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updated: 8/25/2012 11:35 PM

Girls volleyball/Scouting the Fox Valley

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Bartlett Hawks

Coach: Michele Ehrlich (first season)

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Conference: Upstate Eight (Valley)

Last year: 15-20, 2-4 FVC Valley

Top players: seniors Elizabeth Arco (MH), Cara Carrion (DS), Haley Hasenstein (RS), Katie Hrbacek (OH), Claire Krohn (RS), Gianna Miceli (MH/RS); juniors Kristina Arns (MH), Lexi Cazzato (DS), Rachel Hartford (OH), Hannah Senne (DS); sophomore Danielle Santucci (S)

Outlook: Only outside hitter Katie Hrbacek and middle Elizabeth Arco return from a team that lost to St. Charles North in the first round of last year's Class 4A playoffs. With so many new players on the roster, including sophomore setter Danielle Santucci, it could take some matches before the Hawks spread their wings fully. "We are a fairly young team," said Bartlett coach Michele Ehrlich, a former Daily Herald all-area selectee when she played for the Hawks. "We have been working on playing as a team and communicating better on the court. The girls are still learning how to jell on the court together. We have been focusing on defense."

Burlington Central Rockets

Coach: Marv Leavitt (23rd season overall, eighth at Central)

Conference: Big Northern (East)

Last year: 21-14

Top players: seniors Karrington Bell (L/DS), Lexie Bouza (OH), Courtney Cox (S), Jess Emrich (S), Lauren Peltonen (MH), Tori Settanni (MH), Hannah Yoder (OH); juniors MaKenna Jensen (MH), Allie O'Reilly (DS), sophomore Lauren Wiltsie (OH)

Outlook: The Rockets were dealt a blow in warm-ups for the preseason opener when four-year varsity player and captain Hannah Yoder sprained her ankle. She'll be out a month. Central is a strong team with Yoder, but the Rockets proved by beating Hampshire without her that the team has diverse talent. "I'm very impressed with our team," Rockets coach Marv Leavitt said. "It's a very good practice team. They work hard every day and have a nice focus." The Rockets don't possess overwhelming height. Yoder is the team's tallest player at 5-11. Hitter Lexie Bouza and middle MaKenna Jensen are 5-10. Bouza, a strong left-handed hitter from the right side, was one of the team's leading scorers last year (140 kills). Emerich did not set last year after tearing an ACL. She's back healthy and playing strong, according to Leavitt. Sophomore Lauren Wiltsie is 5-6, but the strong leaper was effective on the outside as a freshman. Junior Allie O'Reilly returns to her natural position on defense after setting last season out of necessity. She and sophomore Karrington Bell protect the back row. The Rockets will rotate three middles: seniors Lauren Peltonen and Tori Settanni and Jensen.

Cary-Grove Trojans

Coach: Patty Langanis (18th season)

Conference: Fox Valley (Valley),

Last year: 37-4, 12-0 FVC Valley, Class 4A state runner-up

Top players: seniors Jess Bartczyszyn (S), Mallory Wilczynski (MB), Alex Larsen (OH), Micah Duzey (5-4),

Outlook: A mix of veterans and young talent make Cary-Grove an intriguing team to watch. The 2009 Class 4A state champs are coming off back-to-back state runner-up finishes. Though the Trojans may not exert the dominance of years past initially, they have the talent to remain a force in the Fox Valley Conference's Valley Division and the postseason depending on how quickly this team develops. "We have a lot of young, untested talent," Cary-Grove coach Patty Langanis said. "We're excited to see where they're going to take this team." A youth movement is under way. Four sophomores and three freshmen populate the 16-player roster, which is led by two veterans. Senior Jess Bartczyszyn is the third straight Cary-Grove setter to earn a Division-I scholarship. She is committed to Louisiana-Lafayette. She finished her all-area junior season with 636 assists, 102 digs, 59 blocks, 57 kills and 21 aces. Senior Mallory Wilczynski (6-2) has been a significant contributor in the middle since her sophomore season. She is committed to Bryant College, a Division-I school in Rhode Island. Senior Alex Larsen stepped up and became a regular at midseason. She scored some huge kills in the state playoffs and finals. Senior defender Micah Duzey saw a bit of action last season. Otherwise, the talent is inexperienced at the varsity level. "We're still figuring things out in a good way," said Langanis, whose team opens the season Thursday. "This is the one of the most talented sophomore/freshmen groups we've had in a while, but they're coming in with the right attitude. They want to help this team."

