Tim Crow begins his 17th season as head coach at Stevenson after guiding the Patriots to a 33-8 record and a third-place finish in Class 4A one year ago.
“I think we look good on paper,” Crow said. “We have an experienced group so expectations are very high, as well as they should. It will be interesting to see how they respond to adversity during the season. We start with 13 matches in 14 days.”
Stevenson will rely on super junior Sophie Sorenson, who had 308 kills a year ago, and setter Alex Cuc (902 assists in 2016), University of Rochester commit Hope Havenhill, libero Chloe Robinson and 6-foot middle hitter Sara Bufe.
Joining that group somewhere in the starting lineup will be sophomore outside Lily Cozzi, junior middle hitter Anne Armgardt and sophomore setter Grace Tully.
“We return five starters from last season,” Crow said. “Our newcomers really add to our athleticism. We have an experienced team that made a great run last season and we hope to continue the same success.”
Ah, the old success factor.
After finishing 40-2 and second in the state in Class 3A last year, the Marian Central Catholic Hurricanes find themselves with a new coach and a new classification – 4A.
New head coach Patty Brummond will try to lead the Hurricanes back to the promised land behind 5-7 senior setter Kate Messino, 5-8 senior opposite/outside hitter Mae Novakoski and 5-4 senior libero Mallory Gehrig.
Five-foot-11 sophomore middle hitter Gabby Davis is also back and will be joined by newcomers Issy Nick, a 5-8 junior outside hitter, 5-7 junior outside/opposite hitter Lilli Leggett and 5-7 junior outside/opposite hitter Rachel Graham
“We will face a competitive conference with Benet, Marian Catholic and Marist,” Brummond said.
Loyola will try to do something this season it has never done – win the New Trier invitational.
The Ramblers figure to be well-armed to break through in Winnetka.
Lizzy Walker, Elizabeth Ford, Angela Pieroni, Mary Kate Lopez, Mary Leinenweber, Lauren Henning, Anne Martinson and Sammy Downey all saw meaningful minutes for sixth-year coach Mark Chang, who guided the Ramblers to a 22-12 mark last year.
“Our greatest strength is the desire to play together and believing in a process of improvement,” Chang said. “Our goal is to beat last year’s record both in wins and losses, finish in the top three in conference and chase the top seed in our sectional.”
Newcomers Julia Martinez, Sabrina Dempsey and Avery Bodkin are expected to help Loyola reach those goals.
“I just expect our team to commit to a process and to engage in ongoing reflections both individually and as a team,” Chang said. “I expect nothing more. The rest should take care of itself.”
Joann Pyritz, who played for Lyons from 1976-79, will call it quits at the end of the school year after 28 years at the helm and leading the Lions to state titles in 1989 and 2010 and a second-place finish in 2009.
Lyons finished 24-13 in 2016 including a fourth-place finish at the Rich East tournament.
“We will utilize a variety of players and be consistent,” Pyritz said. “Within our potential sectional, we will have to compete at a high level in order to advance. But leading the charge will be senior Emma Fink, a three-year varsity starter.”
Fink, an outside hitter who is headed to Providence College next fall, had 213 kills, 20 blocks and 149 digs in 2016.
Also back are middle hitter Nicolette Jones (a Duquesne University recruit), senior setter Kendall Cassidy (21 aces, 385 assists in 2016), junior setter Grace Quinn (24 aces, 348 assists), junior middle Camille Hurta (94 kills, 38 blocks) and libero Grace Knowski.
A player to watch at Lyons is sophomore outside hitter Patti Cesarini.
Injuries to Emily Jones and Emmie Naal derailed the Angels in 2016, but both are back and ready to contribute to another solid Joliet Catholic team.
“I am guardedly optimistic for this season,” Joliet Catholic coach Chris Scheibe said. “We finally have a little height and we are much farther ahead in practice than we were at this point last year. The atmosphere in the gym is very positive and competitive.”
The Angels finished 19-16-1 in 2016 and finished second at the Metea Valley/Oswego East tournament, won the West Aurora tournament and took home top honors in the Silver Division at Glenbard East’s Autumnfest.
Top returnees are 5-9 setter Sarah Nahas (598 assists, 224 digs, 36 aces), junior outside hitter Emily Holbrook (254 kills, 241 digs), 6-2 sophomore middle hitter Bella Ray (68 kills, 28 blocks in 18 matches), and 5-6 libero Meg Sliwa (311 digs, 174 service points).
