A new era begins at Marist with Bob St. Leger leaving for Wheaton North and six-year assistant Jodi Frigo moving into the lead role. But according to Frigo, the atmosphere around the locker room is still the same and Marist should not miss a beat.
Leading the five-time defending East Suburban Catholic Conference champions will be four returning starters from last year's 23-12 team, including setter Mike Schreiber, outside hitter John Yerkes (171 kills last year), middle hitter Connor O'Neill and junior middle hitter Matt Munro.
"What makes us so great this year is we have a nice spread offense with hitters all capable of putting a ball away," Frigo said. "Hopefully, we are able to frustrate teams with this and set ourselves up with many 1 on 1 hitting opportunities."
Five-time defending North Suburban Conference champion Vernon Hills graduated two Sun-Times All-Area players Martin Niemczewski and Thomas Robinson from last year's 32-5 team, which dropped a tough regional final to Zion-Benton.
But according to coach Chris Curry, that loss has served as motivation for a lot of the guys in the off-season.
Back for the Cougars are middle hitter Evan Borden, libero Chris Edwards, juniors setter Ryan Opitz (765 assists, 38 kills), junior outside hitter Mike Heinz and junior middle Max Spiglanin (129 kills, good for third on the team).
"We hope to keep ourselves in the mix for the conference title," Curry said. "Some of these guys were on the team that made it to state in 2011, and they've been working hard to get that experience again. Stevenson once again looks like the team to beat in the NSC, as they were last year."
Six-foot-8 Tommy Leonard and outside Jeff Hochstein graduated from Barrington's 34-7 team that finished third in the state last year, but coach Rob Ridenour has some key players returning as the Broncos look to do business again in 2013.
Back are 6-foot-4 opposite Charlie Spry, an all-conference selection last year, 6-6 Peter Van Fossan, who was a member of the USAV A2 National Team, and 6-3 outside Kevin Eiring.
Spry and Van Fossan made the hour-plus trip to Orland Park during the summer to play for Ultimate 18 Gold.
"The biggest strength of this team is our overall athleticism and blocking," Ridenour said. "The key for us will be the development of our ball control. When we pass, we are pretty physical. Spry, in my opinion, is one of the best opposites in the state."
Evanston had a less than memorable year in 2012, finishing 12-25. But things are looking up on the north shore.
"This is the strongest team we've had in a few years," coach Mike McDermott said. "We have a confident, skilled group with excellent leadership. Our strengths should be our offense, our blocking, and our energy. We should be able to attack from anywhere on the court."
Veterans include 6-4 setter John Corydon, 5-11 libero Romell Harris, 6-8 rightside Mazzin Ajamia, 6-6 sophomore middle Xavier Ajamia, 6-3 middle Conor McDermott and 6-5 senior middle Desi Cleland.
"This group has already gelled as a team and I am excited to see what they can do by the end of the season," McDermott said."
Warren, 20-16 a year ago, has a lot of club experience, but not much playing experience, according to coach Yun Chen.
"I'm hoping with their club experience will translate to a successful season," Chen said.
Warren will be led by junior middle hitter Max Bongratz (81 kills, 49 blocks in 2012), junior outside hitter Bryant Holland, junior setter Arvind Kouta and senior setter Sam Wilson.
Sandburg's season got off to a tough start even before the Eagles took the court. Senior setter Nick Bendell, one of the best setters in the state who is committed to Harvard, will miss the entire season after back surgery.
But coach Sean Airola will find a way to get it done with a host of veterans from last year's 25-10 team incuding Lewis recruit 6-10 middle John Hodul, 6-3 Ball State recruit Mike Scannell, veteran libero Kyle Burke, and returning outside Paul Chmura.
"We will be better than last year," Airola said. "All of our 14 guys play at Ultimate and D1 Southside clubs. Four players are committed to playing at the collegiate level and have all around athleticism. We have middles with size and two outsides that great verticals and ball control."
Matt Hunt takes over at Oak Lawn, which has enjoyed a lot of success through the years and should rebound from last year's 16-17 subpar season. Oak Lawn has four returning starters led by Marc Hansen, a four-year varsity player who toiled in the offseason for Ultimate 18 Gold.
The good news for Lincoln-Way Central? Five seniors are back who saw significant playing time for the 23-14 Knights. The bad news? Sandburg, Lincoln-Way East, Lincoln-Way North and a brutal schedule that includes the Tiger Classic.
The Knights, under first-year coach Brian Danielson, will be led by Ball State recruit Austin Overby and Lakeland College recruit Matt Nawa. Matt Clark is back at setter.
