Erienne Barry (right) and St. Charles East will host one of the premier tournaments of the season October 7-8 at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora.
Is this the year somebody challenges Marist and Mother McAuley for supremacy on the south side? It won't be for lack of trying.
Although Sandburg is expected to slip a little after suffering heavy graduation losses, Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way East look to be on the rise.
Lincoln-Way Central welcomes back five starters from last year's 18-17 team that continued to improve as the season wore on.
"Our challenge this year will be to continue and improve upon the success we had the second half of last season," coach Kathy Sulkowski said. "I expect this team to start and finish the season strong. Playing consistent, defensively sound volleyball is crucial for our success.
"We will battle with some of the top teams in the area, but this is the most mentally resilient team I have coached at Central so far," she added. "This is the year where we will challenge the girls not just to 'compete' in big matches, but to actually expect to win the big matches."
Among the returning starters is Danielle (Deedee) Dowd, a 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter. Dowd led the Knights with 240 in 2010 and was third on the team with 275 digs. Dowd has committed to continue her playing career ar Ferris State.
Also back is 5-8 senior outside hitter Amy Bernhard, who was named the team MVP after compiling 187 kills, 39 aces and 300 digs in 2010; 5-6 senior libero Val Crilly, who set a school record with 422 digs; and 6-3 junior middle hitter Amanda Dolan.
"Amanda has shown great improvement in the last year and will be a critical offensive factor for us," Sulkowski said.
Down the street, Lincoln-Way East isn't sitting still with four starters back from a 24-game winner including 5-10 four-year starter Lauren Behrens, who led the team in kills, and 6-3 three-year starter Katie Allen, who topped the Griffins in blocks.
Makayla Weller is a 5-10 senior outside, a junior who will contribute is libero Dana Van Dyck, while junior outside hitter Marissa De Groot also returns to the roster.
Sophomores Taylor Nirchi, a 5-7 setter, and Kayla Currier, a 6-0 middle, will be asked to step up their games.
"This is my 30th year coaching," said Lincoln-Way East's Linda Vivona, who has spent 16 of those years in District 210. "I have seen the Lincoln-Way programs split and am quite proud of how each continues to be solid during the transition."
Another team to watch in the far south suburbs is Lemont, where 12th-year coach Chris Zogata chases another South Suburban Conference Blue Division title minus six starters from last year's 27-10 sectional qualifier.
Back to ease some of the sting of those losses will be 5-9 senior outside hitter Emily Brown, 5-9 junior setter Megan Litoborski, defensive specialists Gabbie Alvarez and Lauren Donar and senior outside hitter Katie Pellegrene.
"Emily will be the solid go-to hitter this year," Zogata said. "Her experience at the varsity level will help our younger players.Megan is a smart setter who moves the ball around. Her serving will gain us some free points this year.
"This is a rebuilding year for Lemont," the coach added. "Gaining experience will be the No. 1 priority. Improving every match will help in our success. The girls are very competitive but lack experience. I feel we will have a successful season with much growth."
Immaculate Conception coach Jean Field will begin her 37th year of coaching this fall just three wins shy of 800 for her career. The milestone should come early in the season given the talent the Knights return.
Eight players return from last year's 24-15 team that reached the Class 2A supersectional before falling to eventual state champion Chicago Christian. Among them are all-conference middle hitter Kellyanne Remy and all-conference setter sophomore Kimmy Martino.
Also returning are Jennifer Clementi, a 5-foot-11 senior middle hitter; junior setter Liz Martino; junior outside hitter Emily Hartnett; junior libero Kathleen Ryan; outside hitter Katelyn Conenna; and 5-9 middle hitter Juliette Ambrogi.
Top newcomers include 5-9 sophomore outside Delaney D'Amore; 5-11 sophomore middle hitter Rory Manion; junior outside Allie Cervone; 5-3 junior defensive specialist Lauren Roberto; and 5-4 junior back row specialist Alexis Heit.
"We lost two starters from our 2010 team,' Field said. "One was an outside hitter and played all the way around, and the other was a defensive specialist. We would like to exceed last year's performance."
The FIVB Volleyball Girls' Youth World Championship 2011 will be held in Ankara, Turkey on August 12-21. Among the 16 teams from around the world competing will be the U.S. team that includes West Aurora's Lauren Carlini.
Go to the following website for more information about the U.S. team:
For live streams of the United States' games at 11:00 a.m. CDT Saturday, August 13 and Sunday, August 14, go to www.voleyboltv.com.