Newcomers include 6-1 freshman outside hitter Emily Wilson, Sophie Krzysciak and Britney Drysch.
Batavia had the best offense in school history during last year’s 19-18 campaign. But matching those numbers in 2017 will be a challenge.
“With only four returners, we are still very busy learning the varsity system,” said Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne. “We are working on getting used to the speed of the game as well as the strategies involved. However, I think we will be able to keep the offensive pace we had last year.
“We are working on the other parts of the game, and how quickly we can get better in those areas will determine how strong we can be,” she added. “I think we will definitely be a 20-plus win team this season, but it won't come easy with our non-conference schedule and our very tough tournament schedule.”
Back for the Bulldogs are Jenna Garrett, a 5-9 senior and four-year starter committed to Lindenwood University, 5-6 junior outside hitter Sam Juarez and 5-11 junior middle hitter Maddy Boyer and nobody can question the Bulldogs’ smarts. Batavia earned an AVCA All-Academic All-American Award for the 20th season in a row and was named to the Top 25 in the nation for team GPA.
Optimism is running high at Montini.
“This year should be a great one for the Montini Broncos,” coach Steve Dowjotas said. “We return five of the six starters and have added a now eligible transfer middle hitter to fill that void. We should be around for the next two seasons at a very high level.”
Top players include junior outside hitter Caitlyn Meeks, junior outside hitter Lexi Quaglia, senior middle hitter Michelle Glover, junior middle hitter Johanna Kingsfield and junior setter Joslyn Boyer.
“Our schedule this season is extremely tough with matchups against Mother McAuley, St. Francis, Glenbard West and Loyola, and tournaments like Wheaton North and the Mother McAuley preview,” Dowjotas said.
Erik Eastman enters his 13th season at St. Ignatius with a senior-laden team that is ready to return to the upper echelon of Illinois girls volleyball.
“The Wolfpack have been in rebuild mode since the girls from 2012 and 2013 left,” he said. “After only losing three seniors from last year’s team, we have 11 girls returning to varsity this season and six seniors.
“The expectation level is high as we will start almost all seniors,” he added. “Four of our girls have seen substantial time on the varsity along with three returning freshman who played up as well last season.”
Top players for St. Ignatius, 19-17 last year after losing to De La Salle in the regional final, include 5-10 rightside hitter Jill Bennett (270 kills in 2016), 6-foot outside hitter Bridget McCarthy (168 kills, 25 blocks), setter Alysa Ross and libero Maria Gazzi (515 digs).
Eastman expects big things from 6-1 sophomore middle Sarah Griffith (69 kills in limited action) and 5-9 sophomore setter Kate Danaher.
The Wolfpack were also awarded the AVCA Team Academic Award for the ninth year in a row (2009-2017) maintaining a GPA of 3.30 or higher.
Palatine starts over after graduating a ton from last year’s regional championship team.
“We graduated a lot of talented, experienced girls, but I really like what I've seen so far from this group,” Palatine coach Daniel Gavin said. “The best part about this group is their selflessness and passion for the game.
“They don't care who plays what position and they don't concern themselves with who gets the credit or accolades,” he added. “They love playing volleyball and are hungry for team success. I'm excited to see where that combination can take us.”
Veterans include 6-2 junior outside Haley Holz, 6-foot senior middle blocker Beverly Ryan-Darrah, 5-7 libero Amanda DeLio and 5-7 defensive specialist Katie Lindert.
Newcomers include 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Emily Campe, 5-7 setter Allison Aldag, 5-9 outside hitter Sarah Haddad, 5-9 outside hitter Maggie Scovic and 5-9 freshman outside hitter Jillian Smith.
“Maggie and Sarah are versatile gamers who can play numerous positions in both the frontcourt and backcourt,” Gavin said. “They give us a great deal of positional flexibility which can be an invaluable tool.”
The last 11 years have not been kind to Barrington, which reached the state finals four times during the 2000s, finishing second three times (2000, 2002 and 2003) and fourth in 2006.
Last year, Barrington fell to 15-21 and graduated six players from that team. However, a productive summer and the return of several key players from a year ago have coach Michelle Jakubowski excited about the new season.
