Buffalo Grove reached the state quarterfinals three consecutive seasons before running into Vernon Hills in a sectional semifinal last year. The Bison suffered some losses at graduation, but veteran coach Matt Aiello is excited for the latest edition of Buffalo Grove volleyball.
"People seem to be talking like we are done," Aiello said. "We love that assumption. We will work as hard as usual and maintain our usual goals. We are not and will not be afraid of any team in the state. Our focus is on being prepared for the postseason. We will do that by getting better every day."
The defending Mid-Suburban League champions will build around 6-7 four-year starter Sam Wacker, 6-7 middle/rightside Michael Starzec, 6-7 middle Jose Aguirre, 6-3 setter Matt Bloom, 6-2 outside Scott Swedberg and 5-9 libero Michael Maley.
"Wacker and Starzec are arguably the best middle combination in Illinois," Aiello said. "In some matchups, Starzec will play rightside and actually do some setting to allow Bloom to hit some.
"Starzec was a huge addition to our lineup last year and not just because of his size," the coach added. "He will surprise people as one of the better all-around players in the area."
After stunning top-ranked Wheaton Warrenville South in a sectional final, Naperville North took down Oak Park and Vernon Hills to reach the 2011 championship match.
The Huskies hope to go one step further in 2012 behind 6-7 senior Spencer Sauter, who is being recruited by Penn State, Ohio State, Harvard, NYU and UC-San Diego, and 6-6 setter Gert Lisha, who set for Sports Performance's 18-1 team.
"We are looking to have another strong season," coach Nate Bornancin said. "We return seven players from our state finals team. Like most of our teams at North, we will be built on team defense."
Sauter had 150 Kills and 98 digs despite missing a big part of the season due to injury. Also back are 6-3 senior middle Matt Jennings (91 Kills, 48 blocks) and 6-3 senior outside Kyle Losik.
"We are strong at the outside hitter position again and look to improve as a good blocking team with the addition of Lisha at setter," Bornancin said. "It will also be interesting to see how Spencer looks over the course of a full season."
Tom Hubner returned to the sidelines last year and led Addison Trail to a sparkling 31-7 record. Don't look for similar results in 2012.
"The long and short of it for Addison Trail is rebuilding," Hubner said. "We have been able to go a while without having to do this, but we are going to this year."
Addison Trail returns only two starters from last year's regional winner that lost to Glenbard West 25-20, 22-25, 25-13 in a sectional semifinal - middle hitter Tom Caputo and former libero Tom Connolly, who is expected to move outside.
"Otherwise, we will have a freshman rightside and a sophomore setter and libero," Hubner said. "I think that sums it up. Downers Grove South and Willowbrook should be the class of the
West Suburban Gold this year."
Eight returning players are back from a 22-15 team that lost to Wheaton Warrenville South in the regional finals for veteran Lyons Township coach Joann Pyritz, including 6-7 senior middle Jason Dolinski (116 kills, 30 blocks).
"The senior class is ready to go," Pyritz said. "Our hitting, blocking and versatility with a deep bench will be our strengths this season."
Also back are starters Kevin McMahon, who had 77 kills from his outside hitting position in 2011, senior defensive specialist John Peterson (84 digs) and defensive specialist Jack Murphy (83 digs).
"Dolinski will dominate the net with his ability to play middle and outside and McMahon will lead the charge outside," Pyritz said. "Peterson and Murphy are consistent passers and will assist on defense. Our big decision will be who gets the job at setter."
Contenders are setter include junior Mike Pajkos, Marco Kostich, John Peterson and junior Clayton Smentek.
Maine South had some big wins over New Trier, Marist and Lake Park. But the Hawks also suffered a few more losses than their recent predecessors and finished 26-11 overall and third in the Central Suburban League South, losing to Glenbrook South in the regional final.
Top returning players for Maine South are Scotty Adamczyk, Ivan Zelic, Adam Forbes, Matt Garvey and Tommy Calandriello.
"We expect to be very competitive in the CSL and hopefully challenge for a conference title by the end of the season," coach Gary Granell said.
Unanimous all-Upstate Eight selection Luke Furman, a 6-1 junior setter, and 6-3 sophomore outside hitter Michael Simmons will try to lift Waubonsie Valley (24-10 a year ago) into contention in the Valley Division.
Also back for coach Al Lagger are 6-3 junior opposite hitter Jon Pyne, 5-9 junior defensive specialist Dan Allen, 6-4 senior middle hitter Seth Salmon, 6-4 senior outside hitter Mike Storm and libero Michael Nicholas.
Top newcomers include 6-5 junior middle blocker Tyler House, 6-4 sophomore middle blocker Connor Douville and freshman defensive specialist Andrew Salmon.
"We are very excited about the opportunity to compete this year," Lagger said. "We are returning a strong team from last year. We are still young, but we have great depth and playing experience at the varsity level."
Stagg junior Kamil Barnas arrived from Poland when he was in the fifth grade. He didn't pick up a volleyball until he reached junior high, but he has been hooked ever since.
First-year head coach Lauren Royer hopes her young team can hook a few fish in the rugged Southwest Suburban Conference Red Division and improve upon last year's 6-29 overall record including 0-5 in the league.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us this year, but we have a group of athletes who are willing to put forth the time and effort to make a name for this program," Royer said. "With two returning seniors and a crew of rookies who are eager to learn, we will have a solid mix of athletes who are focused on becoming a threat in our conference."
