Editor's note: This is the first of a three-part look ahead at the 2011 season.
There is an old saying, "It's never too late to look back, and never too soon to look ahead."
If the 2010 Illinois girls state volleyball championships proved anything, it's that if you want to know what is going to happen in the future, you don't have to look much further than what has already happened in the past.
The meeting between Cary-Grove and Lyons for the 2010 Class 4A title was ordained in the 2009 finals. Was there any doubt that Breese Mater Dei and Joliet Catholic would find their way to the 3A title match? And Chicago Christian proved that if at first you don't succeed...
Perhaps the only surprise was tiny Scales Mound (71 students) in Class 1A. Bidding to become the smallest school to win a state title since Hartsburg-Emden (88 students) won the Class A title in 2006, Scales Mound upset two-time defending champ Lanark Eastland in the sectional finals and came within four match points of history.
So as we look ahead to 2011, we should probably seek our state title storylines in the aftermath of the 2010 season:
With five of its top seven players back, will York become the second West Suburban Silver team to win a state title in as many years?
Can Edwardsville become the first downstate school since Belleville West in 1991 to win a big-school title?
Will Joliet Catholic return to the top of the 3A heap with four starters back, or will Breese Mater Dei overcome major graduation losses to repeat?
Can Bloomington Central Catholic bring the title "home" in Class 2A?
Is there another Cinderella story lurking in 1A, or will Abby Heise and Springfield Lutheran prove too big an obstacle?
Here is a look at some of the teams you can expect to find at the top of the polls in 2011:
Barrington - The Fillies won 20 matches with a lineup that featured three sophomores and two juniors. Now all they need is a coach. Chris Bronke, who took the Fillies to the semifinals in 2006, has called it quits. Whoever succeeds Bronke will inherit 5-10 sophomore Julia Thompson, 6-0 sophomore outside Peyton Lang, 6-0 sophomore middle Lauren Schechtman, 5-9 junior outside Joy Johnson and junior libero Amanda Dee. There is nobody to make anyone forget Nellie Spicer or Laura Holloway, but 25-30 wins is not unrealistic.
Benet - Were the Redwings overrated or did they underachieve in 2010? Since faltering in the 2008 finals with a lineup loaded with seven Division I prospects, a state title gets more elusive each year. Will things turn around in 2011? Six-foot Virginia Tech recruit Jenna Jendryk is one of the most dynamic hitters in the state and will be joined up front by the Haggertys - 6-2 junior Meghan and 6-1 freshman Madeline. There is also size in juniors (6-1) McKenzie Kuhn and (6-3) Gabby Pethokoukis, but what Benet really needs is a setter and a libero.
Belleville Althoff - Lisa Orlet is out after two years (to take an assistant coaching job in the college ranks) and former Althoff player Sara Thomas is in as head coach. Also gone are Hillary Keltner, Missy Muckensturm and Me'Ashah Nicholson. But the Crusaders' cupboard is rarely bare, and Thomas, who served as an assistant in 2010, will welcome back 10 returning letterwinners including 5-9 setter Sara Birk. Mater Dei drilled the Crusaders in a 2010 sectional semifinal, but Althoff has got to like its chances in 2011.
Bloomington Central Catholic - The Saints will welcome back more than 900 kills and all but 20 assists from its 30-10 third-place state team, making them a prohibitive favorite to bring the Class 2A title at "home" next fall. Top returnees include 5-8 sophomore outside Danielle Davis (who had more than 300 kills and 300 digs in 2010), 5-8 junior outside Kaitlyn Harrison, 5-9 junior middle blocker Kailla Baptiste, 5-8 freshman middle/rightside hitter Caroline Holt and 5-10 junior setter Meredith Boe, one of the best in the state.
Breese Central - How do you replace 5-9 senior middle Jena Hemann, one of the state's most outstanding all-around athletes, and her nearly 400 kills? You don't, but that does not mean Breese Central will toss in the towel next fall. The Cougars will rely on four juniors - 5-8 outside Meredith Timmons, 6-0 middle Taylor Voss, 5-10 outside Paige Maue and 5-4 setter Casey Schulte - and 5-10 freshman middle hitter Maddie Timmermann to try to get coach Jim Cook his fourth state title.