Six-foot-5 Nick Timrick will play a big role for Downers Grove South, which was 25-11 last year including 5-1 in the West Suburban Gold division. Timrick is one of seven players who have varsity experience for the Mustangs.
"Nick brings back a lot of experience in that middle position for us," coach Kurt Steuer said. "I believe one of Nick's strongest talents is the ability to hit angles. We are looking for him to be a leader on the court with his presence in the middle for us."
Also back are libero David DeMarco and junior defensive specialist Tyler Zowaski. Watch 6-5 sophomore Will Tishler.
St. Rita welcomes back four starters from the team that reached the IHSA quarterfinals last year - setter Thomas McDermott, rightside Dan O'Keefe, leftside Kevin Banky and middle hitter Billy White. O'Keefe was second on the team in kills last year and will be a big part of the Mustangs' offense this year.
Three starters return for Naperville North, which was 25-11 last season after advancing to the championship game in 2011. The biggest among them is 6-6 setter and Lewis recruit Gert Lisha, who played for Sports Performance's 18-1 team.
Also back for the Huskies are 6-4 outside Dan Koch and 5-10 libero Nikolai Jackowski, Expected to contribute in 2013 are 6-2 outside Brennan Wiest, 6-4 opposite Scott Boyk and 6-4 junior middle hitter Kevin Figge.
"We will have a much more balanced attack than we have had in the past," coach Nate Bornancin said. "We return two primary passers and our second libero is strong in serve receive as well."
Elk Grove went 31-8 last year, a school record for wins. The Grenadiers shared the Mid-Suburban East title with Buffalo Grove at 8-2 and reached the sectional finals before losing to Lake Park.
But duplicating those feats will be difficult. Elk Grove graduated Sun-TImes second team all-area player and MSL East Player of the Year Mike Kawa, as well as all conference performers Aaron Kraus and Jeff Miceli.
Top returning starters from last year are 6-foot-5 middle Jake Gatziolis, 5-10 outside Jake Braceros, 5-8 libero Matt McKenna and 5-10 junior defensive specialist Karl Freidenfelds. The Grens will count on 6-5 sophomores Sam Jasutis, setter Ray Kraus and outside Kevin Wickstrom.
"We look to be very competitive as the younger players gel with the upperclassman," coach Daniel Windholz said.
Bolingbrook did something last year it had never done before. The Raiders reached the regional championship match.
"Last year's team set the bar very high for the program," coach Andrea Bercot said. "I know the previous team has made a huge impression on this current team. But we are a very young and inexperienced with only two starters returning this season."
Top returnees for Bolingbrook are junior outside hitter Christian Ales, rightside hitter Ryo Shibata and junior outside Joseff Glass. Top newcomers are sophomore setter Enrique Barajas and middle blocker Caleb Munson.
With only two starters returning, Plainfield North coach Kevin Vesper has some holes to fill.
"We are a very young and talented," he said. "We have four sophomores on the team that will play important roles during the season. We will be running an entirely new offense this year. I am very excited to see where this team goes in the future. The ceiling is as high as they want it to be."
Middle hitters Doug Aremka and Alenjandro Robles, both juniors, are the only starters back from a year ago. Newcomers include sophomore Mitch Chapman, sophomore libero Chris Paige, and setters Shane Yeo and Sam Gaik.
Stagg's Kamil Barnas, a 6-3 outside hitter, is getting look-sees from a number of schools. But for now, his main goal is to lead the Chargers to a better season than a year ago when Stagg went 14-22 overall.
"We return four key starters, including (Barnas), who is currently being actively pursued by a number of colleges," coach Lauren Royer said. "All our frontrow players are 6-foot-3 or above, our libero is consistent and able to read various hitting styles, and we have a well-developed setter.
"Our middle hitters have room for improvement, but where they lack in experience, they make up for in hard work," she added. "I can honestly say that this team will prove to be a much bigger threat than people have seen in years past."
Stagg's lineup will feature 6-3 outside Mike Scatena, 6-3 setter Matt Meyering and 6-5 rightside Danny Naughton. Ben Tocila, a 6-3 transfer from Richards, and 5-8 libero Sean Runyon will also contribute.
Marty Ross cast a big shadow on the Providence volleyball program. At 6-9, he cast a big shadow wherever he went.
This spring, the Celtics will turn to 6-5 Brendan Surane, who travelled with the U.S. Boys' Youth National Volleyball Team that defeated Puerto Rico, 22-25, 25-19, 25-11, 26-28, 15-7 to finish third in the NORCECA Boys' Youth Continental Championships last summer.
