Our hearts and prayers go out to Fred Rakers, the former Breese Mater Dei coach whose teams won six state championships and more than 1,000 matches. Rakers is fighting stage four adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that originates in the glandular tissue.
Doctors told Rakers' family recently that cancer was found in the 68-year-old's lungs, brain and spine.
Rakers retired as head coach in 2010 after his team went 41-1 and won the first of back-to-back state championships. He retired from teaching after 45 years but remained on staff as his son Chad's assistant coach for another state title run.
Rakers began Mater Dei's volleyball program in 1975. The Knights won state titles in 1987, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2001 and 2010. His teams won 14 state trophies, finishing second once with three third-place finishes and three fourths. The Knights also won 24 regionals, 21 sectionals and 20 supersectionals.
The team plans to honor Rakers' at its home opener August 27.
Mother McAuley and St. Francis were ranked No. 2 and No. 6 in the country by Prepvolleyball.com when it announced its 2013 Century Club Pre-Season National High School rankings last week.
Mother McAuley, which is seeking its first state title since 2004, lost to New Trier 16-25, 25-22, 25-19 in a 2012 Class 4A semifinal on its way to a 36-5 record and third-place finish but is loaded with every key performer returning, including five players who started as sophomores.
"I believe we will have one of our strongest seasons to date," said head coach Jen DeJarld. "I'm expecting to do some big things this season."
Among the players returning are setter and Western Illinois recruit Courtney Joyce, junior outside Ryann DeJarld, 5-6 junior outside Kennedy Arundel, 5-7 junior libero Carla Cahill, 5-11 junior middle Kelsey Clark, 6-0 senior middle Gabby Ennis and 5-9 junior rightside Maggie Scanlon.
"It should be fun," DeJarld said.
Circle August 30 on your calendar. That's when McAuley visits defending Class 3A state champion St. Francis. Spartans' Peg Kopec will seek her 10th state title behind 6-1 senior AAU All-American and Nebraska recruit Maddie Haggerty and 6-1 AAU All-American sophomore Molly Haggerty.
The supporting cast that includes Florida-bound libero Sam Dubiel, 5-10 setter/middle blocker Becca Shearer and 6-1 junior middle/rightside Mary Boken. Other players who figure in the mix include senior setter/libero Natalie Murison, sophomore setter Dani Messer and 5-11 freshman rightside Kamryn Molloy.
"This is a very talented team, but young," Kopec said. "No team is without weak areas. This is certainly one of the best St. Francis teams on paper. However it is quite difficult to compare different decades since the skill level and rules have changes dramatically."
Plainfield North was ranked No. 53 by Prepvolleyball.com. The Tigers are led by 5-9 outside hitter Dakota Santore, 5-10 setter and Clemson recruit Katie Federico, 6-1 junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Fisher, 6-0 sophomore middle Lauren Robeck and 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Allie Lindroth.
Two-time defending Class 4A champion Benet checks in at No. 71. The Redwings boast a pair of powerful middles in 6-2 senior Brittany Pavich and 6-2 junior Rachael Fara, and also have 5-6 libero Caroline Wolf, 5-10 outside Ashley Hitchcock, 5-11 outside Whitney Battoe and 5-8 Penn state recruit Natalie Canulli.
Standout Brittani Steinberg is gone from last year's 4A runner-up, but New Trier still has 6-foot setter Taylor Tashima, 6-3 middle blocker Haley Fauntleroy, libero Emmy Friedler, rightside Abbey Boyd and 6-4 junior middle Sarah Shafiq. The Trevians are ranked no. 72 by Prepvolleyball.com.
Among the teams receiving mention were Crystal Lake South, Edwardsville, Hersey, Huntley, Joliet Catholic, Lake Zurich, Lyons, Marist, Naperville North, Nazareth, St. Charles East and Waubonsie Valley.
Since 2003, PrepVolleyball.com is the nation's only website devoted exclusively to covering the girls' game, both high school and club, from a national perspective.
In girls' basketball, Montini's 5-10 senior guard Sara Ross, who averaged 7 points and 3 assists for last year's Class 3A third-place finisher, recently committed to IUPUI (Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis, for the uninitiated).
"Sara had a huge June for us and had carried it over to July with her AAU team," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "She felt so comfortable with IUPUI, and that is why she committed early. I think it fits her perfectly and she could play right away."
Ross also considered University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois, Massachusetts, Kent State, Loyola and Toledo.
Kelly Karlis and Kateri Stone are still on the recruiting trail. Karlis recently visited Dayton and Bowling Green after an earlier trip to Wisconsin-Green Bay. Among the schools Stone is considering are Columbia, Cornell and University of Missouri-Kansas City.
St. Francis' Molly Haggerty and New Trier's Taylor Tashima will try to do for their respective high school teams what they did for the U.S. Youth National Team in Thailand -- bring home a medal.