Another girls volleyball season is upon us. And that means it's time for the Daily Herald's girls volleyball season preview.
Of course, this season starts on a down note with the the loss of Stevenson's powerful Rachel Baader who fell victim to a knee injury. But Stevenson coach Tim Crow says his Patriots will battle without this key senior.
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Around the county, this should be another exciting season as several teams posted 20 or more wins a season ago and bring back key players. There are new coaches taking over the reins at Wauconda and Round Lake and four area coaches are now working in their seventh season.
Coach: Glen Heitman (sixth season)
Last season: 18-17
Players to Watch: Abigail McIlhany (Sr. OH), Samantha Falco (Jr. MH), Elena Kelsh (Jr. OH), Marissa Grant (So. S)
Outlook: The Sequoits graduated stars Brianna Grant (Texas Tech) and Jessica Ploss (Missouri-St. Louis) but Heitman is encouraged by his latest team as Antioch returns four starters. He'll have the youthful Grant setting again during her sophomore season. A year ago she registered 631 assists. "We are looking forward to great things from Marissa this season as she continues to grow as a setter,'' Heitman said. "She will have more options this season with the hitters we have and she should be able to show her abilities as she runs a strong well balanced offense."
Some of the newcomers to this team include juniors Madeline Johnson, Reagan Jordan and Ashlee Briggs. Sophomore Amanda Spera has also made this team.
"We are a young team with only three seniors and four returning players who saw playing time last season,'' Heitman said. "With hard work and a good attitude we should continue to improve as the season unfolds."
Coach: David Pazely (second year)
Last season: 27-14
Players to watch: Caitlin Barry (Sr. OH), Alyssa Armada (Jr. S), Sierra Kepski (So. DS), Elizabeth Rengers (Jr.M), Maura Zawaski (Sr. DS), Abigail Johnson (Jr. RS), Mary Paterkiewicz (Sr.S)
Carmel volleyball is on an upswing. Following a 27 win season, the Corsairs said so long to six seniors but with an early season win over Lake Zurich, the Corsairs should again be a competitive squad. Pazely thinks his defense will serve his team well.
"We work every day on our serving,'' Pazely said. "We also have full confidence in our back row."
The transfer (Armada) comes from Loyola Academy and Pazely has handed this junior the controls of this team.
"She makes good decisions,'' he said.
Coach: Sue Thompson (16th year)
Last season: 9-25
Players to watch: Brooke Buckley (Sr. OH), Taylor Rossi (Sr. S), Mallory Gizowski (Sr. RS), Beka Couch (Jr. OH), Gianna Gigliotti (Sr. L), Deanna Rodriguez (Sr. DS), Kayla Uhwat (Sr. DS)
Outlook: Thompson is excited about the latest edition of the Bulldogs. For one, Buckley will get a chance to play all-around.
"She will be our go to player this season,'' Thompson said.
Despite playing in tough division, Thompson expects to see her team to be competitive. "We are striving to be disciplined and focused each match,'' she said. "And put ourselves in position to win no matter who we are facing."
Coach: Jason Janczak (seventh year)
Last season: 25-13
Players to watch: Marina Treto (Sr DS), Gabi Casper (Jr. OH,) Meghan Brewster (Jr. OH), Alex Dahlstrom (Jr. MH), Anna Basten (Jr. OH).
Outlook: The Klaudia Basierak era is over at Central. She's off to the University of Dubuque for more volleyball. The Rams bring back some key players.
"We have an excellent mix of youth and experience on this team this year,'' Janczak said. "And we had a great summer with a lot of good long hours in the gym. While we are starting mostly juniors and one freshman this is a group of girls who works hard and who have the ability and desire to win this year. If these girls continue to work hard, we should be competitive all season long."
Janczak notes that his junior class brings in plenty of experience. Casper could be one player who helps fill the vacancy of Basierak. As a sophomore, she rang up 140 kills to go with 257 digs.
"We are focusing on quickening our offense and get a lot more first ball kills off of serve receive,'' he said. "We have also been focusing on serving aggressively and playing solid defense. We aren't very tall this year, but we hope that our speed, defense and serving compensate for that."
There is a freshman on this varsity team. She's right side hitter Allie Dahl. Lexi Beckman, a junior, is also a newcomer to this squad. She is a middle hitter.
Coach: Nikki Kirchway (seventh year)
Last season: 14-22
Players to watch: Kelly Casey (Sr. DS); Alaina Geissberger (Jr. MH); Joanna Guhl (Sr. RS); Kelsey Klausner (Sr. OH), Lisa Lowry (Sr.S)
Outlook: There is plenty of playing experience in the latest Grayslake North lineup.