Surane finished the 2012 season with 145 kills, 125 blocks and 21 aces. He will be supported by returning junior setter Dan Niemiec (more than 300 assists while running a 6-2 offense) outside hitter Matt Martensen and opposite hitter Jordan Houston.
The Celtics are also looking for big things from second-year varsity players Tim Doughney (middle blocker) and libero Michael Tucker.
23 = the number of wins Neuqua Valley had last year. 10 = the number of losses it suffered. 0 = the number of returning starters from the team that finished 4-1 in the Valley division of the Upstate Eight Conference and won the league title.
"We are not returning any starters from last year's team, but we have six members that were non-starters coming back," coach Erich Mendoza said. "The remaining players are coming off a junior varsity team that enjoyed a successful season last year (31-2 and conference champions)."
"Our outsides and middles are aggressive while our defense provides solid passing," he added. "We are working on consistency from our serve receive. "
Maine East finished the 2012 season with a 22-15 record and was 5-5 in the Central Suburban League North. That's the good news.
The bad news?
"After graduating seven seniors, we will be young," coach Jon Kulesza said.
Kulesza will build his team around senior outside Maciek Otfinowski, who was third on the team in kills a year ago with 182.
West Aurora said farewell to one of the best defensive players around in libero Patrick Ronan, all-conference hitter Eric Roggeman and two-year starter David Vasquez from last year's 23-13 team that won the Blackhawk and Fremd Invites and finished fourth in the DuPage Valley Conference.
Coach Tolis Koskinaris will build around senior middle hitter James McGrath (144 Kills, 95 Blocks in 2012), junior outside hitter Timothy Lambert and senior libero Sean Kent, and hope for help from junior outside Lucas Kilmer, junior rightside Michael Mascetti, and freshmen Adam Fitzgerald and Justin Reynolds.
The schedule-makers were kind to West Aurora, The Blackhawks play their first seven matches at home and don't leave West Aurora until mid-April.
Downers Grove North has bid farewell to some talented players the past two years, including Zach Parik (Penn State), Greg Petty (Lewis), JP Tulacka (Carthage) and Chris George (Nazareth).
Those are some big shoes to fill. But coach Mark Wasik is undeterred.
"I am looking forward to a promising season with a young but talented team," he said. "I am excited about the high baseline of skill and talent that this team brings to the gym. Every team member comes in having made tremendous strides during their club seasons."
Veterans back from last year's team that had WW South down 1-0 and led 20-15 in a sectional semifinal are Brooks Nevrly (Dominican), a three-year varsity libero, outside Gilius Blinstrubas (Sienna Heights) and setter Tyler Saieg (Carthage). Also watch junior outside Tom Sarver.
"A lot remains to be seen as this team is untested," Wasik said. "Yet I know there is enough skill and desire to build on for a highly successful season. I am excited for the potential."
Deerfield went 18-14 last year and reached the regional finals before losing to Barrington. Back from that team are junior outside John Harlan, senior opposite Kennison Ready, junior middle Eli Schmidt and junior outside hitter Zach Hara. The quartet will be directed by senior setter Jordan Fine.
"The four returning hitters all played quite a bit during the offseason at Adversity Volleyball Club and the other guys on the team all played at other clubs." Coach Eugene Chung said. "We're hoping for a strong season as long as we can stay healthy."
Chung is keeping an eye on junior outside Adam Nadler, who is recovering from an injury that may keep him out of the first part of the season.
Lyons will look to improve upon last year's 21-14 record behind 6-3 junior setter Marko Kostich, who had 222 assists, 68 kills and 148 digs in the Lions' 6-2 offense. Also back are 6-4 senior outside Clayton Smentek and 6-4 senior middle hitter Aidan Spangler.
Other players who should see time include 6-6 senior middle Ryan Temple, senior defensive specialist Dom Faust, 6-3 senior outside hitter Kyle Smuda and 6-7 senior middle hitter Gabe Fisher. Six-foot-2 junior outside Michael Dean was brought up to varsity late last year.
"With Marko returning as setter and with a huge lineup at the net, we will look to earn our points at the net," Lyons coach Joann Pyritz said.
Former Marist coach Bob St. Leger takes over at Wheaton North, which won a regional title a year ago. Back from that team are junior setter Hank Bowen, senior all-conference outside hitter Zach Sinn and junior middle hitter Graham Clark.
Addison Trail will look to improve upon last year's 23-15 record and regional championship behind 6-4 sophomore rightside Alex Dickman (255 kills, 56 blocks in 2012), who played on junior national team over the summer, 6-0 senior outside Matt Hernet and 6-3 junior setter Kevin Grygo.
