Emily Aigner Lakes
She's at the top of the Eagles' alphabetical list -- and so many others. The first-year varsity player "has sure made a name for herself," coach Molly May said. The junior outside hitter led the North Suburban Prairie Division co-champs during the regular season with 282 kills, including 16 against Lake Forest in the NSC championship match, 355 digs and 90 aces. She also posted 24 blocks. "She is a force to be reckoned with on the outside," May said. "Not only can she power through strong blocks, but you will consistently see her making miraculous plays in the back row to keep her team alive defensively. She has been a go-to player this season and will continue to be as a senior. She is a player that teams hate to defend and often struggle to score against."
Rachel Baader Stevenson
An injury sidelined her for a few matches this season. But off the court, the junior and three-year all-area outside hitter remained valuable in helping the Patriots put together another strong season. "Probably the best teammate anyone could have," coach Tim Crow said. "She is so positive on and off the court. Her drive and desire to compete is amazing and has a positive effect on everyone around her. She is so tough mentally and is willing to carry our team if needed." Baader led the Patriots into Thursday's regional final against Mundelein, compiling season stats that included 198 kills, 147 digs and 23 aces.
Klaudia Basierak Grayslake Central
The hard-hitting Ram blew out her knee late season. The injury was not going to blow her chance of a great senior campaign. She finished the regular season with a team-high 242 kills, 51 aces (tied for the team lead) and 36 blocks. "She was determined not let her injury translate into just an average season on the court this year," coach Jason Janczak said. "She worked with our trainer and in the gym to make this season a success for her. With 242 kills, she is arguably one of the strongest hitters in the area and county. She has the ability to take over games with her offense, and get us key aces at the serving line." A three-year captain and three-year all-area player, the 6-foot-1 Basierak led the Rams to 23 wins entering the postseason, despite a starting lineup featuring four sophomores. "(She) makes sure that our younger players are in tune with her expectations of level of play, and our program's expectations," Janczak said. "She is an all-around great athlete, great leader, and a great kid who truly epitomizes the notion that success will come from hard work."
Brittany Busscher Mundelein
Her ability to pound the volleyball has been obvious for a long time. This season, though, the senior outside hitter and co-captain expanded her game. "Brittany came into her own as a powerful offensive player," coach George Dressen Jr. said. "She's a great placement player. She's been able to become more aggressive on defense. Her defensive stats went through the roof." A repeat all-area selection and three-year varsity player, Busscher piled up 155 kills, 20 kill blocks, 39 aces and a hefty 357 digs heading into the Mustangs' regional-final match against Stevenson.
Gabi Casper Grayslake Central
Her hitting, which earned her a starting position as a freshman on varsity, was better this season. So were other aspects of the sophomore's game. Her regular-season numbers included 140 kills, 257 digs and 39 aces. "As a second-year varsity starter, Gabi has improved on all aspects of her game this season and has really stepped up her level of play at the serving line and on defense," coach Jason Janczak said. "That being said, this season she has really become a smart hitter -- seeing holes/seams in the block or picking apart a defense with her tips. She has become one of our clutch hitters in tight situations. Her serve has become a key weapon for us down the stretch as well. Gabi is truly a hard worker whose effort has paid off with a solid season both at the net and on defense."
Karen Chin Mundelein
The change didn't change Chin. The senior co-captain still delivered sweet sets and showed her knack for putting the volleyball away. For the first time, a George Dressen Jr.-coached Mustangs squad ran a 6-2 offense. "It worked out extremely well, because Karen was able to show how offensive-minded she is," said Dressen, whose team topped Palatine in the regional semifinals for its 21st win. A repeat all-area player, Chin worked well with fellow setter Madi Wilcox, dishing out 355 assists and slamming 96 kills. She also delivered 31 aces on 94-percent serving, posted 224 digs and 19 kill blocks.
Jenn Claussen Vernon Hills
Claussen clubs softballs in the spring. In the fall, she does likewise to poor volleyballs. "Our power player," coach Abbie Gutzmer said. "Jenn is one of the strongest players that we have had, and it shows in her offensive power. She is explosive, and often times, is our go-to player at the end of the match. She has improved tremendously on the defensive side of her game this year, and we are able to use that to our advantage by incorporating her explosiveness and use her as an offensive weapon in the back row." Heading into last weekend's Crosstown Classic, the junior outside hitter hammered 151 kills for the North Suburban Prairie co-champs, serving at a 93-percent clip with 26 aces, while also notching 16 block kills and 144 digs.
