Wheaton Warrenville South's Tim Zyburt and Nick Smith played some last year when Eric Luhrsen was still recovering from a football injury. This year, they are taking a backseat to no one.
Zyburt shared scoring honors with Tom Jaeschke on Saturday's final of the Tiger Classic with eight kills against Lincoln-Way East, and the 5-foot-11 Smith, possibly the shortest outside hitter ever to play for Bill Schreier, checked in with seven kills.
The 6-foot-6 Zyburt, 6-7 Jaeshke and 6-7 Matt Callaway combined to give WW South another formidable front line.
"It's great being out there, being out with the guys," said Zyburt, who also played varsity basketball at WW South. "It's a blast, especially with the great team that we have this year."
Smith may be a full eight inches shorter than any other attacker on the Tigers' side of the net, but he touches 10-foot-11 and is developing quite a repertoire of shots.
"My height is obviously not to my advantage," Smith said. "I just try to work on shot. I try to hit deep corners, tips, anything to get a point. Wherever the open court is, that's where I go to. I've been tipping over the block, but they've been picking it up lately. So I try to mix it up and hit deep corners."
Schreier likes what Zyburt and Smith have been doing in the early going.
"Nick and Tim make it hard to play defense against us because you can't just concentrate on one person," he said. "We had three guys with seven-plus kills (against LW East). I think that shows we're pretty hard to match up with, and Kit's (setter Bruzek) is doing a great job running the system."
And how does Smith feel about being one of the shortest outsides in recent WW South history?
"It's kind of breaking a precedent," he said.
Size doesn't seem to bother Lincoln-Way East's Nate Royer, either. The 5-11 senior cranked out 11 kills in the Griffin's loss to WW South in Saturday's Tiger Classic championship match.
"I thought he played outstanding offensively and defensively," Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore said. "He isn't the biggest guy, but you can move him all over the place.
"He's so versatile and so fast, that often a blocker will look for him but he moves so quick he's hard to anticipate," the coach added. "He jumps so fast he gets up over you."
No one quite knew what to expect from Sandburg after the defending state champions were hit hard by graduation. But behind setters Nick Bendell and Scott Fifer, the Eagles (6-4) have finished fifth and fourth at their first two tournaments.
Saturday at the Tiger Classic, Sandburg handed previously unbeaten Lake Park its first loss, 25-13, 25-15, in the quarterfinals, then went on to finish fourth after dropping a 21-25, 25-19, 25-20 decision to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way East.
"I thought we played really good," Fifer said. "It was just a few things here and there. We just got to get more comfortable playing with each other, knowing who covers what, what the other person's tendencies are. Once we get a little more chemistry together, we'll start clicking.
"It's still early in the season and they're ranked a lot higher than us," he added. "We'll see what happens when it matters May."
Naperville North (6-4), the team that Sandburg beat to win the 2011 state championship, has been searching for the right combination with which to surround Spencer Sauter following the graduation of all-area selection Shane Witmer, Henry Cheatham, Danny Boryca, Steve Massoni and Ryan Loughlin.
Saturday, coach Nate Bornancin went to a 6-2 with Matt Thornton sharing setting duties with 6-6 Gert Lisha, a transfer from Oswego. The lineup led to a Silver division championship and victories over Lincoln-Way Central, Moeller (Cincinnati, Ohio) and New Trier.
"We changed up a little bit," Bornancin said. "It was nice to have Thornton back. He wasn't here on Thursday (for pool play). We're just throwing guys out there and seeing what's working."
One of the things that has been working for Naperville North is 6-4 junior outside hitter Dan Koch.
"We named him another captain in practice (Friday) because he's been stepping up for us all season," Bornancin said. "He's taken that and is kind of rolling with it. Spencer's going to get his kills, but we're looking for other guys to step up and Dan, Kyle (Losik) and Matt (Jennings) have been solid all year.
"I'm really excited about the way we're playing," he added. "We're playing with personality, and I think that's what's been missing the last couple of days."
One of the bigger surprises of the early season is 10th-ranked Waubonsie Valley, which reached the championship match of the Marist invite two weeks ago, and lost only once - to eventual runner-up Lincoln-Way East--and finished fifth at the Tiger Classic.
Coach Al Lagger made no excuses about his team's 25-21, 25-14 loss to the Griffins Saturday.
"We played well in the first game, but in the second game they were a better team than we were," he said. "We just didn't execute down the stretch and they did."
He called the Warriors' 25-20, 26-24 win over Lake Park in the consolation semifinals a character-builder.
"We trailed in the first game and came back and won, and we came back in the second game like we did against Marist on Thursday (when the Warriors trailed 24-21 and won 26-24)," he said. "We're getting that playing from behind under our belt and making the right plays at the right time."
Waubonsie Valley's top players are junior setter Luke Furman, 6-6 sophomore outside hitter Mike Simmons and 6-6 senior Mike Storm.
"I'm ecstatic," Lagger said. "If you had told me at the beginning of the season what we are right now - 10-2 and finishing in the top five of this tournament...there's no slouch in this tournament. To be fifth at WW South is amazing for us, so I'm quite happy."
Previously unbeaten Lake Park bounced back from losses to Sandburg and Waubonsie Valley to defeat Brother Rice 26-24, 25-11 and finished seventh at the Tiger Classic.
The Lancers are sporting a new look this year under first year coach Tim Murphy. They have abandoned their traditional boardshorts - a favorite of former coach George Sherman -- in favor of predominately white shorts that have a "boardshort-like" stripe on the outside legs.
"It was my decision," said Murphy, who played for Sherman a few years ago. "This is my first year as coach and it's my alma mater. I wanted to keep the tradition there, but maybe not as blinding a tradition."
The Great Lakes Volleyball Center in Aurora will host the 2012 Collegiate Challenge on Saturday, April 14.
Eleven women's teams, including Bradley, Wisconsin, Illinois, Marquette. Iowa, DePaul, Missouri State, Michigan State, UW-Milwaukee, Notre Dame and a team from Tianjin, China, will participate in the tournament.
Play begins at 8:00 a.m. with two pools of four teams and one pool of three teams playing six sets, The pool winners, runners-up and losers from Round 1 will meet in a best two-of-three format beginning at 1:45 p.m.
Prairie Ridge has openings for teams in two girls' tournaments in the fall 2012 - a sophomore tournament on September 15 and a junior varsity tournament on September 29.
For more information, contact Prairie Ridge athletic director Patti Hie at firstname.lastname@example.org or Prairie Ridge coach Stefanie Otto at email@example.com.