"We have grown tremendously as individuals and as a team this past summer with everyone's dedication and hard work,'' Kirchway said. "With five returning players, our team has the much needed experience and leadership to be competitive in all our matches this season."
Despite a losing season a year ago, the Knights proved competitive in the tough Fox Valley Conference winning seven of 12 matches. Gull helped out on offense with 184 kills.
"We have a ton of potential this season and we are looking forward to how far we will go,'' Kirchway said. "In all, we are ready for the season to start. We are confident in ourselves, in our team and in our level of play. The girls are very excited to begin playing matches and they want to play at a higher level at every possible moment."
Some of the new players to watch are outside hitter Melanie Aiken and middle hitter Summer Camper.
Coach: Molly May (third year)
Last season: 27-12
Players to watch: Emily Aigner (Sr. OH), Sarah Horner (Sr. OH), Alex Silvola (Sr. RS), Shannon Grant (Sr. M), Stephanie Reed (Sr. S), Haley Halberg (Jr. M)
Outlook: Coming off the best season in school history, expectations will be high for these Eagles. Aigner had a breakout season last year with 282 kills and 355 digs. Horner is equally dangerous at the net with 180 kills and 207 digs. This team brings back five starters.
"We have high expectations for this year,'' said Lakes coach Molly May. "We are hoping to repeat a division title and compete for the North Suburban Conference as well as advance past regionals."
The Eagles reached the Sweet 16 a year ago before falling to Carmel in the sectional final.
Coach: Matt Aiello (seventh year)
Last season: 26-13
Players to watch: Kiley McPeek (Jr. L), Kristen Walding (Jr. S), Sydney Glover (Jr. OH), Amelia Leng, (Sr. M), Nicole Morrissey (Sr. RS), Layne Self (Sr, M), Mallory Parsons (Jr. OH)
Outlook: The Bears bring back plenty of talent from another successful campaign. Middle blocker Layne Self is off to the University of Rhode Island following a junior season in which she had 289 kills. And she'll have a returning setter in Walding. All she did as a sophomore is register 1,002 assists. Head coach Matt Aiello likes what he sees from his latest club. With both Self and Leng stationed in the middle, he knows his club can compete with the best of them.
"We have a lot of talent,'' Aiello said. "We have two of the best middles in Layne and Amelia and Kristen is one of the top junior setters."
The Bears have three sophomores who have made this team. They include setter Brianna Wold and outside hitters Amanda Kamins and Mickenzie Andrews.
Coach: Greg Loika (fourth year)
Last season: 28-9
Players to watch: Julia Smagacz (Sr. OH), Cindy Zhou (Sr. S), Kristen Webb (Sr. L), Taylor Zant (Sr. RS), Rhiannon Prentiss, Jr. OH), Alex Basler, (Soph. MH)
Outlook: Time to look for some maps. These Libertyville volleyball players will scatter following graduation in the spring. Hitter Julia Smagacz is headed to Akron University for more volleyball. Libero Kristen Webb is off to Indianapolis and Butler University. And setter Cindy Zhou is bound for the University of Michigan.
How good of a season are the Wildcats going to have?
"Once we get all the kinks worked out, I think we'll present a tough matchup for a lot of teams out there,'' said Libertyville coach Greg Loika. "And we should be in the hunt for our conference and some postseason hardware. Our defense will be outstanding, and we have the capability to score quickly in transition."
A year ago, Webb managed 397 digs and had 43 serving aces. She's already in the Libertyville record book for most digs in a career. Zhou dished out 571 assists from her setting position and added 47 blocks. Loika is expecting strong seasons out of hitters Smagacz and Zant.
Coach: George Dressen (seventh year)
Last season: 24-12
Players to watch: Ashley Dolin (Sr, M), Maddie Wilcox (Jr. S), Courtney Perreault (Sr. OH), Liz Cameron (Sr. L)
Dressen's latest club has a pair of co-captains. Dolin has been a member of this team since her freshman year and now the middle hitter is most likely headed to Augustana University for more volleyball next year. She'll share co-captains duties with setter Wilcox who will be running a 5-1 offense during his junior season.
"We should have one of our better blocking teams,'' Dressen said. "And we'll be very aggressive with our serving this year. We have a lot of jump servers."
Perreault will again hit outside for the Mustangs. There are some new faces with the addition of sophomore Yasmeen Johnson and Sarah Bregenzer.
"It might take us a little while to get going,'' Dressen said. "There are some strong teams in Illinois."
Coach: Kristin Lilla (first year)
Last season: 9-26
Players to watch: Melinda Blomberg, (Fr. RS), Izzy Rodriquez, (Jr. OH), Morgin Evins, (Sr. S), Domonique Gonzales, Sr. M)
Outlook: Lilla takes over the program after a five-year stint as sophomore coach. She is bringing up freshman Blomberg to play right away.
