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.