Wheaton Warrenville South eyes return to the top; Lincoln-Way West is loaded ... now experienced, too
Illprepvb.com's look at the upcoming boys' season continues today with previews of Wheaton Warrenville South, Lincoln-Way West, New Trier, York, Stevenson, Vernon Hills, Zion-Benton, Geneva, Marian Catholic, Fenwick, Reavis, Plainfield Central, Riverside-Brookfield, Bolingbrook, Conant, Downers Grove South, Illinois Math & Science Academy and Minooka.
Wheaton Warrenville South
Nobody has won more state titles in boys’ volleyball than Wheaton Warrenville South. So, a five-year drought since the Tigers’ last state title in 2012 seems like an eternity.
This may team that change that. But maybe not this year.
“We’re younger than usual, but way more athletic and taller then we have been over the last few years,” WW South coach Bill Schreier said. “You may get us early, but I think we will be a tough out come playoff time as everyone buys into the process.”
Last season, WW South went 21-16 (6-2 and second place in the DuPage Valley Conference), losing to Downers Grove South 25-23, 24-26, 26-24 in the regional final. Three players return from that team including 6-4 sophomore setter Zeo Meyer (SPVB 16 Elite).
Also back are 6-2 junior outside hitter and three-sport athlete Chase Keating and 6-foot libero Ryan Young. But its WW South’s sophomore class, led by 6-6 outside hitter Josh Gottlieb (SPVB 16 Elite), that is most intriguing.
Among the sophomores who could see the floor for WW South in 2018 are 6-6 middle hitter Kyler Nielsen, 6-6 middle hitter Jack James and 6-4 middle hitter Billy Closset (SPVB 16 Alpha).
Juniors who will contribute include 6-2 middle hitter Nick Foster, 6-2 middle hitter Dominic Overby, 6-3 outside hitter Declin Ermer, 6-2 outside hitter Owen Struebing and 5-11 setter Colin Rachford.
“I like what I have seen so far, with competition at every position,” Schreier said.
The short of it is that Lincoln-Way West is not very tall. But don’t let their lack of height fool you. The Warriors are deep, talented and a year older.
“We were a young team last year, but very skilled,” said coach Jodi Frigo, whose team was 25-13 overall last season and won the Joliet West and Richards invites. “Now having a year of varsity experience, they are even more hungry and eager to succeed.
“We may not have the height like some of the other teams in the area have, but we are looking forward to starting competition and competing alongside the top teams in the state,” she added.
Back from last year’s team are 6-1 junior setter David Flores (39 kills, 22 aces, 648 assists, 197 digs), 5-10 outside hitter Brandyn Cullen (66 kills, 15 aces, 301 digs, 13 blocks), and 6-4 junior rightside hitter Louden Moran (96 kills, 44 aces, 120 digs, 15 blocks).
Also, 6-2 junior middle hitter Chris Dargan (127 kills, 25 blocks), 5-11 junior outside hitter Ben Pluskota (167 kills, 11 blocks, 157 digs, 19 aces) and 6-foot junior rightside/outside hitter Nicky Studer (22 assists, 13 aces).
“Five of my starters play on the same club team (Ultimate 17 Gold) that finished fifth at nationals last year and this year placed first at two qualifiers in which they participated,” Frigo said. “We have an arsenal of heavy hitters and servers as well as great defensive players.”
Newcomers hoping to break into the lineup are 6-7 junior middle hitter Jack Hrvatin, who is showing great potential despite playing only two years of organized ball, and 5-10 sophomore libero Tyler Vedder.
After rallying from a 24-22 deficit in the second set of its sectional semifinal to defeat Glenbrook South in three games last spring, Central Suburban South champion New Trier advanced to the state quarterfinals before losing to Lincoln-Way East 20-25, 25-18, 25-15.
Three-year starting middle blocker Joe D’Attomo (127 kills, 57 blocks as a junior), a 6-foot-6 Loyola University recruit, is the only returning player of consequence to see the floor for the Trevians in 2017.