Crystal Lake South Gators

Coach: Jorie Fontana (fifth season)

Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)

Last year: 14-22, 4-8 FVC Valley

Top players: senior Nicole Jurkash (OH), Katie Myers (DS), Kylie Portera (MH); juniors Avalon Nero (OH/S), Nicole Slimko (MH/OH); sophomore Carly Nolan (OH)

Outlook: CL South was an extremely young team last season, and many of those same players return bent on restoring the Gators to the upper echelon of the competitive FVC Valley Division. Meyers, a varsity veteran, leads a solid defense. The team has size at the net with middles Kyle Portera (5-11) and Nicole Slimko (6-1). Carly Nolan held her own last year as a freshman. "Last year's team was very young," CL South coach Jorie Fontana said. "A lot of girls matured out on the court and gained invaluable experience. There will be a lot more aggressive plays and less timidity when it comes to close matches and long rallies. We'll be playing to win."

Dundee-Crown Chargers

Coach: Christine Hopkins-Muehl (first season)

Conference:Fox Valley (Valley)

Last year: 7-29, 0-12 FVC Valley

Top players: seniors Claire Dickson (OH/RS), Cori Eischen (S), Jillian Hostetler (RS), Steph Magsamen (OH), Samantha Pagano (MH), Julia Parreno (L), Sarah Poore (MH/RS), Jordan Ruggles (L/DS); junior Franki Scarpelli (L); sophomores Payton De Luga (OH), Lauren Lococo (MH), Kathryn Novy (MH); freshman Gina Pagano (OH),

Outlook: Senior captains Cori Eischen and Steph Magsamen lead the Chargers into a new era under coach Christine Hopkins-Muehl, who has coached at D-C for 12 seasons at the underclass levels. She knows the current senior class better than anyone since she coached them as freshmen, sophomores and as junior varsity players last season. Versatile right side hitter Jillian Hostetler can play multiple positions. Sam Pagano gained some experience at middle last year and will be asked to play a larger role as a senior. Another middle hitter is sophomore Lauren Lococo, who was elevated to the varsity last season but will be limited early while recovering from a softball injury. With an eye toward the future, the roster includes three sophomores and a freshman. "Obviously, our conference is extremely difficult," Hopkins-Muehl said. "We are hoping to be more competitive in our matches and develop our underclass players to develop a foundation for the upcoming seasons."

Elgin Maroons

Coach: Scott Stewart (second season)

Conference: Upstate Eight (River)

Last year: 6-30, 1-5 UEC River

Top players: seniors Hope Demel (S/RS), Sarah Kish (RS), Taylor Powers (L), Jackie Shioli (OH), Monica Stockman (MB); Kristin Tayag (S/RS) Hannah Tykel (DS); junior Melanie Berg (OH); sophomores Taylor Hedl (DS), Abby Pierre-Louis (MB); freshman Emma Sirridge (MB)

Outlook: The Elgin volleyball program is gaining momentum. Second-year coach Scott Stewart cut approximately 10 seniors from the varsity this season and he still has seven seniors on the roster, along with sophomore middle Abbey Pierre-Louis (5-8) and freshman middle Emma Sirridge. "A natural athlete," according to Stewart, Pierre-Louis also plays softball and basketball. The team's best player is senior Hope Demel. She set last year and will again this season, however, she'll also hit from the back row in Elgin's newly installed 6-2 offense. The other setter will be senior Kristin Tayag. Senior libero Taylor Powers leads a strong defense that includes senior Hannah Tykol and sophomore Taylor Hedl. "This is probably the most athletic team I've coached at this school," Stewart said. "I think we'll be better than the last couple of years. It all depends. We have all the physical tools. If we can pull it together mentally, I think there's a lot of promise for us."

Elgin Academy Hilltoppers

Coach: Rich Witkowski (second season)

Conference: Independent School League

Last year: 14-12, 9-7 ISL

Top players: seniors Ellie Johnson (L), Brigitte Keslinke (OH), Claire Flugel (OH), Siyona Ravi (MH); sophomores Maggie Veltri (S), Kaitlyn Pearson (RS), Alyson Wittmeyer (MH); freshmen Corinne Lam (MH), Trinity Kleczewski (S), Lizzie Clements (MH), Olivia Oberdorf (S)

Outlook: Enough players now fill the five-year old program to form a junior varsity squad, enhancing player development. The varsity team, led by 5-foot-8 outside hitter Brigitte Keslinke, could be Elgin Academy's best yet. Also returning from a team that finished with a winning record are libero Ellie Johnson and 6-3 middle hitter Alyson Wittmeyer. "With so many returning players, they're used to the offense I put in last year," coach Rich Witkowski said. "They're hitting better. That's one of our strengths along with blocking in the front row. We have some new setters, so it will be a question of how fast they come along. I think we'll do better than last year. We could surprise some people." Witkowski said how quickly the Hilltoppers transition from defense to offense will be a key.

Hampshire Whip-Purs

Coach: Andrew Lindley (first season)

Conference: Fox Valley (Fox)

Last year: Top players: seniors Abigail Burke (L/DS), Jen Dumoulin (OH/RS), Kaleigh Franklin (RS/MB), Arianna Rominski (RS/MB); junior Julianna Gass (L/DS); sophomores Erin Foss (OH/RS), Brittany Laffin (RS/S)

Outlook: New coach Andrew Lindley takes over. He was former coach Karen Liss' assistant for the past five seasons. He'll direct a lineup that includes returning senior starters Jen Dumoulin and Arianna Rominski as well as returning sophomores starters Brittany Laffin and Erin Foss. Abby Burke and Kaleigh Franklin each rotated in significantly as juniors. "Jen and Ari will be our two big players and leaders on the court," Lindley said. "They'll lead the offense along with Brittany. Our offense is a little faster paced this year. Once they get accustomed to it as we move along, I'll be looking for a lot from those three." Lindley said the team is playing inconsistently thus far, but the Whip-Purs have the potential to be competitive in the Fox Division of the Fox Valley Conference. "They're a great group and they work hard," Lindley said. "We definitely have the ability to put things together as we gain consistency."

Harvest Christian Academy Lions

Coach: Kim Floyd (second season)

Conference: Northeast Athletic (first year)

Last year: 25-12, lost to River Ridge in a Class 1A supersectional

Top players: seniors Michaela Frantz (MH), Katelyn Floyd (S), Sarah Kott (MB), Erica Manusos (OH), Jordan Sollars (S/RS); juniors Sydney Doby (MH), Chloe Corbett (OH); sophomores Ashlyn Floyd (S), Jade Martinez (L), Shayna Manusos (DS); freshmen Ellie Burzlaff (RS)

Outlook: The Lions are back for more after a highly successful debut IHSA season in 2011. Harvest Christian roared in the playoffs, advancing all the way to the Elite Eight in Class 1A. Even more success is expected in year two. "I'd like to make it downstate," coach Kim Floyd said. "That's the goal and we're heading toward that." Junior Sydney Doby is one reason. The dynamic 6-foot-2 hitter was a force in the middle as a sophomore. She tweaked her knee in the St. Edward match last week and won't return for a week or two, according to Floyd. Doby and junior hitter Chloe Corbett are prime weapons. Senior middle Sarah Kott (5-10) has improved in her speed and ability to terminate hitting attempts. Floyd calls senior Jordan Sollars "a factor in every game." She's not tall at 5-6, but she hits the ball hard. Sollars and Katelyn Floyd will set a 6-2 offense. Most of the players on the squad play club volleyball at Top Flight, though Sollars played for Illinois Heat and Jade Martinez played for Club Fusion. "This team is stronger than last year," Floyd said. "We're going to have a pretty good year. Their extra year of knowledge and experience only adds to everything."

Huntley Red Raiders

Coach: Karen Liss (seventh season, first at Huntley)

Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)

Last year: 31-7, 9-3 FVC Valley

Top players: seniors Haley Ream (MB), Hailey Vitacco (MB); juniors Rachel Kisten (RH), Erin Lyman (OH), Eilish Reagan (DS), Rachel Shores (DS), Emily Westermeyer (OH); sophomore Kelsey DeWulf (S); freshman Erin Erb (MB)

Outlook: A complete overhaul. That's the best description of the Huntley girls volleyball program this year. New coach Karen Liss takes over Michelle Jakubowski, now the school's athletic director. Liss inherits a rebuilding program following the graduation of multiple senior stars from last season's sectional finalist, including hitter Samantha Boesch (Wake Forest) and all-area team honorary captain Amy Dion (Maryland). Senior Hailey Vitacco (6-0) is the only member of the rotation returning, though defender Erin Lyman did see some playing time. The Red Raiders get an influx of new blood, including junior right-side hitter Rachel Kisten (6-0), sophomore setter Kelsey DeWulf and freshman middle Erin Erb (5-11). "We have a lot of rebuilding to do," Liss said. "This year we're really the underdog. Nobody really expects much from us, so I hope we can come in and surprise a lot of teams. This group works very hard. A strength is our speed. We can catch some teams off-guard."

