Once again, the Illinois High School Association has ensured that a state tournament will pack all the thrills of a horsedrawn carriage ride down Michigan Avenue - sans date.
And will grant about as little equity and fairness to the athletes involved.
Nearly all of the top-ranked boys volleyball teams in the state have been assigned to two sectionals - Wheaton Warrenville South and Lincoln-Way East.
The WW South sectional features top-ranked WW South, Glenbard West, Glenbard East, Downers Grove North, Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley, Naperville North, Benet and St. Francis.
The field at LW East is no picnic either. The field includes Brother Rice, Marist, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North, Lincoln-Way Central and defending state champion Sandburg.
Meanwhile, Glenbrook North should go unchallenged at home, either St. Rita or Mt. Carmel will be favored at DeLaSalle, Payton might be the best of a city-dominated field at Whitney Young, Lake Park should have little trouble at Elgin outside Elk Grove, and Minooka and Providence will vie for the Lockport title.
The only other sectional that packs any drama will be at Barrington, where the hosts, Buffalo Grove, Libertyville, Stevenson and Vernon Hills might make for an interesting field.
St. Ignatius coach Mark Johnston, who stands to benefit from a sectional bereft of any traditionally strong programs, admits that the IHSA appears to have stacked the sectionals to ensure that the city is well-represented at state.
"It looks like they're trying to make sure that somebody from the city gets there," he said.
The ridiculous sectional assignments aside, many boys volleyball coaches still wonder why their state championship is played at a high school. Hoffman Estates officials are extremely cooperative and dedicated, but seating at floor level is minimal and space around the court limited.
Brother Rice coach Paul Ickes has long tried to bring the state tournament to St. Xavier University on the south side, while other local colleges could also be considered as potential hosts.
Despite the shabby treatment from Bloomington, the number of schools offering boys volleyball reached 196 this spring.
Speaking of St. Ignatius, the Wolfpack may not benefit from the realignment of the sectional this year, but looking ahead, coach Mark Johnston could be a player at state in 2013 and 2014.
"What we did this year we're going to take some bumps and bruises," he said. "But this sets up real well next year, two years from now. The junior varsity is 12 freshmen and two sophomores, and I'm only graduating three seniors.
"We're only going to pick up three more kids next year, which means that whole core of freshmen kids who are playing JV already this year will play another year of JV next year. We didn't get the number we wanted this year, but this sets us up really well in the future."
With 6-9 senior middle Peter Ryckbosh away over spring break, St. Ignatius rolled out a lineup that included 5-7 sophomore setter Cooper Hardy, 6-3 sophomore middle Zach Gortowski, 6-6 sophomore Joe Loftus and 6-2 sophomore Stephan Iwanik last week at Providence.
Next year, Johnston will also return 5-11 junior outside hitter Billy Langhenry and 5-10 junior setter Neil Browne.
"We're trying to get these guys excited and motivated, trying to get them to play club," Johnston said. "That's the name of the game. But that's also the struggle we always deal with because I got kids living all over the place.
"So it's not like they can just hop a ride with somebody else," he added. "I got some Northside kids, I got some kids from Orland, I got some western suburbs kids. So it's not like they live by each other. They don't hang out outside of school. So it's tough."
Meanwhile, the St. Ignatius team members are sporting some nifty all-white warm-ups this year.
"Win or lose, we look good," Johnston said.
Glenbard East found out how the other half lives Saturday at Springfest.
The Rams, who scored the last five points of the match to defeat Barrington in three sets at the Bison Battle, yielded the last six points of the match in an 18-25, 25-23, 26-24 championship semifinal loss to Downers Grove South.
"The bottom line is you've got to be ready to execute in the beginning of the game until the end," coach Marci Maier said. "We played well the first game and we played OK in the second game. I thought they (Downers South) were playing well.
"Not to take anything away from (Downers South), but we did not appear to have that edge, that sense of urgency that there needs to be on every single ball in the second game," she added. "And when it went to three, we again fought for awhile, but we missed five serves."
Immediately following a timeout at set point, the Rams went to outside Matt Ploke, who missed the line by less than an inch.
"It was the right play," Maier said. "We had a one-on-one block. We hit the ball out of bounds. We didn't execute. We had plenty of room to hit. He just overrotated a little. But the difference between winning and losing is they have to execute and they have to appear to want it."
The Rams bounced back to defeat St. Francis 25-11, 25-20 for third place, while Downers South went on to defeat Neuqua Valley for the championship.
"They (her players) looked very determined in that last match, and if this is a hard lesson that we have to learn now, that every match that we come into we have to play with that sense of urgency and determination, it's a hard lesson to learn," Maier said.
