By Phil Brozynski
Glenbard East headed into last year's state quarterfinals on a roll. The Rams had won 16 consecutive matches, were 36-3 overall, and had the area's top player in 6-foot-5 senior setter/outside hitter Dan Mader.
But the Rams' title hopes came to a quick and unexpected end when they lost to Neuqua Valley, a team they had beaten early in the season, 25-21, 19-25, 25-21, in the quarterfinals. Neuqua Valley later lost to Buffalo Grove and finished third.
Glenbard East has already begun its bid to put that disappointment in the past, opening the 2009 season with wins over Willowbrook and Glenbard North. But the Rams' season really gets into high gear this weekend when they host Springfest.
The 16-team tournament gets underway Saturday at 9:00 a.m. with the first of three rounds of pool play. The winners of each pool advance to the semifinals at 1:00 p.m. and the finals are slated for 2:15 p.m.
Among the teams in the field are Neuqua Valley, St. Francis, Lake Forest, Glenbard North and Wheeling. St. Francis and Neuqua Valley somehow found themselves in the same pool and are scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. on Court No. 7.
Glenbard East features three starters from last year's 36-4 team led by 6-5 Mark Jones, who was second on the team in assists and third in kills as a junior. Tim Lovik, who was second in kills in 2008, and 6-6 Piotr Dabrowski also return.
Other players to watch include Lake Forest's Larry Wrather, Neuqua Valley's Rob Bauer and St. Francis setter Mike Segneri.
St. Francis' 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson has verbally committed to continue her volleyball career at the University of Tennessee. Robinson chose Tennessee over Michigan and Nebraska.
Robinson is ranked among the top 50 juniors in the nation by Prepvolleyball.com. She helped St. Francis win state titles in 2006 and 2007 and powered the Spartans to an Elite Eight berth in Class 3A last fall.
She was named Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year, First Team All-State by the Champaign News Gazette and was a Chicago Sun-Times All-Area selection. She finished the season with 341 kills, 183 digs, 40 blocks and 68 service aces
Robinson currently plays club ball for Sports Performance's 18 Elite team. Last summer, she helped SPVB 16 Elite finish third at the Junior Volleyball Directors Association championships and fifth at the AAU national tournament.
Tennessee finished 22-10 last season and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament.