By Pat Brozynski

August 2012 Archives

Naperville Central d. Downers Grove North 25-17, 25-16

The Highlight: No. 8 Naperville Central (1-0) used an 8-0 service run by libero Carly Wesolowski to overcome a 6-3 deficit in the second game and defeat Downers Grove North (0-2) Tuesday in Naperville. Six-foot senior middle hitter Sammy Condon had two kills and a block during the run.

The Quote: "There is definitely a sense of urgency this year. Before we started, we talked about this being the last first game of our high school careers. Both teams worked hard tonight. We came out with a bang. I think it was an awesome win. Expectations? Definitely. We're practicing to go all the way to Normal. We're working hard every day. That's the plan and were sticking to it. We know we want to win, but we have to work hard first." - Naperville Central's Alysia Baznik.

The Quote II: "It's experience issue. I'm coaching these girls with high expectations. But this is just match No. 2 and this is a team that's going to have to grow. Even our seniors, relatively speaking, are still figuring this out. It's still early. They'll be 18-year-old seniors by the end of the season. They're just not there yet. We'll continue to learn and get pushed by good quality opponents." - Downers Grove North coach Mark Wasik.

The Statistics: Five-foot-5 senior setter Abbi Williamson led Naperville Central with 15 assists, three kills and three aces. Baznik added four kills and two aces, Condon had six kills and a block (all in the second game) and 6-2 senior outside Kendall Ward added four kills. Six-foot-1 junior Katherine Mahlke led Downers Grove North with seven kills and a block, freshman Mary Helen Beacom added eight assists and an ace and Hanna Rogoz had four kills and two aces.


Chicago Sun-Times 2012 Top 10 Girls Volleyball Teams
(Preseason ranking in parenthesis)

1. Marist 0-1 (1)

OK, everybody is allowed an "oops." Marist's just happened to come in their first match of the season against Hinsdale South. But the Redhawks have too much firepower and too much talent to stay down too long. A trip to Wheaton North Wednesday and a visit by Whitney Young Thursday should be just the tonic for Kelly Marcinek, Mallory Salis & Co. to get back on track. Mark Tuesday, September 11 on your calendar. That's when McAuley pays a visit to 115th and Kedzie.

2. Mother McAuley 1-0 (2)

The Mighty Macs just got past Joliet Catholic 25-23, 29-27 in their season opener Thursday, but that should not be too surprising given the Angels' history, Morgan Reardon's ability and McAuley's youth. At times, the Mighty Macs had four sophomores on the court, including Ryann DeJarld (eight kills, 11 digs), whose kill ended the match. Junior setter Courtney Joyce and 5-11 junior Gabrielle Ennis will have to carry the load until the young sophomores grow up.

3. St. Francis 0-0 (3)

Will the Spartans be able to put a difficult week behind them? The team attended the funeral of former St. Francis standout Megan Boken last week to show their support for sophomore Mary Boken, who is expected to be the team's anchor in the middle with Michelle McLaughlin, Maddie Haggerty and Molly Haggerty handling the hitting chores from the pins. St. Francis opens the season Friday at the Early Bird tournament hosted by Conant.

4. St. Ignatius 2-0 (4)

Everybody knows about 5-11 Wake Forest recruit Sophia Dodd, UIC-bound 6-1 middle blocker Casey Harris, 6-1 Connecticut recruit Camille Evans, 5-11 outside Rachelle Lock and 6-3 sophomore Kristen Somerville. But one of the keys to the Wolfpack's success in 2012 could be 5-8 sophomore setter Kristi May, who finished among the top freshmen around in assists, aces and dig last year. She also played up for 1st Alliance 16 Black during the club season.

5. Benet 6-0 (8)

The defending 4A champions have roared out of the gates by defeating St. Charles East then stopping West Aurora and Wisconsin-bound Lauren Carlini 28-26, 25-23 in the championship match of their own invite. Libero Sheila Doyle was named tournament MVP, but the most pleasant surprise was the play of 6-foot-3 sophomore Rachael Fara, who had three kills and three blocks in the title match. Cara Mattaliano led Benet with 45 kills in five tournament matches.

6. Sandburg 0-0 (5)

A delayed start to the season should give the Eagles plenty of time to work out the kinks, although there should not be many with eight veterans from last year's 32-7 squad including South Florida recruit Dakota Hampton, 6-0 middle blocker Kristy Theisen, 6-0 setter/right side Paige Bendell, libero Kendall Riechman, 6-1 junior Kelly Finlay, 5-9 junior Meghan Hutchinson, 5-9 junior rightside Bridget Lebert and 5-6 sophomore setter Sami Knight. Opens Friday at Lyons.

7. Glenbard West 5-0 (6)

Lost in the hoopla over Glenbard West's big victory over Wheaton Warrenville South in football Saturday was the Hilltoppers' dominating performance at the Wheaton North Blue & Gold invite over the weekend behind all-tournament choices Meg Demaar and Caleigh Ryan. Glenbard West figures to have an easy week with Trinity on tap Wednesday and a visit to Glenbard East on Thursday. Circle Tuesday, September 18, when Glenbard West visits Lyons.

8. Naperville Central 0-0 (7)

The Redhawks open their season at home Tuesday against Downers Grove North, a team that defeated Naperville Central in its season opener last year in Downers Grove. Coach Brie Isaacson will be counting on veterans 5-10 setter/outside hitter Alyssa Baznik, 5-11 middle hitter Sammy Condon, 5-11 middle Nikki Connors, 6-2 outside Kendall Ward, libero Carly Wesolowski and setter Abbi Williamson to hold off West Aurora in the DuPage Valley Conference.

9. Barrington 1-1 (9)

The Fillies sputtered out of the blocks against Stevenson in their opener, but bounced back to down Mundelein behind 5-8 junior Emily Watkins. Six-foot-1 outside Lauren Shechtman is still adjusting to life away from the middle, and 5-11 juniors Christy Roney and Chase Kingwill are still finding their way. But Barrington should still be there at the end, especially if their young middles mature during the course of the season.

10. West Aurora 5-1 (NR)

2011 Sun-Times all-area selection Lauren Carlini was in usual form Saturday against Benet, leading the Blackhawks with eight kills, three blocks and nine assists in the championship match. But West Aurora also got contributions from middles Abriya Zeitz (four blocks) and Nerissa Vogt (three blocks, ace). "When we run our system and we run our plays we look good," coach Kari Nicholson said. "We seem pretty comfortable with our offense, and that makes me feel positive that we can only get better.

Others: Joliet Catholic, Marian Catholic, Providence, Hersey, Libertyville, Lincoln-Way Central, Naperville North, Nazareth, New Trier, Lockport, Lincoln-Way East, Stevenson, Crystal Lake South, Hinsdale South, Lincoln-Way Central, Prairie Ridge, Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Jacobs, Marian Central, Chicago Christian, Immaculate Conception, Rosary.

Quote of the week: "It's good that we had some tight matches to see how the girls will react. There are going to be pressure situations, especially late in the season. The more that we can be in right now with championships on the line, it's only going to help us later in the season." - Benet coach Brad Baker.

Quote II: "We have a lot of fire if we really want it. We can push through. You just have to support each other and come together as a team. When we're individuals, we're not as good. But together, we can be really good." - Waubonsie Valley setter/hitter Rachel Minarick.

All-Tournament Team I: Meg Demaar (Glenbard West), Caleigh Ryan (Glenbard West), Tarah Valdez (Glenbard South), Jane Trzaska (Glenbard South), Lexi Mantas (Stagg), Jill Conrad (Stagg), Joyce Balash( Montini), Natalie Lopez (Montini), Lauren Banbury (Kaneland), Kendra Arenkill (Wheaton North), Mary Cleary (St. Viator), Kelsey Lafin (Andrew), Kaitlynn Zickus (Oak Forest), Alaina Murphy (Buffalo Grove) and Jaelin Mankins (Romeoville).

All-Tournament Team II: Hannah Kaminsky (Benet), Shelia Doyle (Benet), Brittany Pavich (Benet), Lauren Carlini (West Aurora), Peyton McKenzie (West Aurora), Nerissa Vogt (West Aurora), Racheal Minarick (Waubonsie Valley), Noelle Linden (Waubonsie Valley), Melissa Deatsch (York), Rachel Iverson (York), Kiley Rendak (Lemont), Taylor McKeon (Neuqua Valley).

Player of the Week: Lincoln-Way Central 6-foot-3 middle hitter Amanda Dolan had 19 kills in two matches last week including 12 kills in a 19-25, 25-14, 26-24 loss to Normal. Dolan had seven kills (in nine attempts with no errors) in a win over Shepard.

lauren carlini.jpg
Lauren Carlini, a pre-season candidate for Player of the Year, hopes to lead West Aurora to its best-finish ever and a berth in the Class 4A semifinals.


Rachel Hartmann's debut as head coach of her alma mater provided more than a few anxious moments, but Rosary managed to prevail Tuesday in Huntley, 31-29, 25-22, over the Red Raiders.

"We made a lot of errors the first set, but it was great to see the team remain calm and find a way to win," Hartmann said. "Huntley came out very strong in the second set. They served a lot tougher and made us work to earn points.

"But our rhythm came back in our offense, which took some of the pressure off the passers," she added.

Kate Stefanski led Rosary with nine kills and three blocks. Marissa Prochaska added five blocks and Brianna Flagg and Erin Bowe each had five kills. Katie Baki had 14 digs and Jo Gallagher recorded 15 assists.

***

Neuqua Valley finished 21-17 during coach Kelly Simon's 12th year at the reins, but graduation took a heavy toll on the team - including twins Kaitlynn and Leighanne Novak who head to Western Illinois -- and only four players are back from last year's senior-laden team.

The Wildcats will feature senior Taylor McKeown and junior Kayln Hugdahl on the outside, and senior Brooke Antenen setting and playing the rightside. Seniors Allie Clarke and Jenna Marquez also saw playing time in 2011.

Newcomers include setters Kacie Florek and Sydney Powers, attackers Meg Borgehsi, Audrey Kuhn, Stephanie Vas and junior Brena Dunckel, and defensive specialist Jessica Wang.

"We may appear to be in the midst of a rebuilding year, but the cohesiveness and overall team dynamic of this group in the summer and preseason work has proven that they will be a team to be reckoned with," Simon said.

***

Can Lincoln-Way East duplicate last year's record-threatening season?

The Griffins finished with 30 wins last season - the second-most in school history - but graduated three seniors off that team including 5-foot-11 outside hitter Lauren Behrens (St. Peter's College).

Nevertheless, coach Linda Vivona has high hopes for her 2012 squad. Back are 5-6 libero Dana Van Dyck, 5-9 outside hitter Marissa DeGroot and 5-6 outside hitter Sara Buchbach. Van Dyck and Buchback had a very successful summer ion the beach.

Newcomers includes 5-7 junior setter Taylor Nirchi (647 assists, 47 aces in 2011), 5-10 middle Kayla Currier (126 kills in 2011) and 5-10 rightside Jessica Lindsey. A player to watch for Lincoln-Way East is 6-0 freshman middle blocker Sarah Dobrich.

***

Marci Maier begins her 14th season at Glenbard East still looking for the next Amanda Peterson (Ohio State). Meghan Hanewall, a junior outside hitter who had 163 kills, 72 blocks, 43 digs and 11 aces for last year's 9-26 team, might be the next best thing.

Other top players for the Rams are seniors Brittany Peters, Alex Symonds, Megan Cotterill, Kaely Cantua and Hannah Walsh.

***

Former Rosary standout Rachel Hartman returns as head coach at her alma mater just in time to savor the move to Class 4A -- thanks to the IHSA's new enrollment initiative.

But it shouldn't be too painful for Hartman thanks to outside hitter Brianna Flagg, middle hitter Marissa Prochaska, rightside Kate Stefanski, libero Katie Baki, outside hitter Erin Bowe and junior setter Josephine Gallagher.

***

Lemont setter Megan Litoborski may have trouble finding a teammate to double-date to prom with this spring. Her teammates include junior middle hitter Kelly Ferguson and a trio of sophomores - outside hitter Ali Lund and defensive specialists Haley Sullivan and Tess Cannon.

***

Chicago Christian's run of state appearances likely took a hit when the IHSA kicked the Palos Heights' school up to Class 3A.

"Though we already play a tough conference schedule and in the past few years it has proven to really help us succeed at the state finals, this season will be a test to see how we handle a tougher playoff schedule," coach James Garcia said.

"We are a whole lot younger than we've ever been, but we are still hungry, and the girls have shown quite a bit of grit and determination over the summer," he added.

Back from last year's 25-19 Class 2A state runner-up are 5-10 middle hitter Emily Lindemulder (Quincy), who had 274 kills as a junior, 5-11 junior setter Emily Workman (1,025 assists in 2011), and 5-11 junior outside hitter Jessica Krygsheld (204 kills, 215 digs).

***

Timothy Christian coach Lindsey Van Scheppen's team is in the same boat as Chicago Christian and Immaculate Conception after getting kicked up to Class 3A.

"I think the 3A field is only going to become more competitive since so many of our matchups in postseason play last year are also moving up," she said. "Our conference is made up of all 3A schools, so I'm glad we have that competition to prepare us for the postseason.

"We look forward to the challenge, but know that it will be even tougher to make a post season run this year," Van Scheppen added, "I'm already looking forward to seeing the regional matchups for this year."

***

Downers Grove North graduated a pair of Division I players in Jessica Tulacka (Bradley) and Taylor Kasal (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), but does return one of the top recruits from the Class of 2014, Katherine Mahlke.

The 6-1 lefthander has visited Northwestern, Notre Dame and Michigan and has been getting interest from such as Purdue, Missouri, U. of Miami, Xavier, Butler and Miami of Ohio.

Also back is libero Carolyn Nojiri, who has been flying under the radar because she eschewed club volleyball to play softball during the summer.

"Carolyn wants to play volleyball in college," Downers North coach Mark Wasik said. "She will be one of the state's best liberos."

"I suspect we will struggle at times as we will be young, but we look forward to continual improvement and competitiveness," he added.

***

After knocking off powerful Benet in the sectional finals two years ago, Hinsdale South entered the 2011 season ranked No. 2 in the Chicago area. However, the Hornets were never able to recapture the magic of that 2011 season and were stung by Whitney Young in the regional finals, 24-26, 25-14, 25-20.

But South coach Lisa Martinez likes what she has seen out of her current group, which features 5-9 outside hitter Jessica Brezwyn.

"This could be our strongest year ever based on experience and talent," Martinez said. "We are not huge and losing Melissa Nava stings a bit, but three of the seniors have been with me since they were freshman and three more since they were sophomores.

"They are hungry, especially after the letdown last year," she added.

Other players to watch for Hinsdale South this fall are 5-8 setter Sharon Anderson, 5-11 outside hitter Rachel Kent, 5-6 leftside/setter Emily Mihalkinan and 5-11 junior middle hitter Jackie Adelphia.

"I cannot wait for the season to start and come out hungry ready to really make splash." Martinez said. "Slow and steady, we will work to win the race at the end. We want the big show this year."

***

On the other side of Route 83, Kelly Moran takes over for Sheralynn Kellough at Hinsdale Central and inherits one of the top setters around in 6-3 Meghan McDowell, a University of Virginia recruit.

McDowell spent much of last season in a walking boot after doctors discovered two complete ligament tears and one smaller tear in her right foot. But she had an outstanding spring and summer for Sports Performance 17 Mizuno and gives Moran reason for optimism.

One of McDowell's favorite targets this fall figures to be Dominique Millette, a 6-3 middle hitter who played club for New Wave 17 Tornado. Other players to watch are libero Rachel Lenderman and sophomore outside hitter Lauren Fuller.

***

Jacobs beat Fox Valley conference rivals Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge, Huntley and Crystal Lake Central last year. Now, the Eagles want to make some noise in the postseason, too.

Top returnees for Jacobs from last year's 24-12 team are 5-10 outside hitter Alyssa Ehrhardt (370 kills , 72 aces in 2011), 5-7 outside hitter Maris Smith (169 kills, 225 digs) and 5-7 setter Taylor Lauder (671 assists, 26 kills).

Other players to watch include 5-5 sophomore libero Kassie Kasper, 5-9 middle/opposite Rachel Arceneaux, Senior, 6-0 freshman middle Katie Mahoney, 5-8 middle/opposite Alyssia Dugo, 6-0 sophomore opposite Jenna Bilgrien and 5-3 junior setter Mackenzie Traub.

***

Another Fox Valley team that figures to be much improved this fall is Prairie Ridge, which finished 18-19 last year team but lost only two starters to graduation.

Looking to return the Wolves to the top of the FVC are 5-11 setter/opposite Mackenzi Humm, 5-10 setter/outside Caitlin Brauneis, 5-8 junior outside/setter Taylor Otto, libero Paige Dacanay, and 5-6 junior defensive specialist Nikki Kirchberg.

Also expected to see a lot of playing time are 5-10 junior outside hitter Kennedy McNeil, 5-10 sophomore middle hitter Ali Witt and 6-3 junior middle blocker Maddie Drain.

***

Plainfield Central graduated seven seniors from a 20-15 team that reached the sectional finals before losing to eventual state champion Benet.

But Central does return two outstanding players in sophomore Elizabeth Hyland (110 kills, 25 aces, 61 digs in 2011) and outside hitter Shannon Hagen (177 kills, 67 blocks as a junior).

"Our program had a lot to be proud of last year and we are hoping for some new leaders to emerge with our young talent," coach Jessica Clark said.

***

Palatine coach Daniel Gavin is looking to improve upon last year's 19-17 record behind 6-3 senior outside hitter Taylor Fricano, a Dayton recruit, and 5-7 libero Casey Dolen (uncommitted).

Fricano had 167 kills and 29 blocks as a junior while Dolen, a three-year varsity starter, had 422 digs, 39 aces and 397 serve receptions at a 2.12 clip.

"We have experience on the pins and defensively in the backcourt and should have a good amount of size," Gavin said. "We had a good summer, finishing third in the Sky High summer league at Prairie Stone behind Stevenson and Hersey.

"The Mid-Suburban League is always extremely competitive, but I feel like with the mix we have we should be in the thick of things," he added.

***

The Metea Valley Mustangs may not always be physically ready to face teams like St. Charles East. St. Charles North, Batavia, Geneva, Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley in the Upstate Eight Conference. But they should always be mentally ready.

In addition to being the team's first-year coach, Janine Wange is also the school's psychologist.

Metea lost Sun-Times All-Area choice Jessica Boddy to graduation, so Wange will turn to 5-5 senior libero Alyssa Ensminger, 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Lexie Lobdell and 5-9 junior setter Ellie Petersen.

***

How are things in Lake Forest? Let's just say there are a lot of new faces in the team photo.

"We have no returning starters or contributors from last year's 33-5 team," coach Ray Werner said, who will look to 5-9 junior outside hitter Katie Huguenard to pick up some of the slack left behind by the graduation of Sun-Times All-Area selection Mary Streidl.

***

Life without four-year starter Julia Conard (Illinois) begins for West Chicago coach Kristi Hasty. But not all is lost. Hasty does welcome back sisters Kayla (libero) and Mary Kate (Junior setter/outside hitter) Katarzynski.

Kayla, a 5-4 senior, was a member of Sky High 17 Red team that won the AAU National Championship in the club division.

"Kayla will be a leader on our team this year," Hasty said. "Mary Kate is a fierce competitor. We are also hoping for big things from (6-3 outside hitter) Andrea Skipor."

***

St. Charles East may have trouble following up a 35-7 season that ended with a third-place finish in Class 4A after graduating eight seniors from last year's team, including seven who are playing in college.

But Jennie Kull's Saints have a way of beating the odds (remember the 2008 Class 4A state championship game against Benet?) and 2012 may be no different.

Back to bolster East's hopes are outside hitter and Memphis recruit Nicole Woods, setter Erienne Barry (Western Michigan) and uncommitted outside hitter Caitlyn Ballard.

***

Former Naperville Central star Meghan Bray is among several former Chicago-area standouts playing their college ball at Oakland (Mich.) University, which was picked third in the 2012 preseason balloting by Summit League coaches.

As a junior, Bray was an All-Summit League First Team selection and the first Oakland player to be named to the Summit League All-Tournament Team. She set a school record in the Division I era with 389 kills and was second on the team with 358 digs.

Other Chicago-area players on the Oakland roster are freshman defensive specialist Mary Grassano (St. Ignatius), sophomore outside Taylor Humm (Prairie Ridge), senior outside Amber Miehlke (Lake Zurich) and junior setter Alissa Valentine (Naperville North).

Doyle.jpg

Benet libero Sheila Doyle (center) has verbally committed to play at the University of North Carolina next fall.

The first tournament of the season gets underway Wednesday, August 22 when 12 teams, including Glenbard West, participate in the 2012 Blue & Gold Tournament hosted by Wheaton North.

Pool play begins at 4:30 p.m. and continues at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Glenbard West's pool includes Glenbard South and Romeoville. Other participating teams include Stagg, Andrew, Montini and Oak Forest.

Play continues Saturday with the top eight teams moving on to bracket play beginning at 8:30 p.m. The championship is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. The four remaining teams will play a round-robin format beginning at 9:30 p.m.

Oak Forest is coming off a 22-16 season including a 12-1 finish South Suburban Conference finish, good for a share of first place. However, coach Amanda Brown lost a talented senior class from that regional championship team.

"We're looking for our returning players to really step up their game," Brown said. "We have a solid core, but were missing a few key components. A lot will depend on the progress some of the younger, less experienced players make...and how they can make it."

The top returnee is 5-foot-9 all-conference setter Kate Zickus, who finished the 2011 campaign with 721 assists, 53 aces and 57 blocks. Brown is looking to 5-7 senior outside Cassidy Staunton, 5-11 senior middle Kathy Flanagan and 5-9 sophomore outside Alissa Tattas to take the next step.

Flanagan is currently out with a stress fracture in her foot, and another potential starter, rightside Allison Rodgers, is recovering from a knee injury.

"We have our work cut out for us," Brown said. "But we know that these girls are up for the challenge."

***

One team's good fortune is always another team's misfortune.

Minooka, which was 29-5 last year and 14-0 in the Suburban Prairie Conference, picked up 6-1 senior transfer Lacey Hill from Providence. Coach Chris Hoelscher is hoping that Hill can fill the void left by the graduation of 6-1 Stacey Perinar (Eastern Michigan).

"Our season outlook improved when Hill walked in the door," Hoelscher said. "She gives us another powerful attacker. "

Back from a team that lost to Edwardsville in the sectional final in 2011 are 5-11 middle Tessa Griparis, 5-10 junior outside Skyler Day, 5-11 sophomore middle hitter Jessica Karalow and 5-8 libero Kasey Schumacher (SIU-Edwardsville).

"Kasey is a solid passer with the ability to cover a great deal of the court," Hoelscher said. "Our biggest question is at setter."

Senior Kelli Holstine, junior Brenna Perinar and sophomore Kelly Clucas are vting to replace Bri Marquez (Montavello University).

***

Benet senior Sheila Doyle of LaGrange Park has verbally committed to play Division I volleyball for North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Doyle is a 5-foot-5 libero who plays for 1st Alliance VBC.

"I am thrilled for the opportunity to attend University of North Carolina," Doyle said. "The school's excellent academic reputation provides the perfect setting for my college career."

Doyle was a starter on Benet's 2011 Class 4A championship team that finished ranked No. 6 in the nation by ESPN and No. 11 by Prepvolleyball.com. Her 1st Alliance 17 Silver team recently finished 10th in the 17 Open division at the AAU National Championships.

"Sheila has worked extremely hard to become one of the best liberos in the state," Benet coach Brad Baker said. "Sheila is young in terms of how many years she has been playing volleyball, but she already plays defense and serves receive at an elite level.

"Her upside and potential are extremely high, which makes her future at North Carolina very bright," Baker added.

Doyle was recently named to the Prepvolleyball.com "Defensive Dandies" list as one of the best defenders in the nation.

***

Palatine coach Daniel Gavin is looking to improve upon last year's 19-17 record behind 6-3 senior outside hitter Taylor Fricano, a Dayton recruit, and 5-7 libero Casey Dolen (uncommitted).

Fricano had 167 kills and 29 blocks as a junior while Dolen, a three-year varsity starter, had 422 digs, 39 aces and 397 serve receptions at a 2.12 clip.

"We have experience on the pins and defensively in the backcourt and should have a good amount of size," Gavin said. "We had a good summer, finishing third in the Sky High summer league at Prairie Stone behind Stevenson and Hersey.

"The Mid-Suburban League is always extremely competitive, but I feel like with the mix we have we should be in the thick of things."

***

The Metea Valley Mustangs may not always be physically ready to face teams like St. Charles East. St. Charles North, Batavia, Geneva, Waubonsie Valley and Neuqua Valley in the Upstate Eight Conference. But they should always be mentally ready.

In addition to being the team's first-year coach, Janine Wange is also the school's psychologist.

Metea lost Sun-Times All-Area choice Jessica Boddy to graduation, so Wange will turn to 5-5 senior libero Alyssa Ensminger, 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Lexie Lobdell and 5-9 junior setter Ellie Petersen.

***

How are things in Lake Forest? Let's just say there are a lot of new faces in the team photo.

"We have no returning starters or contributors from last year's 33-5 team," coach Ray Werner said, who will look to 5-9 junior outside hitter Katie Huguenard to pick up some of the slack left behind by the graduation of Sun-Times All-Area selection Mary Streidl.

***

Life without four-year starter Julia Conard (Illinois) begins for West Chicago coach Kristi Hasty. But not all is lost. Hasty does welcome back sisters Kayla (libero) and Mary Kate (Junior setter/outside hitter) Katarzynski.

Kayla, a 5-4 senior, was a member of Sky High 17 Red team that won the AAU National Championship in the club division.

"Kayla will be a leader on our team this year," Hasty said. "Mary Kate is a fierce competitor. We are also hoping for big things from (6-3 outside hitter) Andrea Skipor."

***

St. Charles East may have trouble following up a 35-7 season that ended with a third-place finish in Class 4A after graduating eight seniors from last year's team, including seven who are playing in college.

But Jennie Kull's Saints have a way of beating the odds (remember the 2008 Class 4A state championship game against Benet?) and 2012 may be no different.

Back to bolster East's hopes are outside hitter and Memphis recruit Nicole Woods, setter Erienne Barry (Western Michigan) and uncommitted outside hitter Caitlyn Ballard.

The IHSA's new enrollment initiative in volleyball - dividing the four classes up equally - was not met with much enthusiasm in Palos Heights.

Chicago Christian, which finished second in Class 2A last year after winning it all in 2010, was among the schools kicked up to Class 3A.

"This season will be a true test for us," coach James Garcia said.

"Though we already play a tough conference schedule (St. Francis, Marian Central, Rosary, Aurora Central Catholic, Montini) and in the past it has helped us succeed at state, this season will be a test to see how we handle a tougher playoff schedule," he added.

With an actual enrollment of 364 students (multiplied to 600), Chicago Christian will compete with schools that have nearly five times as many girls.

The new 3A field (for enrollments of 531-1411) will also include 2011 2A champion Quincy Notre Dame (387 students multiplied to 638) and 2011 third-place finisher Breese Central (586 actual students).

Chicago-area schools affected include Timothy Christian and Immaculate Conception, both of which would have been contenders in 2A this year.

But non-public schools aren't the only ones affected by the initiative. Downstate volleyball powers Benton and Columbia, both of which have made state appearances in Class 2A recently and met for a sectional title in 2011, were also bumped up to 3A.

And don't think area big schools weren't affected, either. Marian Catholic, Lemont and Crystal Lake Central are now 4A schools, and depending on how the IHSA stretches its rubberbands, teams like Cary-Grove, Huntley and Prairie Ridge could have a new sectional playmate in Rockford Boylan.

Boylan finished 30-4 last year in 3A and returns virtually intact. The Titans also have one of the best juniors in the state in 6-foot-1 setter/outside hitter and two-time All-American Bryanna Weiskircher, who is verbally committed to Penn State.

"We had an opportunity last year being down in 3A because of the multiplier waiver, but we were just not mentally ready to walk through that door," Boylan coach Amanda Carlson said. "Our hope is that this time around everyone's significant club experience has toughened them up."

***

None of this enrollment bugaboo matters much at Montini, which has been solidly entrenched in 3A for a long time. But when people talked about Montini and girls sports, the conversation invariably turned to basketball.

Now, the volleyball team is beginning to generate some buzz.

Last year's team, comprise primarily of underclassmen including three sophomores, finished 14-21. Those three sophomores were each named to Prepvolleyball.com's Soph 79, a list of the top sophomores playing varsity in the country.

Leading the Broncos will be 6-foot-1 middle blocker Joyce Balash, who had 149 kills and was named all-conference in 2011.

"Joyce already showed us in her sophomore season that she had the ability and skill to dominate at the net," head coach Steve Dowjotas said. "I feel that this season, Joyce will prove to many people that she is among the best in the state at her position."

Five-foot-6 libero Bridget Lucas and 5-8 outside Natalie Lopez also cracked the Prepvolleyball.com list, which could include 5-11 outside hitter Monica Loftus this offseason. Loftus had an impact as a freshman with 107 kills and 15 solo blocks.

Meanwhile, 5-10 senior Kyle Hodyl, who was converted from an attacker midway through last season, returns for her first full season at setter.

"Kyle has excellent hands and a very high volleyball IQ, which is what you need in a setter," Dowjotas said. "Kyle knows where she needs to set the ball in order to give her hitters the greatest opportunity for a kill because she used to play those positions."

***

Thanks to 1st Alliance Volleyball Club director Beth Keck for pointing out that 1st Alliance and Sports Performance were among just nine teams nationwide that had teams ranked in the top 30 in each age group by Prepvolleyball.com.

1st Alliance's 15-1 team was ranked 18th in the country, the 16 Silver team was ranked 27th, the 17 Silver team was ninth and the 18 Silver team was 11th for an average ranking of 16.25, good for sixth place on the list.

Sports Performance's 15 Elite team was ranked 27th, the 16 Elite team was ranked 11th, the 17 Elite team was 26th and the 18 Elite team finished fifth in Prepvolleyball.com's final ranking for an average of 17.25, good for seventh place overall.

"I think this really shows the strength of Chicago area players," Keck said.

Texas Advantage Volleyball Club led all clubs nationwide with an average ranking of 7.75. Its 15s and 17s teams were both ranked second overall.

Bolingbrook has been a girls basketball powerhouse for so long it's difficult to remember when the Raiders were a force in volleyball.

Maybe never.

Maybe now.

Bolingbrook appears poised to break into the ranks of the state's better volleyball programs thanks to coach Andrea Bercot and a commitment on the part of its players to participate in club volleyball during the off-season.

One of Bolingbrook's top players - 5-10 senior Ciara Hill - played on Sports Performance's 18 Elite team that finished third at the AAU nationals, while 5-9 junior Krissa Gearing played on the SPVB 16 Elite team that finished fifth in the 16 Open division in Orlando.

Other top players were also busy during the club season. Five-foot-11 senior setter/rightside Marissa Markus played for Spri's No. 2 17s team, and 5-8 senior outside hitter Alexa Piekarski played for Illinois Performance Volleyball's 17 Black team.

"It's exciting," Bercot said after watching her team reach the Gold division quarterfinals of the Thursday Girls Varsity League at the Great Lakes Center. "Three girls played at Sports Performance and everybody else played club somewhere. It's going to help a lot."

Bolingbrook finished 13-20-1 last season. In girls basketball at Bolingbrook, that would have been considered a debacle. In volleyball, it's a step forward.

"Bolingbrook has always had a losing season in volleyball," Bercot said. "It's always had a reputation and we're always going to have that ugly shadow over us. But I want the girls to work through that this year, and if I had to sum up the one thing that it's going to take...it's confidence.

"I want them to see that they can keep up with the best teams in the state, that they are one of the best and they should ride that confidence and play hard and not worry about the past," she added. "If they can do that, then this year could be a breakthrough season.

"Hopefully, this season can be a huge turning point for the direction of the program, that we will no longer be thought of as losers, that we can compete, we can win, and we can have a whole different mentality approaching each game."

Bolingbrook has already taken a huge step forward this summer by learning how to win on the tough summer stage at Great Lakes.

"Learning to win and having that closing mentality where they say. 'Give me the ball. I can do this. I will do this' instead of the mentality 'I hope I can do this,'" is important," Bercot said. "I feel that's where we have been when we've been in tight situations. It's always been, 'I hope I can do this.'

"Hopefully, we will shift it to 'I can. I will.'"

Bolingbrook will face a number of severe tests early this fall, facing the likes of Neuqua Valley, Oswego East, Batavia and Joliet Catholic during the non-conference portion of its schedule. The Raiders then wrap up the regular season with an overnight trip to the United Township tournament in Moline.

"That tournament at the end of the season is good for us," Bercot said. "It allows us to reconnect as a team right before the state tournament."

Meanwhile, Bercot is hoping that her seniors step up and take ownership of a team that could establish a new tradition at Bolingbrook.

"We've been talking back and forth," Bercot said. "It's something they have to do. But how are they going to handle this newfound pressure now that they're the leaders and all eyes are on them? I think that's an adjustment they can handle."

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