Senior setter Matt Hartigan is at the center of the Chargers' rebuilding program. Newcomers include Barnas, senior outside Jordan Joseph and junior setter Matt Meyering.
Warren lost some of its big boppers from last year to graduation, but with senior setter Tyler Smith back, any dropoff could be miniscule.
"We have a really solid all-around group this year with a returning senior setter to run the offense and lead the team," assistant coach Kim Paasch said. "We lost some big offensive players, but our prospects this year have better ball control and are more focused on defense."
Back from the team that lost to Stevenson in the regional finals in 2011 are Smith, rightside Sean O'Connor, outside hitter Joe Alexander, outside hitter Eric Lindsay, 6-9 middle John Kroc and libero Tyler Beckley.
Kroc was slotted to start as a junior but missed most of the season with a bad ankle sprain.
Players to watch include junior outside Vuk Jakovljevic and sophomore middle hitter Max Bongratz.
"We're excited to see who earns the starting spots because we have a lot of depth, especially at the outside hitter position," Paasch said. "We also pulled up two sophomore middle hitters (Bongratz and Mitch Maan De kok) with a lot of potential, so we're looking forward to having them with the program for the next three years."
Stevenson lost four two-year players from a 31-6 team that shared the North Suburban Conference championship, but don't feel bad for coach Tim Crow. He's got 6-4 rightside Jason Fleischman, 6-3 middle Aaron Zalewski, junior setter Jonah May and senior middle Mitchell Robinson to console him.
Fleischman, who will miss a few early matches due to a school trip to France, had 158 kills and 88 total blocks as a junior. Zalewski added 112 kills and 48 total blocks, and Robinson had 101 kills and 77 total blocks in 2011.
Crow is very high on May.
"When he is finished, he could be one of the best we have had here," Crow said.
Nine seniors graduated from last year's 39-3 state championship team at Sandburg. But nobody will be throwing a pity-party for coach Sean Airola. He's got two all-state caliber setters back in Scott Fifer and junior Nick Bendell and an endless list of candidates everywhere else.
"The season has started surprisingly well for what players we lost to graduation," Airola said. "We return, in my opinion, the best setter in the state in Fifer. We also return experience with Bendell, who has grown four inches in the off-season and is now 6-2."
Among the newcomers is 6-9 John Hodul, who played for D1 18-1 as a junior.
"We have new outsides, middles and liberos this season, but feel that we can be competitive," Airola said. "We may not have the court experience, but we do have solid defense and superior setting.
"I may not see us as a top 10 team right now, but we will still compete," Airola said.
It just won't be the same without Garrett Dempsey, Kevin Morrison, Jim Mead and Kevin Murphy roaming the court at Marist. The quartet played a big role on the school's 2010 title team and helped lead the RedHawks to a 33-5 mark in 2011.
But while the faces may change, the goals are always the same under veteran coach Bob St. Leger.
"Our goal like always will be to compete for a sectional title," he said. "I think we will take our lumps early, but we should be pretty solid by the end."
Marist will rebuild around 6-3 middle Tony Natalino and 6-1 outside John Yerkes. Big contributions are expected from 5-10 junior setter Mike Schreiber and 6-3 senior outside/rightside Matt Mead.
After back-to-back seasons of 30-8 and 33-6, Loyola slipped to 20-17 in 2011, However, the Ramblers did win 11 of their final 13 matches before running into New Trier in the regional finals.
Hoping to get Loyola off to a better start and a better finish are 6-7 senior outside hitter Chris Bulava, a three-year varsity veteran, senior setter and three-year starter Mario Asencio, and junior outside hitter Sean Barry.
Add 6-5 sophomore outside David Wieczorek and junior setter James McCabe to the mix and there's reason for optimism on Laramie Avenue.
"We should compete for a conference title and make a strong run at a sectional championship," coach Lionel Ebeling said.
The record may not show it - 16-20 overall and 5-9 in the DuPage Valley Conference - but Naperville Central was a tough out every time it took the floor in 2011. The problem was playing at least six matches against WW South, Naperville North and Glenbard East.
But coach Jeff Danborn will have his guys ready to go after it again in 2012 led by 6-5 senior setter Albert Lei, 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Jon Chiczewski and newcomers Lucas Parker and Dan Trembacki.
"We hope to be competitive within what should be a very strong conference again," Danborn said. "Our focus will be on defense and speed. We'll be more balanced this year and rely on the distribution from an experienced setter in Lei."
Third-year varsity starter LJ Booth, a 6-6 senior middle hitter, returns to lead Hinsdale Central under rookie coach Kelly Maley.
The Red Devils finished 14-23 a season ago, including 1-5 in conference. But Booth and some solid veterans - 6-0 junior outside hitter David Whinery, 6-2 middle Peter Thompson and 6-1 rightside Jake Brosius - hope to make Maley's first season a success.
"While we lost a lot of seniors, we have gained many underclassmen that have the ability to make a huge impact on our varsity team," Maley said. "Our goal is to be among the top teams in the West Suburban and to surprise people in the state playoffs.
"I am excited to be working with this group of young men in my first season and to have my mentor (and former head coach) Len Serwat guiding me through the process as the assistant varsity coach," she added.