, 28-26 victory.
With nearly every starter returning from last year's 28-12 team (5-9 in the tough Suburban Catholic against the likes of St. Francis, Rosary and Marian Central), ordinarily Immaculate Conception would be considered a lock to reach the state finals this fall.
But the Knights' road to Bloomington ran into a curve. A slight increase in enrollment coupled with the Illinois High School Association's multiplier bumped Immaculate Conception into Class 2A this fall.
Nonetheless, led by senior libero Catherine Guido and senior middle hitter Danielle Remy, Jean Field's Knights will begin the 2008 season as the best of the small schools in the Chicago area.
"I think we have two of the better players in the area with Guido and Remy," said Field, who guided Immaculate Conception to Class A state titles in 1981 and 1984 and runner-up finishes in 1979, 1980 and 1985.
"Catherine is probably one of the best liberos in the area, and I think Danielle is one of the best middles in the western suburbs," Field said. "She played a great game against Haverly."
Guido, who has started since her freshman season, has been an all-conference selection each of the last two years. She had 562 digs in 2007 to give her 1,092 for her career. Remy compiled 247 kills in 2007 to go along with 111 blocks.
Also returning for the Knights are senior outsides Mary Cheng and Mary Kate Manion, middle hitter junior Maggie Ryan and junior middle Kelly Mulligan. Sophomore outside Jordyn Platt could vie for playing time.
Other small school teams to watch in 2008 are Chicago Christian, St. Edward and Latin.
Chicago Christian, which qualified for the Class 2A semifinals in 2007, return 6-foot middle hitter Lizzie Kamp and 5-10 sophomore, 6-foot junior Kirsten Harms and senior setter Brianna Robertson. The Knights also have a new coach in James Garcia.
Playing against the likes of St. Francis and Marian Central will prepare St. Edward ready for the state tournament. Having senior Kristen Haggenjos, who has committed to Loyola, and senior outside hitter/setter Katie Yohn, who has committed to play basketball at Bradley, will also help.
Latin will load up behind sophomore opposite Teddy Nagaro and three-year starting outside Alex Blair, who are among the top returning veterans for for coach Liz Tortorello-Nelson.
As a footnote, according to several media outlets, Haverly recently requested and was granted her release from the Nebraska volleyball program. She has reportedly returned home and will train at Club Fusion outside Marengo.
Defending NCAA Division I champion Penn State will be among four teams competing in the 1st Annual Chicago Classic sponsored by Elite Volleyball Program September 12-13 at Mother McAuley High School.
Louisville will play Illinois State University (ISU) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, September 12,. followed by the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and Penn State at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, September 13, UIC will play Louisville at noon, ISU will play Penn State at 2:00 p.m., ISU will play UIC at 5:30 p.m. and Penn State will play Louisville at 7:30 p.m.
Daily admission is $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for children and $10.00 for families. Mother McAuley is located at 3737 W. 99th Street in Chicago.
For more information, visit www.elitevolleyballprogram.com or www.mothermcauley.org.