By Phil Brozynski
There will be several powerful girls volleyball teams in the western suburbs of Chicago this fall, but the south side can't be overlooked.
As it has seemingly every year since the Great Chicago Fire, Mother McAuley will rank among Illinois' best. Although the Mighty Macs lost outstanding libero Carli Weiler and do-it-all Melissa Joyce to graduation, coach Jen Dejarld welcomes back an abundance of talent.
The leading returnee is 6-foot-1 Kelly Griffin, a Western Michigan recruit who accounted for more than 300 kills and 70 blocks last season as McAuley registered a 35-8 record and a second-place finish in Bloomington. Griffin could play anywhere along the front line.
Also back are juniors Jessica Galotta and Jessica Falk, who were elevated to the varsity early last season after the Mighty Macs opened with three losses in their first five matches, and defensive whiz Sue Hayes (Northern Illinois). Des Aramburu will take over the setting chores.
Sandburg finished 30-9 last year after losing to McAuley in the sectional final. Gone from that team is Sun-Times All-Area selection Alex Blatt, Jessica Kudirka, Ashlie Turza and Brittney Cote. However, coach David Vales will rebuild around some talented youngsters.
Five-foot-9 sophomore Jenny Buczek was elevated to the varsity midway through last season and quickly became one of Sandburg's top hitters. Juniors Mary Kate Imrie and Lanie Muys have a full varsity season under their belts.
Defensive specialist Molly Schwerha and rightside Leah Zehme will be among only a handful of seniors for Sandburg, which expects immediate dividends from sophomores Amanda Kijewski and Genna Pavone.
You don't graduate the best player in the country and not anticipate a little dropoff. But with five starters returning from the team that lost to St. Francis in the Class 3A supersectional, Joliet Catholic coach Chris Scheibe is confident the Angels can overcome the loss of Kelly Griffin.
Gina Vera (Butler) will assume full-time setting duties for Joliet Catholic, while 5-8 junior Annemarie Hickey will shoulder the bulk of the hitting. Seniors Katie Jasnica and Katie Hickey also return.
Scheibe expects big things from 6-2 sophomore Lainey Wyman, junior Alyssa Warren and junior libero Stephanie Keca.
Also look for Marist, Stagg, Providence and Oak Forest, which won the summer league at the Palos Courts, to figure into the big-school picture somewhere. Chicago Christian, a 2A state semifinalist in 2007, should be among the state's best small schools.