Top players from the 2016 season include fourth-year starting outside hitter Andi Capel, third-year veteran 6-2 junior Peyton Tilly, defensive whiz Sara Casaletto, 5-9 junior setter Tara Kozak, 6-1 junior outside hitter Bailey Madrzyk, and 5-11 middle hitter Kate Schechtman.
Also back is 5-7 junior defensive specialist Sabrina Lontos. Players to watch include freshman setter Felicia Guagliardo and sophomore defensive specialist Arianna Armando.
Former assistant coach Alison Balmer takes over for longtime veteran Lisa Martinez at Hinsdale South this fall.
“We have a very talented, hardworking and passionate group of girls,” Balmer said. “I think this is our year to make our way back to the top of the West Suburban Conference. Overall, we have a lot of strong returning players, with some powerful newcomers that make us a team to watch out for this year. “
Back from last season’s 15-22 team (4-5 in conference) are 6-1 senior outside hitter Tierney Ward, 5-9 senior middle hitter Veronica Terrell, 5-8 senior defensive specialist Sydney Benson, 5-9 senior outside hitter Alyssa Errandi and 5-10 sophomore Kaitlyn Hurka.
Newcomers include 5-4 junior defensive specialist Megan Mihalkanin, 5-9 junior middle hitter Claire Zipsie and 5-11 sophomore rightside hitter Mia Lombardo.
Glenbard South finished 23-16 last season (10-2 in the Metro Suburban Blue) after falling to Rosary in the Class 3A sectional championship.
If the Raiders can get solid play at setter and libero, they could be a factor again come playoff time.
“We have a lot of experience at all of our hitting positions,” coach Chad Grant said. “Maggie Bair will be a six-rotation middle this year and is one of the top players in the conference. I expect us to be in the hunt for the conference title, but it should be a wide open race.”
Bair, a 6-3 junior, had 187 kills and 66 blocks as a sophomore. She should get help from 5-8 senior opposite Mady Carli (110 kills), 5-9 senior middle hitter Bailee Flanagan (98 kills, 34 blocks) and 6-foot junior outside hitter Beth Kohl, who had 39 kills in four playoff games in 2016.
Five-foot-4 sophomore outside Kathleen Millett (168 kills) also returns, and sophomore Sadie Camfield, who led the team with 37 aces as a serving specialist last year, should take on a bigger role at setter.
Ah, the success factor. Part II.
Timothy Christian might have done some serious damage in Class 2A last season, but alas, the Trojans were ousted in the Class 3A regional championship by Trinity.
Scott Piersma, whose team went 31-6 for a third straight 30-win season and a sixth consecutive conference championship in 2016, has the makings of another powerful crew in 2017.
“We return six varsity players including four starters and bring in seven new players from last year’s junior varsity team,” he said. “We are hoping to have a deep postseason run in the 3A state tournament play.”
Timothy Christian will reload around 6-foot setter Tracy Westra (678 assists, 36 blocks), Tracy’s sister and 6-1 junior rightside Heidi Westra, 5-8 defensive specialist Rachel Stoll and 5-6 junior libero Abygale Ahn.
Ahn plays both tennis and volleyball during the fall for Timothy Christian. As a freshman and sophomore, she advanced to the state tournament in tennis and placed eighth in Class 1A last year. She will play both again this year.
Prairie Ridge is looking for its first sectional title since 2012 and first trip to the state finals since 2006 when former Illinois great Hillary Haen guided the Wolves to a runner-up finish against Naperville Central.
The Wolves will be a little undersized and very young in 2017, but Stefanie Otto believes her team should be able to compete with most teams on its schedule.
Top returnees from last year’s 20-14 team (11-5 in the always tough Fox Valley Conference) are 5-3 outside hitter Erin McNeil, 5-9 outside hitter Emily Baudin, 5-8 libero Mackenzie Garis, 5-8 defensive specialist Kelsy Turskey and 5-11 junior setter Jayden Otto.
Hitting help (and some size) will come from newcomers Maddie McGuire, a 5-10 junior middle blocker, 5-11 sophomore opposite hitter Trinity Sheridan, 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Hannah Baudin, and 5-9 sophomore middle blocker Katie Birkland.
“It will be interesting to see if we can mentally finish our matches,” Otto said.