There may not be a stronger program in the state top to bottom than Marist.
But the RedHawks, who were 30-9 in 2016 and reached the sectional finals, probably will not need much help from its underclass groups on the varsity level in 2017.
“We return a great group of seniors who we will rely on all seasons for great leadership,” coach Jordan Vidovic said. “We have several returners who have started for two or three years on varsity in key positions.
“We look to be a well-balanced team both at the net and in the backcourt,” he added. “We will utilize another very difficult schedule between our conference, nonconference and four top level tournaments to gain great experience throughout the season.”
Marist will rely on four talented seniors to tackle its tough schedule, including Central Michigan recruit Savannah Thompson, a 5-11 outside hitter, Memphis recruit Molly Murrihy, a 6-1 setter, Radford commit Grace Green, a 5-7 libero, and 5-11 outside hitter Maggie Meyer.
Help will come from 6-1 junior middle blocker Mattie McCabe and 6-1 sophomore rightside hitter Camryn Hannah.
Jennifer Urban takes a 373-114 career mark into her 14th season at Naperville North, and figures to ease closer to her 400th win this season with a strong group headed by five seniors and two juniors from last year’s 23-14 team.
“We welcome back a strong nucleus having graduated only one senior starter from the 2016 campaign,” Urban said. “Sarah Kushner and Ari Budnik will lead us as two returning pin hitters. We are eager to compete at a higher level this season with a more veteran roster.”
Kushner is a 5-9 junior outside hitter and Budnik 5-10 senior outside hitter who figure to do most of the damage for the Huskies.
Also back are 5-11 middle blocker Sarah Wastek, 5-6 setter Mackenzie Schulte, 5-11 middle blocker Shanely Hrubesky, 5-6 libero Caroline Surges and 5-11 rightside hitter Kayla Griesbach.
Newcomers include 5-10 junior setter Grace Selman and 5-7 junior libero Molly Russel.
All-Mid-Suburban League East Division middle hitter Rachel Kandefer, a 6-1 junior, will try to help Elk Grove do something in 2017 the Grenadiers were unable to do a year ago – win a conference match.
Despite winning the Immaculate Conception tournament right before the regional tournament, the Grenadiers went 0-10 in the East and finished 8-25 overall. This year’s team figures to do significantly better.
“We should be better offensively this year,” said coach Stephanie Kezios. “We have some good hitters returning and our serve receive will be much improved.”
In addition to Kandefer, Elk Grove also welcomes back three-year varsity starter Emma Slattery, a 5-6 outside hitter, 5-4 setter Lexi Chirbas, 5-4 defensive specialist Johanna Duckmann, 6-1 middle hitter Jessica Deering and 6-1 junior middle hitter Holly Olson.
Providing help will be 5-5 senior setter Jalyssa Mercado, 5-9 senior rightside hitter Katie Ruszkowski and 5-5 sophomore defensive specialist Megan Murray.
Trinity graduated five starters off its 20-18 team that was seeded eighth in its Class 3A sectional before knocking off No. 1 seed Timothy Christian.
Despite those losses, Trinity coach Ken Uhlir is not conceding anything.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that our young team will be ready to compete this season,” he said.
Trinity will rebuild behind 6-foot junior middle hitter Haley Gohmann, 6-foot sophomore outside hitter Emma Jacobs and 5-3 senior libero Dean Sannicandro.
Young and old are working hand-to-hand at Addison Trail to improve upon last year’s 22-13 record including a 5-1 mark in the West Suburban Conference Gold Division.
“We have a nice blend of key returners and newcomers working together in the gym,” said coach Dan Styler. “We look forward to competing with teams to help fuel our growth this season.”
The “old” include veterans 5-7 junior outside hitter Nina Muell, 5-10 senior middle blocker Nicci Scorza, 5-7 senior outside hitter Giovanna Scarabaggio, 5-3 senior libero Sofia Susa, and 5-6 sophomore outside hitter Jessica D'Ambrose.
The “new” features 5-6 junior setter Sam Pociecha and 5-10 junior middle blocker Serena Gilliam.
“Our key returners on the offensive end have improved their court vision and are more explosive than they were a year ago,” Styler said. “We should have a lot of gritty play on the defensive end of the floor and we have a strong core of primary passers.
“We want to get better every day and we plan to maintain a top tier position in our conference,” he added.
Glenbard East looks to build on last year’s 20-17 record which included an Upstate Eight Valley conference title and appearance in a Class 4A regional final.
The Rams will be powered by 6-foot junior outside hitter Allison Hamaker, who accounted for 260 Kills, 177 digs, 26 blocks and 24 aces in 2016. Junior outside hitter Sarah Elliott, who had 72 kills and 13 blocks, adds offensive support.
Also back are senior middle blocker Erin Cluskey (53 blocks), defensive specialist Emily Denton (40 aces 222 digs), defensive specialist Ellen Kirsh (110 digs, 9 aces) and junior setter Emily Sarles.