But veteran coach Sue Ellen Haak, who must replace nearly 1,000 kills and more than 800 assists from last year’s 35-5 team, has confidence in her 2018 edition.
“Although we have some new faces in our starting lineup, we are an incredibly deep and very talented team,” Haak said. “I anticipate there will be lots of players racking up stats this season and we will be a tough team to beat.”
Hoping to put some big numbers on the board as 6-5 middle blocker James Snyder (Bounce 18 Red), 6-2 setter Tergel Gandelger (Adversity 18 Purple), 6-3 outside hitter Tennessee Fulks (Bounce 18 Red) and 6-5 opposite hitter Marty Tatosian (Bounce 18 Red).
Expected to be in the mix are 6-4 junior outside hitter Jay Saravis, 6-3 junior setter Ben Wiegand (Adversity 17 Purple), junior libero Aaron Schatz, 6-6 sophomore opposite hitter Peter Brown (Bounce 16 Red) and 6-4 sophomore outside hitter Colin Heath (Bounce 16 Red).
Ken Dowdy will field a young and inexperienced team this spring at York. But look out once the Dukes get their feet wet.
“We do have tremendous depth and athleticism,” he said. “We have the most diverse offense I’ve had in my 8 years. But that will be contingent on our serve-receive, which is a work in progress after losing our top two defensive specialists.”
York, which went 23-11 (including 2-4 in the West Suburban Silver) and defeated Latin 25-18, 25-17 to win the Latin regional in 2017, will pin its offensive hopes on 6-1 setter Ryan Schaner (WS Storm 18 Navy), 6-2 outside hitter Matthew Howlett (WS Storm 18 Navy) and 6-2 middle hitter John Nosek.
Six-foot-3 junior Pat Resing (WS Storm 18 Navy) will be asked to clog up the middle.
Defensively, Dowdy will turn to 5-7 freshman libero Jeremy Becker and 5-9 junior defensive specialist Collin McCarville.
“We have a lot of powerful pin hitters, and those who can pass and play defense will inevitably get the starting nod,” Dowdy said. “Some of our biggest strengths will be our block and some pretty aggressive serving.
“We've got a scrappy group of players who really have set lofty goals for this season, and they can meet them if we continue to work hard and get better as the season progresses,” he added.
Stevenson went 25-13 last season (5-2 in the North Suburban Conference) and defeated Palatine 25-21, 25-19 to win the Fremd regional before bowing to Libertyville in a sectional semifinal.
Fifth-year coach Eric Goolish welcomes back three key starters from that team, including 6-5 outside hitter and third-year varsity stalwart Junhao (Leo) Chen, three-year starting middle hitter 6-5 Matt Cliffer, and 6-foot junior setter Will Sorenson.
Also back are a pair of seniors – 5-9 setter Haddon Kay and 5-11 defensive specialist Alex Bian.
“We are excited with our mix of experienced returners and committed newcomers,” Goolish said. “We have a nucleus of five returning players with a dozen years of varsity experience who have all been improving their game during the recent off-season.”
A pair of newcomers who will be expected to contribute right away are sophomores Justin Ross, a 6-7 middle hitter, and Gavin Meng (Bounce 16 Red), a 6-3 outside hitter.
“Two significant areas will impact our level of success this year,” Goolish said. “First, the small cohort of returning players will have to take even more significant roles this year than last. Second, it is likely that the sophomores will be put in impactful positions in our system.
“The degree that the experienced players lead and the new players contribute will chart the course of our season,” he said. “Overall, we expect to be in the hunt for a conference and sectional title this year.”
The Cougars’ 2017 season was not particularly memorable on the court. But off the court … that was a different story.
“Last year didn't pan out in terms of wins the way we wanted, but that group of kids was great to work with,” said Vernon Hills coach Chris Curry, whose team was 16-20 overall and 5-5 in the Central Suburban North last spring.