Jacobs Golden Eagles

Coach: Lisa Dwyer (eighth season)

Conference: Fox Valley (Valley)

Last year: 24-12, 8-4 FVC Valley

Top players: seniors Rachel Arceneaux (MH), Alyssia Dugo (MH/OPP), Alyssa Ehrhardt (OH), Taylor Lauder (S), Maris Smith (OH); junior Mackenzie Traub (S); sophomores Jenna Bilgrien (OPP), Kassie Kasper (DS); freshman Katie Mahoney (MB)

Outlook: The Golden Eagles are poised to challenge for the title in the Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference, led by a bevy of key returnees. All-area outside hitters Alyssa Ehrhardt and Maris Smith return. Ehrhardt enters her fourth season of varsity competition. The Toledo recruit led Jacobs last season with 370 kills and 72 aces. She also made 220 digs. Smith notched 169 kills, 225 digs, 47 aces as a junior. They'll hit sets from returning senior Taylor Lauder, who delivered 671 assists last season. The experienced lineup also returns savvy 5-9 middle/opposite Rachel Arcenaux and talented sophomore libero Kassie Kasper. Arecenaux and newcomers Alyssia Dugo (5-8), Jenna Bilgrien (6-0) and Katie Mahoney (6-0) provide a strong block. "(We are) looking to come back strong this season with our usual tenacity on defense and never-say-die attitudes," Jacobs coach Lisa Dwyer said. "Our tradition of tough defense will again be a thorn in the sides of many opponents."

Larkin Royals

Coach: Henry Graack (second season)

Conference: Upstate Eight (River)

Last year: 12-21, 1-5 UEC River

Top players: seniors Anna Gaston (OH), Alexis Price (OH); juniors Olivia Kofie (MH), Alyssa McGhee (S), Brianna Stewart (RS)

Outlook: Larkin boys volleyball coach Henry Graack takes over the girls team this fall. He began his coaching career at Larkin years ago as the freshman girls coach under longtime varsity coach Mary O'Brien. He was also the sophomore coach when Gail Johnson directed the varsity. Graack inherits a team on the rise, led by junior middle Olivia Kofie and junior right side Brianna Stewart, who moves from the middle. Kofie is a force at the net, but the block isn't the worrisome aspect of Larkin's defense. "We have some very good blockers on our team, but need to improve our defense behind the block," Graack said. Senior outside hitter Anna Gaston started last season. Junior setter Alyssa McGhee gained experience in a limited role. She will set Kofie, Gaston, Stewart and senior outside hitter Alexis Price. "We have a few girls that are very efficient at putting the ball away," Graack said. "The more transition points we earn this season the better we will be. Passing is the main point of focus thus far for us. We have a team that is willing to hustle and has the work ethic needed to win. Focusing on the little things and using our blocking and feeding our best hitters will be the key to a good season."

St. Edward Green Wave

Coach: Jaime Dovichi (ninth season)

Conference: Suburban Christian (Gold)

Last year: 22-14, lost to Timothy Christian in Class 2A sectional final

Top players: seniors Mary Kate Nastali (OPP), Rena Ranallo (OH); juniors Mallory Gross (S), Shannon Igielski (OH), Cory Kelly (MB), Allison Kruk (DS), Stephanie Mangahas (DS), Alicia Martinez (OH), Clara McDowell (DS), Bridget Nastali (RS), Maria Von Ahnen (MB), Katie Swanson (OH/MH); sophomores Ceci Rapp (RS), Casey Gredzieleski (S)