Brianna Grant Antioch
The Texas Tech recruit has Texas-sized talent. "(She) was counted on to carry the team offensively along with Jessica (Ploss)," coach Glen Heitman said of the captain and senior outside hitter. "Everybody in the gym knew who the ball was going to, which in itself is a big load to carry." Grant delivered. She led the Sequoits in kills (206, 36-percent), was second in blocks (56), third in digs (150), second in serve-receive attempts (282), first in serve attempts (283) and first in aces (55). She's a three-year all-area player. "She was also a primary passer in our serve receive," Heitman said. "She was truly an all around player and had pressure on her all the time."
Marissa Grant Antioch
And the Grants keep coming for the Sequoits. The little sister of former Antioch star Lauren and current senior Brianna, Marissa had an impressive freshman campaign, lofting 631 assists for a team that hit only .174. "With 395 hitting errors, you can imagine how many more assists she would have had if the hitters were more productive," coach Glen Heitman said. Marissa was second on the team in digs (157), fourth in blocks (26) and second in aces (43). "She made a great deal of bad passes playable," Heitman said. "(She) worked hard every play, both in practice and matches."
Joanna Guhl Grayslake North
She's no Ordinary Jo. "Joanna is an amazing athlete to coach," coach Nikki Kirchway said of her 6-foot junior right side. "She is completely coachable, has great sportsmanship and is very team-oriented. She works for the team and is the definition of a team player. Every time Joanna stepped on the court this season, she improved." Guhl had a team-high 15 kills against Woodstock North and was a consistent server, missing only 20 serves in 245 attempts with 27 aces. She finished with 184 kills. "Many teams had to adapt mid-game to try to pass her attacks," Kirchway said. "I am very proud of her progress."
Erinn Hellweg Wauconda
An offensive force? Hellweg, yes. The senior outside hitter rang up 264 kills in helping the Bulldogs reach the regional final on their homecourt. She also posted 178 digs and served 47 aces. "She is always a tremendous threat, keeping opponents off-balance," coach Bob Taterka said. "Erinn can hammer a ball on one play, and hit an off-speed deep court shot on the next. She is a serious weapon." College volleyball next? Hellweg, yes. She plans on playing for Harper.
Sarah Horner Lakes
Horner blew volleyballs past blockers. These regular-season numbers by the junior outside hitter were sweet music to the Eagles' ears: 180 kills, 23 blocks, 207 digs, 39 aces. "She played right side (on varsity) last season and has been a huge force on the outside as a junior," coach Molly May said. "She has developed great court sense for a young player and strong leadership skills, being the 2011 co-captain with (Rachel) Sieracke. She is extremely coachable and always looking for ways to fine-tune her play. Sarah has a .375 kill percentage and is often recognized for swinging over the block."
Kayla Huck Grayslake North
The Knights were in luck with Huck. The senior libero hustled for 438 digs. "Kayla has been the backbone of our defense this season," coach Nikki Kirchway said. "With her 438 digs and countless amazing free-ball passes, she grew as a volleyball player. I am very proud of her improvement and her ability to read attacks and pass the ball consistently back up to our setter." Huck was named to the all-tournament teams at both the Lake Forest invite and the Grayslake North tournament. "She has truly been a great leader this season," Kirchway said, "and never gave up in any matches."
Mackenzie Kurth Stevenson
Third varsity season, third different position. It didn't faze the Patriots' mighty Mackenzie, who excelled playing libero. "She is such a mentally tough and focused kid," coach Tim Crow said. "She is always stable no matter what the situation is. Her insane desire to win is something that sets her a part from most of the athletes we have had. She has developed into strong leader the past two seasons." Kurth led the Patriots with 374 digs and her 36 aces ranked second on the squad.
Megan Meline Vernon Hills
A varsity ace on the softball field since her freshman year, she's adept at hitting her spots. She did that on a consistent basis on the volleyball court this season. The Meline headed into the final week of the regular season with 146 kills. She also had 29 aces (92-percent server), 26 block kills and 172 digs. "She has finally found her niche as a consistent outside hitter," coach Abbie Gutzmer said of her three-year varsity player. "Not only does she have the ability to get kills at will, but her heart and effort on every play make her the notice of our opposing coaches. On the court, Megan is an aggressive everything -- hitter, server, defensive player. She wants to be a part of every play in order to make a difference on our squad."
Megan Mowery Carmel Catholic
Mowery provided more and more mo'. The senior setter/right side often got the Corsairs going with her deft sets and kills. In helping steer Carmel to a 20-win season, she registered team bests of 270 assists and 195 digs, while also delivering 129 kills and 40 aces. She'll continue her volleyball career at St. Francis.
Shannon Nugent Vernon Hills
Her hops -- she's a two-time all-state high jumper -- come in handy around the volleyball net. Nugent, a three-year varsity player and repeat all-area choice, headed into last weekend's Crosstown Classic with 167 kills and 27 block kills. The junior middle also had 31 aces (92-percent server) and 127 digs. "(She) has the ability to play a variety of positions for us on the floor," coach Abbie Gutzmer said. "This is the first season that she has played all the way around and has excelled not only offensively, but defensively as well. As our most experienced player, we rely on Shannon to not only lead our team in terms of her play, but off the court as well."
Amanda Orchard Lake Zurich
Bound for Pitt, she hits it. She goes and gets it, too. "In the northwest suburbs, she is the most talented all-around player," coach Matt Aiello said. "As a two-year captain, she has put a lot on her shoulders over the years and has never disappointed. She can get a kill from anywhere on the court at anytime. She plays her best against the best. What separates Amanda from the rest of top players in the area/state is her willingness to play defense. She covers a lot of court and makes her teammates better." A four-year starter, three-year all-area player and the captain of the Daily Herald Lake County all-area team, the 6-footer finished the regular season with 348 kills, 197 digs, 27 aces and 42 blocks.
Libby Perrone Warren
The Blue Devils' senior setter banged up her knee in last weekend's Crosstown Classic. But like that was going to stop her from playing in the team's regional opener against Libertyville? "She wasn't going to let that bother her, it being her senior year," coach Julie Filippo said. A three-year all-conference player, the versatile Perrone played every position in her Warren career. This season she dished out 216 assists, while also ringing up 83 kills, 31 blocks, 193 digs and 23 aces in the Blue Devils' 6-2 offense. "She's just a hustler," Filippo said. "She'll go for every ball. She doesn't give up. She can brush off mistakes and keep her head still in the game."
Liza Pflugradt Stevenson
Lots to like about Liza. "Liza has been huge for us this season," coach Tim Crow said of the 6-foot junior outside hitter. "She really has stepped up her game and carried us in matches, especially when Rachel (Baader) was out for a stretch (with an injury). She is probably the most mature and focused kid on the team. She is always taking care of the other girls and doing the little things that make a difference." Pflugradt pounded 169 kills through the regional semifinals, while also totaling 16 solo blocks and 31 aces.
Taylor Pippen Carmel Catholic
Pippen dunked. Well, it seemed that way sometimes considering how the volleyball bounced high off the floor after one of her kills. The daughter of former Bull Scottie Pippen, her athleticism was obvious. So was her work ethic. In leading the Corsairs to a regional final, Pippen posted team-best totals of 172 kills, 87 blocks and 43 aces. Her hitting percent (33) was also tops on the squad. She earned a scholarship from Southern Illinois University.
Jessica Ploss Antioch
"JP" used to take BP. The former softball slugger decided to focus on volleyball following a productive sophomore season on varsity -- she hit 3 homers in a game -- and it's clear she boasts power in this sport too. The senior middle blocker ranked second on the Sequoits in kills (201), hitting .354 with 47 percent of her attempts resulting in kills and only 12 percent resulting in errors. Her 70 blocks led the squad. She also posted 76 digs while playing back row sparingly. "(She) was a silent leader on the team, worked hard every minute she was on the court both in practice and matches, and like Brianna (Grant), she carried the load offensively," coach Glen Heitman said. "To have the numbers she did with everyone knowing the ball was going to her, to me, is quite impressive."