“They never stopped working to improve,” he said.
That hard work should pay dividends in 2018. Back to help turn things around at Vernon Hills are 6-3 outside/middle hitter Derrick Jones (232 kills), 5-10 outside hitter Drake DeBoer (184 kills, 25 aces, 160 digs) and 5-8 junior libero/setter Sammy Adkisson (291 digs).
Newcomers who should make an immediate impact include 6-1 junior middle hitter Joey Reyes and 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Krys Han.
“The energy has been tremendous so far this year,” Curry said. “There's a bunch of guys fighting for playing time, working to get ready. We'll spend a lot of time early on trying to find the right combinations. The good news is we have a lot of versatile athletes.
“We play a really tough schedule, but the guys understand it's a process,” he added. “We might be rough early, but our goal is always to be at our best come playoff time, and that usually works out for us.”
Zion-Benton is coming off an outstanding season which saw the Zee-Bees go 24-11 with a second-place finish at the Maine East invite and third-place finishes at the Lake County and Evanston invites.
Back from that team for coach Mike Isaacs are a pair of seniors -- 6-3 setter Lucas Miller and 6-2 outside hitter Nate Ivy. Newcomers 5-11 junior libero Eli Pelli, 6-2 junior middle hitter David Hernandez and 6-4 junior outside hitter Blaze Williams figure to break the starting rotation.
Also expected to contribute is junior opposite/outside hitter Nikola Josifovic, a high-level soccer player who played in Europe over the summer and just completed a long tournament in Las
Nikola works very hard to balance soccer and volleyball, which was his dad’s favorite sport,” Isaacs said.
Zion-Benton will chase perennial powers Libertyville, Stevenson, Lake Zurich and Warren in the North Suburban Conference.
“Our goal is to be competitive in the conference, grind out our opponents and display a
high level of volleyball IQ,” Isaacs said. “We have a unique combination of veteran starters and new varsity players, so we will spend some time finding our identity as the season goes on.”
Stephanie Rasmussen begins her third year at the reins of a Geneva team that went 13-22 last year but reached the regional championship before falling to St. Charles North. This spring, the Vikings plan to go a step further and win a regional on their home court.
“I have a very coachable, open-minded, driven and determined group of volleyball players,” Rasmussen said. “I expect our team to grow exponentially from March to May. We have a lot to learn, but I expect Geneva to be very competitive when May rolls around.”
Back to make that happen are 6-1 Matt Will, who will either play libero or set for the Vikings, 6-5 middle hitter Will Courter, 6-4 middle hitter Anthony Panizzi and 6-5 outside hitter Max McCloughan.
New faces on the varsity roster include 6-2 junior outside hitter Riley Waldoch, 6-3 junior rightside hitter Will Johnson and 6-1 rightside hitter Ted Simpson.
“For us to accomplish our goal, we need to work as a team and give 110 percent at every practice,” Rasmussen said. “Having such a short season and only a few players who play in the offseason, every practice is crucial in making sure we are ready to compete.”
Marian Catholic graduated five seniors, including three starters, from last year’s team that lost to Sandburg in the regional semifinals.
However, returning for third-year coach David Holliday are a pair of four-year varsity standouts – 6-3 outside hitter Mark Brooks (Ultimate 18 Gold) and setter Todd Gervase (Enigma Volleyball Club out of Chesterton, Indiana).
“Mark has helped lead our team not only statistically, but physically since he entered the doors at Marian,” Holliday said. “His training with Ultimate Volleyball Club and persistence to be better has helped drive him to become the talented player he is today.”
“Todd started at libero and has gradually transitioned to becoming our starting setter,” the coach added. “He has been working hard to be a true leader for us on and off the court.”
Marian Catholic will chase Marist, Benet and St. Patrick in the tough East Suburban Catholic Conference.
“Knowing that we play in one of, if not the toughest conference in Illinois has given the boys the drive necessary to be able to compete with all our opponents,” Holiday said. “We’re looking forward to this season and growing as individuals, and more importantly, as a team.”