Breese Mater Dei - The Lady Knights finally broke the Joliet Catholic "curse" to win the 2010 Class 3A state title, and while they won't be out of the picture in 2011, it's hard to imagine that they will be able to overcome the loss of players like Alison Mueller, Nicole Strieker, Kaley Boeckmann and Ashley Rakers. Mater Dei will rebuild around 5-10 junior outside Brooke Schulte, 5-7 junior setter Sam Bedard, 5-10 junior outside Kayla Eversgerd and 6-foot junior middle Abbey Winter, who were all starters and key contributors.
Decatur St. Teresa - The Bulldogs were one of the youngest teams to reach the state finals regardless of class, so it's hard to imagine they can't make another run in 2011. Led by 5-9 junior outside hitter Alexis Clemons (320 kills), 5-8 freshman outside hitter Marie Less (232 kills), 5-6 junior setter Jordan Wooden, 5-10 junior middle Claire Raycraft and 5-6 junior libero Erin Hettinger, Decatur St. Teresa will look to improve upon its 37-3 record and fourth-place Class 2A finish in 2010.
Downers Grove North - Injury problems and youth were issues for the Trojans during the early stages of the 2010 season. But Downers North was playing well late in the season before running into a hot Naperville Central team in a regional semifinal. If coach Mark Wasik can keep his team healthy, they could be among the best in the west suburbs. Expected back are 6-2 junior Jessie Tulacka, 6-1 junior Taylor Kasal, 6-1 sophomore Grace Borgard, 6-1 freshman Katherine Mahlke and 5-6 sophomore libero Carolyn Nojiri.
Edwardsville - Six-foot junior Sam Epenesa, 5-11 freshman Camrey Saye, 5-7 junior libero Tori Guswelle, 5-10 junior rightside hitter Taylor Marshall and 6-foot sophomore middle blocker Sarah Parker return from this year's 32-9 third-place finisher in Class 4A. But whether the Tigers, or anyone from the Peoria-area sectional for that matter, advance to Normal next year really depends on whether their potential supersectional opponent from the western suburbs sectional decides to show up.
Hinsdale South - The Hornets were unable to capitalize on their emotionally-charged 29-31, 28-26, 30-28 sectional victory over Benet, falling meekly to Edwardsville in the Normal supersectional. Hinsdale South will probably have to get past Benet or an improved Naperville Central team to earn another shot at state in 2011, but don't discount 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Jessica Brezwyn, 5-11 junior Melissa Nava, 5-8 sophomore setter Sharon Anderson and 5-10 rightside Rachel Kent.
Congratulations to Kelly Lamberti of Cary-Grove, who was named the 2010 Gatorade Illinois Player of the Year.
The 6-foot senior outside hitter recorded 320 kills, 210 digs, 72 service aces and 44 blocks this past season while posting a kill percentage of .476, leading the Trojans (41-1) to the Class 4A state final. A four-year varsity starter for the nation's No. 5 team as ranked by PrepVolleyball.com, Lamberti was the 2010 Chicago Sun-Times Player of the Year.
Lamberti has maintained a 3.78 GPA in the classroom. A devoted member of her church community, she has volunteered locally on behalf of the Salvation Army and in association with multiple food and clothing drives for area homeless.
"Kelly may be the most dominating player I have seen in a long time," said Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis. "All year, every game, she was on and ready to play. The bigger the match, the better she played. She was unstoppable all season."
Lamberti has signed a national letter of intent to play volleyball at Ohio University beginning in the fall of 2011.
Lamberti joins recent Gatorade Illinois Players of the Year Annemarie Hickey (Joliet Catholic, 2009), Hannah Werth (Chatham Glenwood, 2008) and Kelly Murphy (Joliet Catholic, 2007) among the state's list of former award winners.