However, Glenbard East will miss outside hitter Sam Silbernagel , who is recovering from knee surgery.
“We have nine returning players from last year,” coach Marci Maier said. “With Emily Denton and Ellen Kirsh back, we will be solid defensively. Emily Sarles, Allison Hamaker, Sarah Elliott and Erin Cluskey will lead the way offensively. The girls are shooting to better last years’ 20-win season.”
Ava Tortorello has the right pedigree for the job.
Tortorello, a 5-8 freshman who hails from a family of setters including Liz Tortorello (Wisconsin) and Sam Tortorello (Penn State), moves into the starting setter position for Latin as it makes the jump to Class 3A fresh off its final appearance in Class 2A one season ago.
“Ava Tortorello has been preparing for the challenge to step into the role,” coach Bryn Kehoe said. “She comes with strong experience from club volleyball (Wildcats Jrs.) and USA VB A1 and A2 experience.”
While Tortorello may be under the microscope, she will at least have lots of help from some of her hitters, chief among whom is Northwestern recruit Charlotte Cronister.
Cronister, a 5-8 junior, led Latin in serve receive (2.63), kills (331), hitting percentage (.282), digs (311) and kills per game (4.0) and was second in aces with 56 as a sophomore. She was team co-MVP (with graduated setter Caroline Riise) and a News-Gazette all-state special mention.
Also back are Kelsey Watkins, a 5-11 junior who led the team as a sophomore in aces (65) and blocks (36) and was second in hitting percentage (.256), and 5-10 junior Julia Kinder, who was second in kills (233) and third in aces (53).
“We have increased the number of Class 3A and 4A teams on our schedule to prepare for the change,” Kehoe said. “We are optimistic about the upcoming season with all starters returning except Riise.”
Grayslake Central went 7-1 to share the Northern Lake County Conference title in 2016, but the Rams were ousted from the state tournament in a regional semifinal and are working to avoid a similarly early exit.
“A disappointing early exit from last year's playoffs left us hungry for strong showing this year,” coach Jason Janczak said. “We return several starters from last year's conference championship team and add some height on offense and speed on defense.
“We have height across the front row and have been working hard in developing and improving the speed of our offense,” he added. “We still have some work to do get firing on all cylinders, but I have been impressed with the dedication and effort the girls have put into each practice.”
Grayslake Central’s offense will revolve around 6-foot setter and University of South Florida commit Lauren LaBeck. Her choices at the net will include 5-11 outside hitter Michelle Maraist, 5-10 rightside hitter Lizzie Twardock, 6-foot junior middle hitter Cassidy Beshel and 5-11 junior outside hitter Amber Moser.
Six-foot-2 sophomore Kate Bullman should help with the block while 5-4 junior libero Abby Marassa will anchor the defense.
Seventeen is the magic number for 23-year veteran coach Kelly Simon of Neuqua Valley.
Simon needs just 17 wins to reach 500 for her career, which includes seven years at Reed-Custer where she won 156 matches.
Seventeen wins should not be a problem for the defending DuPage Valley Conference co-champions, who return six key players from last year’s 27-11 team.
“The convergence of depth and versatility, combined with talent and leadership, will be the foundation of this team’s success,” Simon said. “Ultimately. the cohesiveness and overall team dynamic of this team will determine its ability to compete at the highest level.”
The six veterans from a year ago include outside hitter Shannon Skryd, middle blocker Lauren Young, setter/rightside hitter Maria Mayhew, setter/rightside hitter Rachel Pu, junior outside hitter Bella Aguilar and sophomore middle blocker Faith Johnson.
Mayhew, a University of California at San Diego recruit and all-state special mention selection , led Neuqua Valley in kills (310), was fourth in blocks (41) and sixth in digs (77) in 2016.
Geneva had eventual national champion Mother McAuley on the ropes in last year’s Hinsdale South supersectional, but McAuley rallied from a 4-point deficit in the second set and a 7-point deficit in the third to defeat Geneva 22-25, 25-20, 25-21.
Most of the key figures from that 37-2 Geneva team have graduated. But don’t expect the Vikings to fall off the face of the earth.
“We have new faces who bring high level experience,” said coach Annie Seitelman. “We look to continue to build team chemistry and compete at a high level.”
The Vikings, who went 8-4 and finished fourth at the Great Lakes Center summer league after losing to Minooka 25-27, 25-19, 25-23 in the semifinals, will rebuild behind 5-6 libero Payton Bellano, 5-10 outside hitter Molly Lambillotte and 5-10 outside hitter Dani Thompson.
Jennie Kull is building another big winner at St. Charles East behind five Division I recruits.
Back from last year’s 27-6 regional finalist are setter and Ohio University commit Kyra Slavik, UConn-bound outside hitter Klaudia Sowizeral, and University of North Carolina-Asheville recruits libero Anna Skryd and outside hitter Hannah Spicer.
Kull is also looking for major contributions from junior setter and Clemson recruit McKenna Slavik and defensive specialist Charlie Ambrose.