Fenwick went 12-10 (6-2 in the Chicago Catholic League’s Green Division) last season under coach Kate Whitman, who welcomes back just two players who were part of the regular rotation last spring.
“I expect for us to have a strong showing this year even though we have a very young team,” said Whitman, who anticipates that three freshmen will be part of the mix in 2018. “I think we can be a threat to win our division and make a good run in the playoffs.”
Whitman will build around 6-4 junior outside hitter Jack Kenny (SPVB 18 Alpha) and first-year setter Kevin Johnson, a 6-1 senior.
Reavis graduated its top players from last year’s 19-17 team that lost to Sandburg in the regional final 25-18, 25-19 – middle hitter Michael Ganczar.
However. The Rams do return six of the eight players who saw substantial floor time for coach
Mike Jebens – both outside hitters, a setter, a libero, a rightside hitter and one middle hitter.
“I think we will be a sneaky team,” Jebens said. “I have an unbelievable group of kids who have exceptional attitudes and work ethic.”
Reavis’ biggest returning pieces are all-conference libero Johnny Moczarny and 6-3 outside hitter Radek Bryja, who had 7 kills and an ace in the regional title match against Sandburg. Bryja is getting a lot of looks from high-level Division III and Division II programs.
BJ Boldog takes over as head coach at Plainfield Central, and to say he is excited would be an understatement.
“I could not be more pumped for this opportunity,” Boldog said. “Just from the few practices that we have had, I am really excited about this group. We are very athletic and have the ability to play at a high level.”
Plainfield Central features four veterans of last year’s regional semifinalist including 6-5 outside hitter Noah Sampson, 6-5 junior outside hitter Marc Arsenault, 6-4 middle hitter Jack Buczek and 5-11 libero Finn McCue.
Newcomers to watch are 6-2 junior setter Harry Khaira (Club 1 17 Red) and 6-3 sophomore middle hitter Quinton Dickerson (Club 1 16 Red).
“We have great senior leadership from guys like Sampson and McCue, and younger guys that bring energy and enthusiasm into the gym every day,” Boldog said. “I really think this is going to be a great year for Plainfield Central boys’ volleyball.”
Despite losing nine seniors to graduation, Riverside-Brookfield looks to win its third consecutive regional title and its fifth overall.
“We expect to be a highly competitive team for the third straight year,” said Dan Bonarigo, who begins his 11th season as head coach with a 207-162 career record, including a 30-9 mark last season that included a second-place finish at the Warren invite and a title at the Willowbrook invite.
“We return a solid core and newcomers with great experience,” he said.
Bonarigo and the Bulldogs will reload around 6-5 middle blocker Jason Bageanis (St. Ambrose University), who had 221 kills and 75 blocks in 2017, 6-3 junior outside hitter Dallas (DJ) Degand (40 kills, 23 aces, 114 digs and 51 assists in 2017) and 6-2 junior middle blocker Colby Campbell (63 kills, 53 blocks.
Newcomers to watch are 5-11 sophomore setter Jonah Raith, 6-foot junior opposite hitter Matthew Lams, 5-11 sophomore outside hitter Vajas Cuplinskas, 5-9 junior libero Lucas Reilly, 5-11 outside hitter Sean Klump and 6-2 middle blocker/opposite hitter Matthew Hansen.
Bolingbrook is coming off the most successful season in school history and expectations are high for even better things in 2018.
"Although our record (16-17) doesn’t show it, we were highly competitive against the top talent within the (Southwest Suburban) conference),” coach Ryan Altenburg said. “Only one of our conference losses (Lincoln Way East) was in straight sets. All of our other three losses (Lockport, Lincoln Way Central and Sandburg) went three sets.”
The Raiders return three starters from last year’s team – 6-6 middle hitter Andrew Otto, 6-6 junior middle/rightside hitter Rico Wardlow and 6-foot outside hitter Angelo Johns.