Previously No. 2-ranked Glenbard West suffered its first loss of the season Saturday at Springfest, falling 17-25, 27-25, 15-11 to Glenbard East in pool play. But the Hilltoppers bounced back to defeat Benet and West Aurora to finish fifth.
"We learned that we have to keep our unforced errors as low as possible, play our game and let them make the mistakes," Glenbard West setter Alex Emanuel said. "We did that well in the first game, but in the second game they got on some runs, we made some errors and they got ahead of us.
"The momentum shifted completely in that second game and we didn't know what to do," he added. "We made some errors at the end that cost us the second game, and going into the third game they had all the momentum. We didn't come to play the third game. They were the better team that game."
The Hilltoppers are only seven games into the season and are working in some new players, especially in the middle where they have to replace Adam Lepold and his 300 kills from a year ago.
"We're still trying to find out what kind of team we really are," Emanuel said. "It feels good to come out winning the silver division and going home on a good note after a tough loss."
Spencer Sauter, a 6-foot-7 outside hitter from Naperville North and the Ultimate Volleyball Club, verbally committed Monday to Penn State. Sauter was recently named to the all-tournament team at the Tiger Classic hosted by Wheaton Warrenville South on March 31.
"Spencer is a phenomenal talent and an even greater person," Naperville North coach Nate Bornancin said. "I think it is incredible how much talent continues to come out of this area of the country."
Spencer will join 6-8 middle hitter Matt Callaway (Wheaton Warrenville South) and 6-4 setter Zach Parik (Downers Grove North) at Penn State next year.
Waubonsie Valley's 6-6 sophomore outside hitter Mike Simmons should be on every college team's radar, but there is one school he hopes comes calling.
"I want to play college ball," he said. "Ohio State is my dream school because it's close and it's the Midwest and they're pretty good, but I will go anywhere for volleyball. Anyone who has a team, I just want to keep playing. Call me!"
Neuqua Valley (9-2) suffered two tough losses last week - to Lincoln-Way North and Downers Grove South - and passing was the main culprit.
"One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the season was our middles and our right side can theoretically lead our team in kills this year," Neuqua Valley coach Erich Mendoza said. "Typically, you never see that happen with teams. It's always the outside hitters.
"But we're unique in that regard," he added. "Both our middles (Connor Richardson and Joseph Michael) are really athletic. We can set them all over the court. But if the passes are at the 10-foot line, they're useless. We can't do anything with them.
"I felt that was one of the things that was a bit off (Saturday) obviously," Mendoza said.
Richardson leads the Wildcats in kills and rightside Jake Gerald is right behind.
"Richardson got a ton of kills (nine) in that Downers South match," Mendoza said. "Any time we had a chance to set him, we set him, and they knew we were going to set him and they couldn't stop him. That's shows what we're capable of doing when we do pass well and play good defense."
Not to look too far ahead, but....you can just mail the 2012 girls Class 3A state championship trophy to St. Francis and save everybody else a lot of time and wasted effort.
It was revealed last week that former Benet standout Maddie Haggerty, whose 16 kills helped the Redwings defeat Cary-Grove in last year's Class 4A state championship, was leaving Benet to join her younger sister, Molly, at St. Francis.
Molly Haggerty, a 6-foot setter who plays for Sports Performance's 15 Elite team, is widely considered one of the top incoming freshmen in the country. Maddie Haggerty plays for Sports Performance's 18 Elite team with her sister Meghan, who is headed to Wisconsin in the fall.
St. Francis returns setter McKenna Kelsay, junior outside hitter Michelle McLaughlin, defensive specialist Lexi Riccolo and freshman middle Mary Boken from last year's Class 3A third-place finisher.
The addition of the Haggerty sisters makes the Spartans the prohibitive favorites to win it all in 2012.
"We are excited to have the girls at St. Francis," coach Peg Kopec said. "We believe it will be a great all-around fit for them."
Sara-Jane Pavlik, a 2012 graduate of Benet Academy, has committed to play volleyball for Lindenwood University, a school of about 17,000 students in St. Charles, Mo. Pavlik is a 5-foot-10 setter/rightside hitter who plays club for 1st Alliance.
"Between the great academics, competitive athletics and beautiful campus, I knew it was the place for me," Pavlik said. "Lindenwood is a big family and I can't wait to be a part of it."
"Lindenwood is getting a player who is extremely passionate about volleyball," Benet coach Brad baker said. "Sarah-Jane has worked extremely hard to become a very good setter and hitter. To become skilled at both takes a person willing to spend many years and long hours working in the gym."