Top teams: Benet, Downers Grove North, Glenbard East, Glenbard West, Lake Park, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, St. Francis, Waubonsie Valley, Wheaton Warrenville South.
Top players:Addison Trail: Tom Connelly, OH, sr.; Benet: Pat Dougherty, S, jr. Luke Ladowski, OH, sr.; Bobby Wehrli, OH, sr.; Downers Grove North: Brooks Nevrly, L, jr.; Paul Novosyolov, OH, sr.; Zack Parik, S, sr.; JP Tulacka, MH, sr.; Downers Grove South: C.J. Blaha, S, sr.; Brian Graham, MH, sr.; Glenbard East: Matt Finder, L, sr.; Matt Ploke, OH, sr. Tim Shenkin, S/MH, sr.; Glenbard North: Brad Darzins, OH, sr.; Tyler Wiser, S, jr.; Glenbard West: Alex Emanuel, S, sr.; Alex Kahn, OH, sr.; Ian Lawson, OH sr.; Mikey O'Dea, L, sr. Hinsdale Central: LJ Booth, MH, sr.; Hinsdale South: Robbie Mead, OH, jr.; Lake Park: Devin Burke, MH, sr.; Mike Dickerson, RS, sr. Michael Ragan, OH, sr; Metea Valley: Martin Krasuski, OH, jr.; Chad Martin, S, sr.; Naperville Central: Jon Chiczewski, OH, so.; Albert Lei, S, sr.; Naperville North: Matt Jennings, MH, sr.; Gert Lisha, S, jr.; Kyle Losik, OH, sr.; Spencer Sauter, OH, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Trey Dimond, OH, sr., Jake Gerald, RS, sr.; Connor Richardson, MH, sr.; Tommy Stevens, OH, sr.; St. Francis: Tim Olsen, RS, sr.; Josef Santos, L, jr.; Joey Trunk, OH, sr.; Waubonsie Valley: Luke Furman, S, jr.; Jon Pyne, RS, jr.; Michael Simmons, OH, so.; West Chicago: Liam Flaherty, OH, sr.; Wheaton Academy: Tim Robbins, MH, jr. Wheaton North: Joey Krzyzewski, OH, sr.; Kevin Rezabek, S, sr.; Alex Jackson, MH; sr.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Matt Callaway, MH, sr.; Thomas Jaeschke, OH, sr.; Matt Nussbaum MH, sr.; Tim Zyburt, OH, sr. Willowbrook: Jacob Schmiegelt, OH/MH, sr. York: Jack Ribar, MH, sr.
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Outlook: Once again the DuPage Valley Conference race will be a killer, with three teams -- Glenbard East, Naperville North and Wheaton Warrenville South -- that could be among the top eight teams in the state. But they'll fight it out in conference and sectional and only one will emerge as a state finalist. Last year that was Naperville North, which topped the six-time state champion Tigers in the sectional final.
The Tigers are back, bigger, stronger, and ready to compete for the championship they're in the hunt for every year. Coach Bill Schreier believes that this could be the most talented and deepest team he's ever had. Jaeschke is among the best in Illinois, and the roster is studded with all-stars in both the high school and the club ranks.
Naperville North loses its main scoring threat, Shane Witmer, but Sauter, a super talent who lost a lot of time to injuries last year, will step up as the main man. Lisha, a 6-foot-6 setter who transferred from Oswego East, is a great addition. Their Huskies teammates include a group of battle-tested veterans with a sprinkling of promising newcomers to fill out the playing mix.
Glenbard East is always up there fighting for the chance to go to state, and there are seven regulars returning from a squad that went 29-9 when they were juniors and sophomores. Shenkin is the Rams' superstar who will set in the back row and face the opponents as a middle hitter up front. West Chicago, Naperville Central, Wheaton North and Glenbard North should be fighting it out for fourth place in the DVC barring some surprises.
Glenbard West, a relatively new program, joined the big boys last year in the state quarterfinals and despite some key personnel losses, the Hilltoppers have tasted triumph. Now major-league hitters such as Lawson and Kahn and their friends expect to win.
Downers Grove North loses the great Greg Petty, but the tall, veteran crew that remains gives coach Mark Wasik more depth than he's ever had and the Trojans are planning to make it beyond the regional final this year. Parik and Tulacka are athletic and smart.
While those schools represent the preseason elite, at least on paper, there are several others that will field powerful teams that could crash the country club.
Keep an eye on Benet, St. Francis, Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Lake Park.
This Redwings team has been preparing for this season for the past two years, and everybody is back from the squad that went 24-13 and got better as the season progressed. Benet is blessed with a pair of outstanding hitters in Wehrli and Ladowski, and Dougherty is one of the top court generals around.
St. Francis is a perennial high-level contender and this year will be no different. The Spartans' multiattack offense will feature Trunk and a half-dozen other hitters who will play important roles.
Things should be interesting in the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division as last year's tri-champions Neuqua Valley, Lake Park and Waubonsie Valley battle it out. Neuqua lost all but one starter, but the Wildcats have reloaded around Gerald, transfer Richardson and a few part-time starters who were just waiting their turn to move into the spotlight.
Waubonsie Valley is tall, athletic and deep with former all-conference setter Furman setting the tone. Simmons, who also played setter as a freshman last year, has grown 3 inches and moved to outside hitter, where he'll be a potent weapon, and he can still help out with the setting in some situations. Pyne is a great leaper who takes the other team's big scorer and can put it down himself. Color Warriors coach Al Lagger optimistic.
While Ragan is the go-to guy on Lake Park, the Lancers' lineup is filled with athletic, fundamentally sound seniors who can play team ball and beat you in a variety of ways.
Important dates: March 29-31: Tiger Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South; April 5: Wheaton Warrenville South at Naperville North; April 7: Springfest at Glenbard East; April 20-21 Downers Grove South Invite; April 27-28: Benet Invitational; May 8: Glenbard East at Naperville North; May 15: Glenbard East at Wheaton Warrenville South, Neuqua Valley at Waubonsie Valley; May 22 IHSA regional semifinals; June 1-2 state tournament final three rounds.
-- Neil Shalin