Otto (Ultimate 18 Gold/Carthage College) is a three-year starter who was third in the team in kills and first in blocks last season Wardlow (SPVB 16 Elite) led the Raiders in aces and was second in blocks as a sophomore.
Johns (Ultimate 18 Black) moved from serving/defensive specialist to rightside hitter in 2017 and finishing among the team leaders in service points and aces and was fourth in digs.
New faces to watch are 6-foot junior Aarion Watt (Club 1 17 Royal), who will look to fill the void left by graduates Josh Simpson (Limestone College) and David Miechowizki (Aurora University), and 6-7 junior middle hitter Brandon Jorman, an athletic converted basketball player.
Conant returns four starters from last year’s 8-25 team (3-7 in the Mid-Suburban West), including middle hitter Sam Bryant and outside hitter Anthony Chan, and welcomes a talented group of juniors.
“We will have a powerful offense this year and look to improve on our conference and overall record,” Conant coach J.C. Brown said.
In addition to Bryant and Chan, also back are setter Luke McLaughlin and libero Doug Jurgenson. Junior Waris Walia is expected to hold down the rightside hitter position.
A talented junior class features setter Cameron Hacker, outside hitter Nick O’Connell, defensive specialist Scott Goding, middle hitter Zach Grogan, outside hitter Nathan Jones, setter Nick Laskero, defensive specialist Jaylen Patel, outside hitter Ranier Roque and middle hitter Anthony Wachal.
Downers Grove South
Jack Tischler and Calib Minnis return from a 23-15 team that went 5-0 in the West Suburban Gold before bowing in the Glenbard West regional final to the eventual state champions 25-16, 25-20.
Tischler (SPVB 18 Lenny) is a 6-2 junior who had 145 kills and 29 blocks in 2017, while Minnis (SPVB 18 Lenny) is a 6-4 senior opposite hitter who added 135 kills and 58 blocks. They will get help from 6-3 junior middle hitter James Chlapecka (Breaker 17 Nike) and 6-2 sophomore middle hitter Brad Gall.
“We enter this season filling in some key positions and young in some positions on the court,” coach Kurt Steuer said. “Varsity experience will not be something we have right away but will continue to improve upon as the season progresses.
“Our strong points will be at the outside and opposite hitter position with the return of one setter who split court time last year,” he added. “Our schedule is set up is tough at the beginning playing top teams in the area, which will help prepare us for the rest of the season.”
Illinois Math & Science Academy
Alex Smothers, who coached for four years at Joliet West and is a coach and the boys director at Serve City Volleyball, takes over the program at Illinois Math & Science Academy.
"With the unique structure of IMSA, the athletic programs are easily overlooked,” he said. “Coming into my first year here, I honestly was not expecting much. I have been very impressed by the team so far. They are very raw and will only get better throughout the season with game time.”
IMSA’s top two returnees are both underclassmen – 5-11 junior setter Justin Izaguirre and 6-2 junior outside hitter Joshua Eberhardt. They will be joined in the starting rotation by a pair of sophomores – 6-1 middle hitter Nikita Elkin and 5-11 outside hitter Matthew Halliman.
“The potential for this group is honestly exceeding my expectations,” Smothers said. “We have a lot of young players. The team is made up of mostly sophomores. We will have highs and lows, but I think the mix between experienced players and newcomers will mesh into a great start to an exciting future.”
Minooka went 24-13 last season and 11-3 in the Southwest Prairie Conference, losing to Andrew 25-20, 28-26 in a regional quarterfinal.
Coach Mike Kargle welcomes back four players from the team including 6-2 opposite hitter Tristan Everett, 6-4 junior outside hitter A.J. Lewis, 6-4 junior middle hitter Noah Easter, 6-3 sophomore middle hitter/outside hitter Shane Ooms and 5-8 sophomore defensive specialist Caden Ritchey.
Newcomers to watch include 5-9 sophomore setter Rafael Vieyra and 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Evan Faifer.