Lake Park lost a heartbreaker to Barrington in the state quarterfinals in 2012 to finish 27-11. Second-year coach Tim Murphy, a 1998 graduate of Lake Park, hopes to take the Lancers one step further in 2013 behind senior outside Dillon Hock.
"Dillon is a top tier outside hitter in the state," Murphy said. "He is 6-foot-4 with a great vertical, a textbook arm swing and plenty of varsity experience. He will be an integral part of our team."
Other returnees include junior middle Sean Moore, junior setter Quin Krisik and junior outside Jeff Yost. Top newcomers include junior opposite Shawn Fritsche, junior outside Dominick Terry, junior libero Anthony Amore and junior middle Derek Burke.
"I have high expectations for this season," Murphy said. "We are a junior-heavy team, which gives us room for growth when dealing with experience on the court. This team has dedicated themselves in the offseason. I believe that we have the physical talent to be a strong volleyball team in the state."
Loyola Academy finished 28-10 last season and stunned New Trier 26-24, 25-23 to win its third regional title in the last four years. This spring, the Ramblers hope to challenge Brother Rice in the Catholic League and make a run at a sectional title.
Leading the way will be 6-7 junior David Wieczorek, who had 291 kills as a sophomore and grew two inches since last season. Also back are senior outside hitter Sean Barry and 6-5 senior setter James McCabe.
Top newcomers include junior libero Collin Merk and 6-6 sophomore middle Jakub Mazurek.
Maine South will look (up) to 6-8 Nate Wolf and 6-3 Michael Hopkins to lead it back to the lofty heights it enjoyed last year when it went 27-11 and finished second in the Central Suburban League South division.
Wolf finished the 2012 season with 190 kills, 38 blocks and 22 Aces. Hopkins added 124 kills, 41 blocks and 12 aces. Also back are senior rightside Michael McGovern, senior middle hitter Andy Wawrzyniak and junior outside hitter John Palucki.
"I think we will be very strong in the Central Suburban League South," coach Gary Grannell said. "Even though we only are returning two starters, we will have an experienced group many of whom played on the same club team. They are very accustomed to each other. I hope that works in our favor."
Benet had a strong campaign in 2012, finishing 28-9 overall including 6-2 in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and reaching the sectional semifinals before losing to homestanding Glenbard East.
Back to make another run at the sectional title are 6-1 outside Sawyer Yeazel, 6-4 middle blocker Mike Jurkash, 6-1 libero Mike Robinson and 6-4 junior middle blocker Garrett Metzger. Top newcomers are 6-8 junior outside Ricky Gevis, 6-1 sophomore outside Scott Kleiser and freshman setter Ben Mazza.
"I am excited about the leadership and dedication of my returning players, as well as the young talent that has joined our team this year," coach Amy Van Eekeren said.
Glenbard West went 31-6 including 6-0 in the West Suburban Conference Silver division before losing to Benet in the regional championship.
Graduation decimated Glenbard West. But 6-4 outside hitter Johnny Davis and 6-3 outside hitter/setter Jacob Stone are back to nurse the team's youngsters along.
"Davis is looking to be one of the top outside hitters in the area," coach Christine Giunta-Mayer said. "He is fired up for the season and should provide us with power in the front row. Stone was a utility player who set for us and was a defensive specialist and now moves outside.
"We are going to see a different Glenbard West team this spring," she added. "We used to have a huge front line often referred to as the "Tree Toppers." But this year defense will be the major focus of the season."
Glenbard West will also be young with three seniors, 12 juniors and two sophomores.
Ken Dowdy begins his third season at York after going 15-18 in 2012 and finishing 2-4 in the West Suburban Silver.
"We expect to challenge for a conference and regional title with a young but experienced team with six juniors who saw time last year on varsity as sophomores," he said. " While we may struggle at the beginning of the season, we expect to be hitting on all cylinders as the season progresses."
Key returning players for the Dukes are junior outside hitter Jason Bowles (105 kills, 17 aces, 71 digs in 2012), senior outside Anthony Cano, junior libero Sebastian Guzman (294 digs, 20 aces), junior defensive specialist Sean Lyons and senior middle hitters Connor O'Ryan and Karl Severino.
"We're looking for a big year from O'Ryan, who is in only his third year playing volleyball," Dowdy said. "He is a player who provides a big block, efficient attack and will be tough in the front row. Guzman enters his second year as libero and is a player who is all over the court defensively."