Outlook: The IHSA reconfigured its four-class system for this season, which resulted in St. Edward's elevation from Class 2A to Class 3A. The Green Wave enjoyed much success in recent postseasons in Class 2A, including last year's appearance in the Winnebago sectional final. "3A is a whole new ballgame," said St. Edward coach Jaime Dovichi. "If (the IHSA) puts us out west, maybe the Rockford area, we could still do well. But there's no telling where we might go. They could send us south to a regional with St. Francis. I'm not sure what to expect yet. Either way, we'll definitely compete." Dovichi lost her starting setter, outside hitter and middle to graduation, but senior captain Rena Ranallo returns along with a strong crop of juniors, many of whom played significantly as sophomores. Dovichi calls junior outside hitter Katie Swanson "a go-to player," and said junior middle Cory Kelly has gotten comfortable in the middle. Junior libero Allison Kruk plays consistent defense, and junior Shannon Igielski was third on the team in kills this weekend at the Chicago Christian Invite. Sophomore right side Cece Rapp (6-2) has worked her way into the starting lineup. "It's another year where I'll be able to see more by midyear," Dovichi said. "We have so many different options we're trying out early. We're an above average team. We'll beat some people."

South Elgin Storm

Coach: Joni Plach (eighth season)

Conference: Upstate Eight (Valley)

Last year: 13-19-1, 2-4 UEC Valley

Top players: seniors Karlee Bradley (L/DS), Corbin Kehe (S), Sam Kummerer (RS), Alyssa Montag (L/DS), Rachel Murray (L/DS), Amanda Nadler (MH), Allison Osborne (MH), Jessica Taddeo (S); juniors Adriana Loiacono (MH), Ashley Oandasan (OH), Bri Reum (MH)

Outlook: South Elgin is prepared to take things to the next level with the return of most of its roster, led by skilled senior middle Amanda Nadler and junior outside hitter Ashley Oandasan, who enters her third varsity season. Oandasan led the team in kills last season; Nadler led in blocks. Nadler, fellow senior Allison Osborne and junior Bri Reum present a solid block. Senior Corbin Kehe sets the attack. "It's the most skilled team all around that I've had," South Elgin coach Joni Plach said. "I'm focusing more on them being smarter players. We're working on skills in practice, but I'm trying to take it to the next level. I want them looking at the blockers more, looking at the defense and calling plays that will help us run an offense against certain teams like St. Charles North with three big blockers. I want them to grow up as players and do more for themselves as far as strategy. The regional starts Oct. 22. It gets here quick. I've told them it's their season; what do they want to do with it?"

Streamwood Sabres

Coach: Lisa Vazzana (third season)

Conference: Upstate Eight (River)

Last year: 9-27, 1-5 UEC River

Top players: seniors Brittany Kemp (S); juniors Lexi Engram (MH), Kaitlyn Hedger (MH/RS), Hannah McGlone (MH)

Outlook: The Sabres look to improve upon last year's showing with the return of three starters: senior setter Brittany Kemp (5-9), junior middle Kaitlyn Hedger (5-10) and junior middle Hannah McGlone (6-0). Kemp is an energetic, third-year varsity player. McGlone "is a powerhouse out of the middle and will do a great job again swinging and blocking," Streamwood coach Lisa Vazzana said. Hedger, an aggressive server, played the middle last season but makes the switch to the right side as a junior. Engram is a 6-1 starting middle. Defensive positioning has been issue, according to the Sabres' coach, but that should come in time with several new players in the lineup. Overall, Streamwood's arrow is pointed up. "I'd like to beat last year's record," Vazzana said. "I'd like to beat our rival schools and place higher in each tournament in comparison to last year."

Westminster Christian Warriors

Coach: Kathy Ramos (third year)

Conference: Northeast Athletic

Last year: 19-10, 6-2 NAC

Top players: seniors Elizabeth Farwell (S), Cara Tyrrell (L/OH); juniors Cristina Cusumano (OH), Courtney Gnan (OH), Claire Speweik (MH); sophomore Savannah Dutcher (MH)

Outlook: The Warriors expect a successful regular season and deep postseason run, thanks to the return of five starters from a team that won 19 games and reached a regional final. Leading the way are all-NAC senior Cara Tyrrell and all-NAC junior Claire Speweik. Tyrell is an all-around player, equally adept in the back row or the front. Speweik, a middle hitter, will be helped at the net this season by sophomore Savannah Dutcher. The Warriors should challenge Harvest Christian Academy and Keith Country Day for the NAC title. "We have a solid team with great leadership and experience," Westminster Christian coach Kathy Ramos said. "(Our) key position will be the offensive front with a solid attack. We're shooting for our fourth consecutive winning season."

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