St. Francis would have dominated the medal stand - if they had one - Tuesday at the Great Lakes Center in Aurora.
St. Francis' No. 1 team, led by newcomer Maddie Haggerty, Michelle McLaughlin and setter McKenna Kelsay, rallied to defeat Jessica Brezwyn and Hinsdale South 19-25, 25-22, 15-12 to win the Gold bracket of the Tuesday Night Varsity league.
Meanwhile, a few courts down, freshman Molly Haggerty and sophomore Mary Boken were leading St. Francis' White team to a 25-20, 25-18 victory over a Glenbard West team minus its stellar setter Caleigh Ryan in the Silver bracket.
St. Francis coach Peg Kopec knows that with veterans like McLaughlin, Kelsay, defensive specialist Lexi Riccolo and Boken and the addition of the Haggerty sisters expectations will be running high in Wheaton this fall.
"Last year, we were able to fly under the radar," she said. "Nobody ranked us. It was awesome. This year, I feel bad for the kids. I've done this before, but I feel sorry for the kids. There's too much pressure, too many expectations.
"Do they have talent?" added Kopec, who could move within one state title of McAuley's Nancy Pederson (nine) on November 10. "Yes. You can't ignore that. We have some delightful players, and most people would be happy to have some of our delightful players."
But Kopec admitted that her players need a break before their first official practice August 8.
"I told them to take that time, those two weeks away, and make sure you're ready for school," she said. "I don't want them to go ski jumping or anything like that. But they need get time off...a lot of them. Not all of them, but a lot of them."
Any other year, Immaculate Conception would be looking at a bonafide opportunity to win a state championship.
But the IHSA has a funny sense of humor.
Led by the Martino sisters - Elizabeth and Kimberly - and defensive specialist Kathleen Ryan, middle hitter Rory Manion, senior outside hitter Emily Hartnett and junior outside hitter Delaney D'Amore, the Knights defeated Waubonsie Valley 25-19, 25-22 to finish an impressive third at the Tuesday Night Girls Varsity league at the Great Lakes Center.
Immaculate Conception defeated Neuqua Valley 25-23, 25-17 in the quarterfinals before falling to St. Francis 25-18, 25-16 in the semifinals. All of that might bode well for the Knights in other years. But not 2012.
The IHSA's new enrollment classification system in volleyball, which divided the state into four classes with an equal number of teams, propelled longtime Class 2A entry Immaculate Conception solidly into the clutches of Class 3A.
"Do you believe that?" said Immaculate Conception coach Jean Field. "The 3A bracket is what? 560 to 1411, something like that? And the one below us is 250 to 560? How does that make sense?
"We have what, maybe 175 girls, tops?" she added. "They want us to play against teams that have five times as many girls as we do? I understand it's 25, 25, 25, 25. But is that really what's best for the sport?
Meanwhile, IC might have to be content with having its best team since the 1993 team that reached the state quarterfinals.
"Yes, this is probably the best team we've had in a while," Field said. "We do have a nice team. They're scrappy and they're good. We could use a couple of six-foot middles. The kids who are playing middle are doing a nice job for us, but they're not middles.
"Last year, we had middles, but what can you do?" she added. "That's the way volleyball is...you never know from one year to the next. I think we'll do OK in conference (IC got moved up there, too). At least we'll give everybody a run for the money."
But the bad news for area schools did not end at IC. Joining the Knights in the suddenly loaded 3A field are former 2A foes Timothy Christian and Chicago Christian. Conference rival Rosary was pushed into Class 4A, as was 2011 3A semifinalist Marian Catholic.
"It's disappointing," Field said. "You get a good team, but you never know with the IHSA is going to do. You just wonder what's going on. You'd like to see what's best for the sport, but is this it?"
With graduation taking a toll at York, Lyons, Downers Grove North and Hinsdale Central, don't be surprised if Glenbard West emerges as the top team in the West Suburban Conference in 2012.
Coach Pete Mastandrea returns five of his top players from last year's regional finalist - 5-10 senior setter Caleigh Ryan, 5-4 defensive specialist Julie Waggoner, 5-10 senior outside Megan Wagner, 5-10 junior middle Katie Ball and 5-11 senior outside Amanda Perry.
Ryan, who is attending a setter camp in California, missed Glenbard West's loss Tuesday to St. Francis in the Silver bracket final at Great Lakes. The veteran distributor, who also attended a setter camp at Northwestern earlier this summer, should rank as one of the top players in the Chicago area this fall.
"I'm pretty optimistic," Mastandrea said. "We'll have an athletic team, we'll play good defense and we're going to be side-out team again. We'll be a mirror image of last year. We're the kind of that team that can be dangerous."
Meanwhile, Mastandrea could be dangerous around family and friends while waiting for the start of practice August 8.
"There are the worst two weeks of the summer," he said. "I want it to be August 8 in the worst way."
Hopefully, Mastandrea's daughter, Anne, who helped lead Downers Grove South to a state title in 2002 before enjoying a stellar career at Purdue, will provide a calming effect on the Glenbard West bench this season.
Anne will serve as an assistant while working as a teacher's aide at Glenbard West and pursuing a master's degree in education at Lewis University.
"Anne does a nice job with the kids," the elder Mastandrea said. "She has good insight into the game."