The 2018 Illinois high school boys’ volleyball season kicked off with the first day of practice Monday. Here’s a look at Marist, Glenbrook North, Naperville North, St. Ignatius, Sandburg, Lyons and Neuqua Valley.
Marist perennially fields some of the top teams in the state. The RedHawks won state titles in 2002 and 2010 – stunning Wheaton Warrenville South 25-22, 25-23 to win its most recent title – and qualified for state on three other occasions.
But the emergence of Lincoln-Way North (prior to its closing) and the presence of the Lincoln-Ways, Sandburg and Brother Rice – depending how the IHSA stretches its rubber bands -- make getting out of the south suburbs problematic.
Last season, Marist went 31-7, won the East Suburban Catholic Conference and reached the sectional semifinals before falling to Sandburg 27-25, 25-15. Yet despite the loss of Jack Berglind and Mike Coogan to graduation, the RedHawks bring back a solid core of veterans.
The RedHawks will be led by 6-2 junior outside hitter Marty Jepsen, one of the top players in his class and a fixture for Ultimate 17 Gold. As a sophomore, Jepsen led Marist with 316 kills and added 228 digs and 39 blocks.
“Jepsen has established himself as a top player in his age group,” Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “He makes an impact in every statistical category front and back.”
Also back are 6-4 middle blocker Patrick Mahoney (Ultimate 18 Blue), who had 208 kills, 79 blocks and 19 aces in 2017, 5-10 libero Brady Mack (Ultimate 18 Blue), a 6-1 junior setter Rocky Mayer (Ultimate 17 Blue), who had 567 assists and 161 digs as a sophomore.
“Mahoney will build off a solid junior season and look to be dominant in the middle at the net, while Mack has made big strides in the offseason as a defensive/control player,” Vidovic said. “Mayer brings a rare athletic ability to the setter position.”
Marist’s biggest addition may not be on the court. Former Downers Grove North star and Lewis University All-American Greg Petty, home after suffering a knee injury while playing abroad, will serve as an assistant coach.
Does anybody get more out of less – he guided the Spartans to a second-place finish in 2012 without a single starter over 6-foot-3 – than Glenbrook North’s Chris Cooper?
He will certainly have to work his magic in 2018.
Glenbrook North was a senior-dominated team in 2017, going 28-5 and winning the Central Suburban North at 10-0 before losing to rival New Trier – a team it had beaten during the regular season -- 25-19, 20-25, 25-16 in the sectional finals.
Only four players return from last year’s roster and only one – 6-foot outside hitter Jack Ferber – saw significant playing time.
“We are replacing every starting position this season, but hopefully it will be more of a reload than a rebuild,” Cooper said. “We have talent, but it just may take some time for us to find our groove.”
The other three seniors on the roster are 6-foot setter Jackson Weil, 6-4 middle hitter Mike Roane and 5-8 libero Matt Zhang. Juniors who will compete for playing time include 6-2 outside hitter Jack Joselit, 6-foot middle hitter David Gusis, 5-8 libero Mike Zilber and 6-foot setter Daniel Lee.
Sophomores Timmy Lillig (6-4 middle hitter) and 6-3 outside Ethan Brodell could also be in the mix. Lillig, Brodell, Joselit and Lee play their club ball for Chicago Bounce Volleyball out of Deerfield.
“Our conference will be tough this year,” Cooper said. “Deerfield is the frontrunner, but we will be able to compete with most teams again this year.”
Bounce back. That’s the operative phrase at Naperville North.
“We are looking forward to a bounce back season after getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the first time in program history,” said Naperville North coach Nate Bornancin, whose team slipped to 11-25 (3-5 in the DuPage Valley Conference) in 2017.
Complicating matters, however, Naperville North graduated eight seniors and lost a 6-foot-5 outside hitter to an out-of-state transfer. Only two players return, but they should help Naperville North put last season in the rearview mirror.
John Jaworski is a 5-10 junior setter/outside hitter/libero who had 479 assists, 165 digs, 61 kills and 13 aces as a sophomore. Six-foot-6 middle blocker Chase Olson contributed 83 kills and 47 blocks. Both play club at Sports Performance.
“Jaworski is one of the top all-around players in the conference and can contribute as a passer, setter or attacker,” Bornancin said. “The guys will be looking to John and Chase for their on-the-court leadership.”
