By Phil Brozynski
A number of former Illinois high school standouts are members of teams that participated in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship semifinals and finals last weekend in Omaha, Nebraska.
Two former Illinois players - Cary-Grove's Kim Hohl and Proviso East's Arielle Wilson -
are members of Penn State (38-0), which won its second straight NCAA title Saturday by beating Stanford 25-20, 26-24, 25-23.
Wilson, a sophomore, was fourth on the team in kills (244) and second in blocks (155).
Former Naperville Central standout and Chicago Sun-Times 2005 Player of the Year Jessica Yanz is a member of semifinalist Nebraska, which snapped Penn State's streak of consecutive games won at 111 and extended the Nittany Lions to five games in their semifinal.
Yanz is redshirting this season at Nebraska after transferring from Penn State and will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2009.
Finally, one of the big reasons Texas reached the national semifinals was former St. Francis setter Michelle Kocher. One of the biggest reasons Texas failed to advance to the finals was the Texas coach's decision to pull Kocher for one point in the fifth set of its match with Stanford.
With Texas serving, the coach yanked the 5-foot-10 Kocher out of the front row to try to get a bigger block against the Stanford rally. The Cardinal returned a playable ball, but Texas was unable to make a decent set and Stanford won the point and eventually the match.
Kocher finished with 1,307 assists, 208 digs and 36 blocks for the 29-4 Longhorns.
Hannah Werth, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter and setter from Chatham Glenwood, was named the 2008 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year. The selections are made by the staff ESPNRise based upon recommendations from high school coaches and Prepvolleyball.com.
Other players who were considered in lllinois were Mother McAuley setter and Chicago Sun-Times 2008 Player of the Year Desiree Aramburu, and Benet's Ariana Mankus and Jessica Jendryk.
Werth, who will head to Nebraska next fall, set the state's all-time careers kills standard and played for the U.S. Junior National Team.
Players to keep an eye on in 2009 are Joliet Catholic outside hitter Annemarie Hickey, Burlington Central's Stephanie Holthus, St. Francis' Kelsey Robinson and Belleville Althoff's setter/outside hitter Carly Thomas.