Kerry Risley Libertyville
The Wildcats witnessed -- and benefitted -- from the rise of Risley. The senior middle hitter pounded 102 kills during the regular season, while leading the team in blocks (68) and ranking third in aces (24). "Kerry exploded onto the scene this season after getting some varsity experience last season as a junior," coach Greg Loika said. "She has been a much crisper blocker and aggressive attacker this season, which has been huge in diversifying the Wildcat attack."
Scottley Sandnes Grant
Great, Scottley. The third-year varsity player and second-year libero was a bright spot for the Bulldogs. "She has worked extremely hard and become one of the best passers in our conference," coach Sue Thompson said. "She is one of our captains and a great team leader for our young team." Sandnes rang up 382 digs and also delivered 20 aces, serving at a 95-percent clip.
Layne Self Lake Zurich
Self continues to make a name for herself. The 6-foot-1 junior middle blocker had an even better season than last year, when she earned all-area honors. Her regular-season numbers included 289 kills, 72 blocks, 108 digs and 49 aces. "Layne has developed into arguably the best middle in the area and is in the conversation for being one of the best in the state," coach Matt Aiello said. "I have not seen a middle all season that can do what she does. Layne played all the way around on the court for the first time in her career. As the season has progressed, she has moved into a permanent serve-receive role, as well." Self has had some of her best matches when facing the best. She pounded 13 kills against both Lake Forest and Lyons, 11 against St. Francis and nine against Cary-Grove. "Against the top teams, Layne takes over," Aiello said. "Teams have been setting up triple blocks and Layne consistently hits around it or over it. She also has a powerful jump serve that teams have difficulty handling. Layne's development gave us as imposing of a 1-2 punch (Self and Amanda Orchard) as anyone in the state. She is starting to realize just how good she already is and how great she is going to be."
Rachel Sieracke Lakes
For four varsity seasons, Sieracke rocked. No wonder the Eagles kept getting better each year. In leading the Eagles to a 24-win regular season, the setter piled up 540 assists, 71 kills (. 378 percentage), 189 digs, 24 aces and 21 blocks. "She has been a four-year starter and a leader and role model for the girls from the beginning," coach Molly May said. As a junior, Sieracke played primarily middle blocker and was named all-conference, all-area and team MVP. This year she was recognized as part of the NSC sportsmanship team. "As a co-captain this season, she is a player everyone looks to for advice and always puts her team first," said May, whose Eagles, in her second season, set the school record for wins. "I wish I could have worked with Rachel for more than two years. She is one of the most hardworking and dedicated athletes I have ever coached. Her passion for the game and true desire never goes unnoticed when she is on the court."
Megan Tallman Wauconda
The junior setter is so talented and versatile on the court that coach Bob Taterka found a new way to take advantage of her skills. He started the season by switching his team's offense from a 5-1 to a 6-2. That helped explain Tallman's all-around numbers this season. She headed into the state tournament with 280 kills, 314 assists, 181 digs and 74 aces. No wonder Indiana University offered her a volleyball scholarship, which she accepted during the summer. "I don't know if there is a more complete player in the county," Taterka said. "She even serve-receives. Her explosiveness is off the charts."
Kristen Walding Lake Zurich
Bears coach Matt Aiello had a concern about his team in August. "At the start of the season, our biggest question mark was if Kristen would be up for the task of setting our offense," Aiello said. "Kristen answered that question with a resounding yes." The sophomore setter played like a varsity veteran, dishing out 1,002 assists during the regular season in addition to contributing 67 kills, 55 blocks, 123 digs and 17 aces. "Kristen was possibly the most consistent aspect to our team throughout," Aiello said. "She has gotten better every single day and has earned the respect of her teammates. She works incredibly hard and has turned into arguably one of the top sophomore setters in all of Illinois. She runs a brilliant offense, can turn the tide of the game with her decision-making and willingness to take over. Our Achilles' heel most of the season was serve-receive breakdown. Kristen never complained, always smiled, and stayed patient as our passers worked to improve. Without Kristen, we would not have been able to play at such a high level late in the year. I do believe that without Kristen we would barely be an average team. Kristen is en route to doing some pretty special things as a setter. We are in good hands with Kristen's return."
