Here is a look at some teams that are just outside the top 10 in boys volleyball this spring, some that will fall in the middle of the pack, and some that just might fall a little further. More teams will be posted next week.
Benet finished 24-13 a year ago and was second in the rugged East Suburban Catholic Conference before losing to Downers Grove South in the regional finals.
With a solid group of players back led by 6-foot-5 senior Bobby Wehrli and ESCC coach of the year Amy VanEekeren, the Redwings hope to go where only their girls have gone before.
"We are looking forward to making an exciting run in the 2012 season," Van Eekeren said.
Also back for Benet is 6-3 junior setter Pat Dougherty, 6-3 senior middle blocker Kevin Weithers, 6-1 junior outside hitter Luke Ladowski and 6-1 junior outside hitter Sawyer Yeazel. A player to watch is 6-5 sophomore middle Garrett Metzger.
St. Ignatius went 23-15 last year and reached the sectional finals before falling to Oak Park 25-17, 25-23. The Wolfpack was decimated by graduation, losing six of seven starters, so coach Mark Johnston will be starting all over on Roosevelt Road.
"We are very young and inexperienced this year, and I am lacking a 'big banger' on the outside like I have had in the past in Peter Doerrer and Rimas Grybauskas," Johnston said. "I have five sophomores and three of them might start or at least see a good amount of playing time."
St. Ignatius will turn to the only returning starter from last year's team, 6-foot-8 middle hitter Peter Ryckbosch, to lead the way. Last year, Ryckbosch accumulated 178 kills and 158 blocks. He should shatter Doerrer's school blocking record and climb into the IHSA's top 10.
"Like Doerrer, he lives and breathes basketball," Johnston said. "They both just happened to play volleyball."
A newcomer to the St. Ignatius starting six will be 6-5 Joe Loftus, who was a starter on the D1 16's Green team. Loftus will see a little playing time in the middle at the beginning of the season before working his way outside.
York finished 17-19 overall last year including 2-4 in the West Suburban Silver. Ken Dowdy begins his second season at the helm, with just three returning starters - Jacob Ruprecht, Jack Ribar and Trevor Jordan.
Ruprecht amassed 341 assists, 19 kills and 19 blocks in 2011, while Ribar, a senior middle hitter, had 122 kills and 41 blocks. Jordan, another senior middle hitter, had 102 kills and 44 blocks as a junior.
"We are a young team overall," Dowdy said. "I expect Ribar to have a breakout year at the middle-hitter position."
St. Francis coach Mike Lynch got a headstart on his Christmas shopping when 6-7 Ryan Cole returned to the volleyball court for the first time since his sophomore season.
"Coyle's return to volleyball after two years of focusing on basketball, where he was MVP in the conference and had a deep playoff run, will definitely bolster our attack," Lynch said.
The Spartans will rely on Cole, Joey Trunk, Tim Olsen and Brendan Roberts to handle the hitting duties while Josef Santos mops up the back row from his libero position. Once he settles on a setter, Lynch expects St. Francis to crack the top 20 in the state.
"We should be much stronger with better balance than last year," Lynch said. "We will be running a quick, multi-attack offense. Once the battle for the setting position is settled, we should be ready to face our tough schedule."
No one can accuse Lincoln-Way Central from scheduling weak sisters. The Knights play in one of the toughest conferences (Southwest Suburban) in the state and compete at the WW South Tiger Classic, the Marist invite, the Lincoln-Way East invite and Brother Rice's Smack Attack.
Even with a schedule like that, Lincoln-Way Central went 22-15 last year and won the conference's Red Division with a 9-2 record.
Top players for veteran coach Joann Holverson include 6-6 middle hitter Clay Hermann, the team's only legitimate elite-level player, 6-6 outside hitter Austin Overby and 6-4 outside hitter Matt Nawa.
"This team has a few key positions that could significantly impact our performance this season," Holverson said. "However, we have decent size and great team chemistry. We are not as strong as we have been in the past, but our outsides will get better with experience.
"I believe we will be one of those teams that will take some time to develop but will finish strong," she added. "We are struggling with the setting position, and until it is resolved, we will be challenged to find a good rhythm in our offense."
The setting position at Glenbrook South is also unsettled with Brian Brennan not playing this spring. The Titans have plenty of experience hitters, however, in players like 6-8 Piotr Rafalo, Charley Tisch, Drew Maki, Troy Farsakian and Will Kozloski.
"I have kids coming back who have experience, but there is a lot of talent as always in the area and we have a new setter," Glenbrook South coach Tim Monahan said. "I think we will do alright, but we are untested right now because of our setting situation."