"She'll add height to our front row,'' Lilla said. "And we project her to become the core of our program as the seasons pass.''
Lilla knows she has some work to do as the Panthers try to compete. Round Lake graduated six players from last year's squad.
"With our core of returning players setting the tone early on, the new varsity players have quickly accepted the philosophy of "give everything you have,'' Lilla said. "What we lack in talent and height, we more than make up for with heart. I expect us to be scrappy and defensive minded."
Lilla is hoping her "blocking machine" Gonzales will have a strong season.
Coach: Tim Crow (11th season)
Last season: 31-9
Players to watch: Jenna Radtke (Sr. MH), Liza Pflugradt (Sr. OH), Anne Geocaris (SR, Setter), Julia Osmond (Jr. MH)
Outlook: If Baader was healthy would this team contend for a state title? As usual, the latest Stevenson club is tall. Radtke is headed to Northern Illinois University and stands 6-foot-1. She led the Pats in blocks a year ago. Plugradt is headed South for more volleyball. She will play at Jacksonville State in Alabama after notching 198 kills a year ago. Geocaris can play both right side and setter. She had 131 kills a year ago. In addition to the 6-2 Osmond, there is the 6-4 right side hitter Cara Maleski who will play right side during her junior season
"We expect to do well even with the absence of Rachel,'' Crow said. "We return four starters from last year's team and have five girls who are 6 feet or taller."
Maybe stepping into Baader's spot could by junior outside hitter Khailia Donaldson.
Coach: Abbie Gutzmer (sixth season)
Last season: 22-16
Players to watch: Shannon Nugent (Sr. OH), Jenn Claussen (Sr. OH), Brianna Bahlmann (Sr. M), Tori Smith (So. S), Jasmine Tamalunas (Sr. S)
Outlook: The Cougars can build around that one-two punch of Nugent and Claussen. Nugent is now in her fourth varsity season as a power hitter for Vernon Hills.
"She is our most experienced volleyball player and can play any of the three offensive positions on the court,'' said Vernon Hills coach Abbie Gutzmer. "She has really worked on improving her defensive skills in order to be a more all - around player and we are looking to her to do a lot for our team this year."
Claussen, too, is a veteran in the Vernon Hills lineup. She's been a three-year starter.
"Jenn is a power outside hitter who has the ability to dominate at her position. She too has worked on her ability to hit from any spot on the court and we will look to utilize her in both front row and back row positions. She is a natural leader that will be looked to more not just for her playing abilities but her leadership skills as well."
Coach: Julie Filippo (ninth year)
Last season: 13-25
Players to watch: Kendall Farmer (Sr,. OH), Danielle Buschick (Sr. OH), Jaime Dickinson (Sr. OH), Paige Jespersen (Sr. OH), Lisiann Rodriguez (Sr. DS), Savannah Slater (Sr. DS), Rachel Ziegler (Jr. S) Stephanie Karlovics (So, MH)
Outlook: Warren has experience blocking at the net. Now it's time to get the passing in order.
"Passing will still be a key component this season,'' Filippo said. "With Farmer, Buschick Jespersen and Dickinson we have the personnel to be very strong at the net."
Coming off a losing campaign, the new season started with a three set loss to Carmel.
"When we get more consistent we will see good things from this group,'' Filippo said.
The likes of Farmer, Dickinson and Jespersen have been in the program for all four years and just maybe it's their turn to win.
Coach: Allison Williams (first year)
Last season: 21-18
Players to watch: Megan Tallman, (Sr. S), Susan Karhoff (Jr. OH), Jordan Draegert, (Sr. DS), Ashley Anderson (Fr. L), Emily Holub (Sr. M), LeAnne Sakowicz, (Fr. S)
Outlook: The Bulldogs will wait for Indiana University bound Tallman as she recovers from a finger injury sustained during club season. New coach Williams has inherited a strong club and has even found some freshmen to fill in during Tallman's absence.
"We will be a young team with six newcomers to the team,'' Williams said. "But I feel we will be competitive and we will only get stronger once Megan Tallman comes back from her injury. It will be an interesting season to see how everyone develops and improves."
Tallman is an important player for the Bulldogs as she had 314 assists a year ago and added 280 kills. Williams is also excited to have two freshman up with the varsity and plans to use them. Sakowicz will help with the setting duties.
"She will help run the offense while Megan is out,'' Williams said. "She is a young player who has good hands and is able to set and hit for us."
Anderson will play defense for the Bulldogs.
"She is a solid defender and passer,'' she said. "She has a good jump serve and is quick and aggressive on the court."