Two of the younger players who will look to Jaworski and Olson for guidance are 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Zach Vaughn and 5-10 junior libero Michael Tang.
“What this group lacks in experience they will make up for with hustle, determination and heart,” Bornancin said. “Defense and a strong serve receive will help anchor our team as we grind out wins.”
The Wolfpack won their first conference title in school history when they went 10-0 – and defeated Providence and Montini in their crossover matches – in the Chicago Catholic League’s Green division.
Four veterans return for coach Erik Eastman, including D1 Chicago 18 White teammates and twin 6-6 outside hitters Jack Fyda and Harrison Detroy.
Also back are 6-3 middle hitter Andrew Kaminski and 5-1`0 junior setter John Ross, who could be joined in the starting lineup by 6-foot sophomore libero Michael Eastman (Ultimate 16 Gold), 6-2 junior middle/rightside Walt Fieweger and 6-1 junior rightside/setter Henry Zapata.
St. Ignatius went 22-9 in 2017 and reached the sectional semifinals before losing to top-seeded Hinsdale Central 25-17, 25-13.
“We should make another run at winning the CCL Green division for the second straight year and a regional title,” Eastman said. “This will be one of the best teams we have had at St. Ignatius.”
Two is the magic number at Sandburg, where coach David Vales begins his second year in his second go-round with Sandburg looking for his second appearance at state.
Two starters are back from last year’s 27-11 team that won a regional before losing to Brother Rice in the sectional title match in two sets, 25-18, 25-23.
Those two veterans are 6-8 middle hitter and Trinity Christian recruit Jake Ostema (134 kills, 59 blocks in 2017) and 6-3 opposite hitter Will Marks, an Ultimate 18 Black club player who had 152 kills as a junior.
Expected to join the starting rotation are 6-4 junior setter Cameron Petrusevski, 6-1 junior outside hitter Luka Vuksnic and 6-1 junior outside Cort Jensen.
“We graduated both outsides and our setter, so it will take a little time to gel,” Vales said. “Our reliance on juniors and a couple of underclassmen will help solidify the program for the future.”
The Joann Pyritz farewell tour begins March 31 at the Conant Invitational.
Pyritz, who announced her retirement at the end of the season, was a member of the school’s first state girls’ championship team in 1976. She took over the program in 1989 and promptly led Lyons to its second state title.
In 2011, she was named National Coach of the Year by Prepvolleyball.com after guiding Lyons to a 41-1 record and a third state title.
As the boys’ coach, Pyritz has amassed a 567-306-6 record during her 24-year career and led Lyons to five state appearances including a third-place finish in 2002. The Lions have also finished fourth three times and reach the state quarterfinals in 2016.
Last spring, the Lyons’ boys went 22-14 and claimed a regional title before losing to Riverside-Brookfield 23-25, 25-19, 25-20 in the DeLaSalle sectional. The Lions hope to earn their outgoing coach a little more hardware in 2018.
Among the returnees from last spring is 6-4 outside hitter Sean Ryan, a four-year varsity player and Ohio State recruit who was a member of the U.S. Boys Youth National Team in 2016. The Adversity 18 Purple club player had 166 kills, 10 aces, 96 digs and 26 solo blocks as a junior.
Also back from a year ago are two-year starter Robert Spencer, a 6-5 opposite hitter who had 73 kills and 25 solo blocks in 2017, and 6-3 middle blocker and two-year starter Matt Molly, who collected 84 kills and 43 solo blocks as a junior.
Veteran coach Eric Mendoza may be playing it cool about his team’s potential in 2018, but nobody else is buying his silence.
Four starters are back from the team that finished 27-9 and advanced to the sectional semifinals before losing to senior-laden Downers Grove North 25-22, 25-21, including 6-8 junior setter Kevin Kauling.
Kauling, who has committed to Lewis University, had 492 assists in 2017 despite missing seven matches will illness. The Sports Performance 18 Elite standout also led the Wildcats with 42 aces, and had 45 digs, 46 kills and 37 blocks.
Kauling’s favorite target this spring will likely be Jeremy Grove, a 6-3 outside hitter who plays club for Sports Performance’s second 18s team – SPVB 18 Lenny. Grove had 291 kills in 2017 and was an all-tournament selection at the Tiger Classic and Benet invitational.
Also back are 5-7 libero Francisco Comas (SPVB 18 Lenny) and 6-7 junior middle hitter Jeremy Cardenas (SPVB 18 Charlie).