Brother Rice hasn't been to the dance since 2008, which is an eternity for the Crusaders.
However, with 10 returning varsity players back from last year's regional finalist, there is cause for optimism on 99th and Pulaski.
"The key issue for us heading into this season is remaining healthy," Brother Rice coach Paul Ickes said. "We have three players recovering from various knee injuries and one recovering from a stress fracture in the lower back.
"But we do have 10 returning varsity, three returning JV players and a freshman from last year's squads along with two new players," he added. "A number of players either started or saw some significant time on their teams.
"Almost all of our players competed in club volleyball and committed themselves to an off-season workout regimen that we believe will help us tremendously," Ickes said. "We especially like the way the team has gelled thus far, but we have many skill areas to refine."
Returning for Brother Rice are senior outside hitter Mike Carroll, senior setter Dan Dwyer, senior rightside Matt Kill, senior middle hitter George Mantas, senior middle hitter Theo McManigal, senior libero Cody Leahy, senior libero Joe Pochinskas, and senior setter Dominic Vilarosa.
Also back are 6-7 junior middle hitter Ryan Paull and sophomore outside hitter Mitch Weiler.
Brother Rice will be tested early, often and everywhere in between competing in the Tiger Classic and a slate of non-conference matches with Lincoln-Way East, Oak Park-River Forest, Glenbrook North, Marist and Sandburg.
St. Patrick got to the dance in 2010 but slipped to 18-11 in 2011 including 5-3 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Coach Julie Wiejak will try to reload with setter John Budzinski (509 assists, 35 blocks) and outside hitter Joey Williams (145 kills, 99 digs).
"I am very excited for the experience we return to the floor and am looking forward to the new guys we have added to the roster," Wiejak said.
The 13-man roster at Whitney Young features nine seniors including Carthage College recruit Okello Hope, a 6-3 senior outside, 6-3 junior outside hitter Tom Wesolowski, 5-11 senior setter Jack Tracy and 6-9 senior rightside Ben Schwister.
"We're expecting great things this year," said Young coach Jaime Walters.
Graduation took a heavy toll at New Trier where only one starter - Alex Cook - returns from last year's 32-7 state quarterfinalist.
"We have a very strong group of newcomers," New Trier coach Sue Ellen Haak said. "I still foresee see us in the sectional final against Glenbrook North, but we will have switched roles. They will have all the seniors this year and we will have lots of juniors.
"We will have a pretty big front line this year with both our two middle standing between 6-4 and 6-5 and our outsides being 6-5 and 6-6," she said.
Other players to watch include 6-6 junior opposite Mike Gajos, junior setter Matt Wascher and freshman setter Dante Chakravorti.
One of the great things about the boys' high school volleyball season?
Somebody who plays libero for his club team gets to collect a little payback outside for his high school team.
Oak Lawn's 6-1 junior Marc Hansen, the starting libero on Ultimate's 17-1 team, returns for his third varsity season at outside hitter for the Spartans after collecting 90 kills and 160 digs to earn all-South Suburban Conference honors in 2011.
Hansen could be joined by four other juniors in the starting six for Oak Lawn, which was 15-16 last year including 11-5 in conference. Six-foot-3 junior Sean Dunne begins his second season as the starting middle, while senior setter Ali Sheik and libero Kyle Ferrero will contribute.
"We expect to be in the top three of the conference," Oak Lawn coach Ryan Skendzel said.
Tim Murphy, a 1998 graduate of Lake Park, takes the reigns of his alma mater's volleyball team after it reached the sectional finals last year before losing to Glenbard West to wrap up a 30-8 season.
Six-foot-3 senior Michal Ragan, a four-year varsity starter, will lead the Lancers in 2012.
"Michal is top tier outside hitter," Murphy said. "He has libero-type ball control, a great vertical and a textbook arm swing. He will be an integral part of our team."
Also back from the Upstate Eight Valley Conference championship title are senior libero Brian Fisher, 6-4setter Dave Prentis, 6-5 senior opposite Mike Dickerson and 6-3 middle hitter Devin Burke. Newcomers include 6-5 senior middle Andrew Hochstadt, 6-2 senior outside Kevin Smith and 5-9 senior defensive specialist Pasquale Maranto.
"I have high expectations for this season," Murphy said. "We are obviously a senior-heavy team, which gives us a great deal of experience on the court. I believe that we have the physical talent in the gym to be a strong volleyball team.
"Like any other team, if we can find unity, timing and cohesion on and off the court and avoid injury, we can have a very fulfilling season," he added.