Kristen Webb Libertyville
The Wildcats enjoyed another season of Webb gems. The junior libero entered the state tournament with 397 digs, 43 aces, 35 kills and 22 assists. "With my very biased opinion obviously," coach Greg Loika said, "I believe she is the best libero in the area." Webb is in her third season anchoring the Wildcats' back row and has also seen action at outside hitter this season. The three-year all-area selection is passing over a 2.30 in serve receive and is a captain for the team for the second year in a row. She contributed a season-high 25 digs in a win over Lake Zurich, and also notched a career-high 76 digs and 15 aces in the Crosstown Classic. She was named all-tournament at the Prospect and Stevenson invites.
Cindy Zhou Libertyville
Fans' reaction when watching Zhou: "Wow." The junior setter dished out 511 assists during the regular season, while also using her long frame to post 74 kills and 47 blocks. She also had 128 digs and 29 aces. She was named all-tourney at the prestigious Wheaton Classic. The captain led the Wildcats to 27 regular-season wins. "She has developed into an incredibly smart player, and an efficient floor leader, since she began running the 5-1 offense last season as a sophomore," coach Greg Loika said. Following her all-area sophomore season, Zhou gave a verbal commitment to the University of Michigan.
Emily Aigner Lakes Jr. OH
Rachel Baader Stevenson Jr. OH
Klaudia Basierak Grayslake Central Sr. OH
Brittany Busscher Mundelein Sr. OH
Gabi Casper Grayslake Central So. OH
Karen Chin Mundelein Sr. S/RS
Jenn Claussen Vernon Hills Jr. OH
Brianna Grant Antioch Sr. OH
Marissa Grant Antioch Fr. S
Joanna Guhl Grayslake North Jr. RS
Erinn Hellweg Wauconda Sr. OH
Sarah Horner Lakes Jr. RS/OH
Kayla Huck Grayslake North Sr. L
Mackenzie Kurth Stevenson Sr. L
Megan Meline Vernon Hills Sr. OH
Megan Mowery Carmel Catholic Sr. S
Shannon Nugent Vernon Hills Jr. MB
*Amanda Orchard Lake Zurich Sr. OH
Libby Perrone Warren Sr. S
Taylor Pippen Carmel Catholic Sr. MB
Jessica Ploss Antioch Sr. MB
Liza Pflugradt Stevenson Jr. OH
Kerry Risley Libertyyville Sr. MB
Scottley Sandnes Grant Sr. L
Layne Self Lake Zurich Jr. MB
Rachel Sieracke Lakes Sr. S/MB
Megan Tallman Wauconda Jr. S/OH
Kristen Walding Lake Zurich So. S
Kristen Webb Libertyville Jr. L
Cindy Zhou Libertyville Jr. S
Beth Arnold (Grayslake Central, Sr., RS), Caitlin Barry (Carmel Catholic, Jr., OH), Meghan Brewster (Grayslake Central, So., S), Alex Dahlstrom (Grayslake Central, So., MB), Jaime Dickinson (Jr., OH), Ashley Dolin (Mundelein, Jr., MB), Ali Gattone (Libertyville, Sr., OH), Anne Geocaris (Stevenson MB), Paige Jespersen (Warren, Jr., OH), Kelsey Klausner (Grayslake North, Jr., OH), Amelia Leng (Lake Zurich, Jr., MB), Rachel Lira (Vernon Hills, Sr., MB), Lisa Lowry (Grayslake North, Jr., S), Katie McGrath (Grayslake North, Sr., OH), Sara Plasencia (Round Lake, Sr., L), Jenna Radtke (Stevenson OH), Taylor Rossi (Grant, S/RS), Izzy Rodriguez (Round Lake, So., OH), Michelle Schroeder (Stevenson MB), Alex Silvola (Lakes, Jr., RS), Julia Smagacz (Libertyville, Jr., OH), Rebecca Thiltgen (Wauconda, Sr. L), Jessie Wayland (Carmel Catholic, Sr. OH), Madi Wilcox (Mundelein, So., S), Taylor Zant (Libertyville, Jr., RS), Rachel Ziegler (Warren, So. S)
Selections and profiles by Joe Aguilar