Junior setter Phil Hannon and the Minooka Indians should rate among the top teams in the state again in 2013.
It's official. Wheaton Warrenville South is No. 1 in the country.
The final Powerade Fab 50 was announced by ESPN on Friday and WW South was named the mythical national champion, edging No. 2 Mira Costa (Manhattan Beach, Calif.). WW South became the first Illinois team to end the season No. 1 in the nation in boys' volleyball.
Other Illinois teams ranked in the final top 50 were No. 8 Glenbrook North, No. 22 Barrington, No. 23 Minooka, No. 33 Brother Rice, No. 34 Lincoln-Way East and No. 39 Glenbard East.
Wheaton Warrenville South coach Bill Schreier was asked if the 2012 Tigers were the best of his seven state championship teams.
The 2012 Tigers were his third unbeaten state champion, but many consider his 2001 team with Olympian Sean Rooney to be the best.
"This team is in the conversation," he said. "For all intents and purposes, for everything these guys have done, as a coach, especially with family and everything else, to come to work with these guys every day was unbelievable. It really was tribute to these guys and everything that they've put out, from one to 15, I cannot stress enough what they've done.
"As far as where they stand?" Schreier added. "They're their own team, and they will be their own team. Someday somebody will compare to them because they created their own legacy. They weren't chasing 2001 and they weren't chasing 2004. They were chasing 2012, and they were chasing the demons of the last two years."
One of the biggest but perhaps most unheralded reasons for Wheaton Warrenville South's success this season was the play of 6-foot-6 senior outside hitter Tim Zyburt, who finished second on the team with nearly 240 kills behind Thomas Jaeschke's 350-plus.
Zyburt was asked if he felt like Scottie Pippen to Jaeschke's Michael Jordan.
"Yes, I guess you can say that," he said. "Ever since freshman year, we've been going after each other, competing against each other that way. It's always fun to have competition as good as him because you always get better. He pushed you big time."
ESPN should release its final national boys volleyball rankings in a few days, and everybody will be wondering whether WW South did enough last weekend to maintain its hold on the No. 1 spot and become the first Illinois team to be named mythical national champion.
But that honor was not WW South's top priority as the season wound down, Sun-Times Player of the Year Thomas Jaeschke said.
"During the season, it wasn't a big thing because we needed to finish this part of the season right here, winning state," he said. "National rankings without winning state mean nothing. It's a nice cherry on top. But before today it didn't mean anything. It was more something for the fans to talk about."
Of course, that was before Saturday. What about now?
"That national ranking now means a whole hell of a lot," WW South coach Bill Schreier said. "They would be the first team in Illinois that do that, and that is a great achievement."
Glenbrook North middle hitter Luke Jacobson was asked if the Spartans' had a special strategy to try to contain WW South's Thomas Jaeschke heading into their championship match with WW South.
"I don't think there was a strategy," he said. "We just tried to play our game. Blocking was tough, but we tried. We predicted some sets would go to him, but he can hang from the back row and it's hard to stop that. It's so quick. You just try to be in the right place.
"He's a good player," Jacobson added. "We tried to stop him. I think we did a pretty good job."
Jaeschke had 12 kills against Glenbrook North while hitting .348. He had 10 kills and hit .333 in the semifinals against a tall Barrington team, while he had only seven kills against Payton but hit an off-the-charts .778.
Payton coach Casey Feeney and the rest of the Grizzlies knew they were up against it when they faced WW South in a quarterfinal match at state. But what really impressed him was how mistake-free the Tigers played.
"They're a really good, big team," Feeney said. "We played a tough season. We went out and played in a lot of different tournaments, but you're rarely going to see high school guys that are just that big. They're not awkward, they move well, they're athletic and they don't make the mistakes that a lot of the teams that we see on a regular basis do."
Payton hung with WW South through the first 22 points, leading 10-9 early. But then Payton's mistakes started to compound.
"In the first game, we had four or five missed serves that sort of really killed our momentum," Feeney said. "We talked about not freaking out if they beat. They supposed to beat us. We said just play each point for what it's worth and see what we can take anyway. In the beginning, we rode that energy wave. Then the energy kind of fell off the cliff."
Lake Park rebounded from losing its top hitter early in the season to reach the state quarterfinals and had two match points before falling to Barrington. One official commented that the Lancers were the best team she had seen all season playing behind their hitters.
Rookie coach Tim Murphy said his staff picked up on something in practice that helped the Lancers get hot during the state tournament.
"The coaching staff noticed that when we play good defense, when we play that tenacious style, that's when we win," he said. "When balls end up hitting the ground and we're out of position, that's when we lose and fall behind.
"I can't really ask any more of these guys," Murphy added. "They gave everything they had. We kept preaching heart, play with heart and give everything you have. Do it for the other five guys on the court. I think they did.
"It comes down to what covering is -- one guy swinging and the other five guys saying we've got your back."
The one team of the final eight most likely to return to the state quarterfinals next year - barring another unconscionable sectional realignment from Bloomington - is Minooka.
The Indians return five starters from their 37-4 fourth-place finisher, including setter Phil Hannon, libero Adam Holstine, outside hitter Matt Svetlecich and middle hitters Maalik Walker and Justin Toth.
"I anticipate that this group of juniors will be very hungry to do well and to have a very good season next year," Minooka coach Janel Grzetich said. "Obviously, our goal as always is to get here. How they respond to the expectations we will face will set the tone for the whole season."
Who else is going to rank among the better boys volleyball teams for 2013? Here is an early, completely unscientific look:
Waubonsie Valley - Start with 6-6 sophomore Mike Simmons. Add 6-1 junior setter Luke Furman. Toss in 6-3 junior Jon Pyne, 6-4 sophomore Connor Douville and 6-5 junior Tyler House and what do you get? Next year's No. 1?
Lincoln-Way North - Four starters are back from a team that was seeded No. 1 in the sectional before running into a hot Brother Rice team, including junior libero Zach Blasgen, junior middle Haakon Skrodal and sophomores Jake Walenga and Brad McFarland.
Brother Rice - Three starters from this year's quarterfinalist return, including 6-3 sophomore outside Mitch Weiler (300 kills), 6-7 junior middle Ryan Paull and 6-3 sophomore middle Kevin Myren. Paul ickes will shop for a setter.
Glenbard East - If 6-2 junior Jake Hamaker recovers from his ACL tear, he should combine with 6-5 junior hitter Joey Farrell and 6-3 junior Seth Quam to give the Rams a solid attack. Freshman Ben Carpio is in line to set. There are also some sophomores ready to step up for coach Marci Maier.
Hersey - Heir apparent in the Mid-Suburban East? Wildly inconsistent in 2012, but there is some young talent in 6-7 sophomore middle Mike Fuerst, 6-4 freshman outside Bart Migus and 6-2 sophomore Matt Aguilar.
Others to watch include St. Ignatius, St. Francis, Sandburg, Mt. Carmel, Naperville North, Barrington and Stevenson.