In just its second year with a boys volleyball program in 2012, Geneva went 17-12 and tied St. Charles East for the Upstate Eight Conference River title.
While starting a team can often lead to years of growing pains and losing seasons, Vikings coach KC Johnsen thinks he knows why the Vikings have been successful so quickly.
“We’ve been lucky that some really good athletes have decided to give volleyball a try,” Johnsen said. “That makes a lot of difference. They pick it up very fast and move well on the court and are competitive guys and jump a little bit. Makes it a quicker jump start. (We wouldn’t have won so fast) if we didn’t have such good athletes.”
The numbers are quickly climbing, too. From 10 players in its first season to 28 last year, this spring Geneva is fielding two freshman teams and a varsity JV team in addition to its varsity team. With about 42 kids on the four teams, Geneva had to make cuts.
About 10 of those players have been playing club volleyball which also is making a difference.
“It’s a pretty dramatic rise (in numbers),” Johnsen said. “I’ve seen the improvement from playing club in the gym.”
Mason Stierwalt, a 6-foot-4 senior who can play outside or middle, and senior middle Dom Bondi lead Geneva’s returnees.
“Dom is on the short side for a middle but he’s really athletic,” Johnsen said.
Junior outside Chris Parrilli, a starter on the basketball team, will be another key hitter while junior Brandon Navigato and senior Chris Houban are two of the better back-row players.
One of the key position battles is at setter where sophomore Nathan Jesko — who qualified for state in swimming — senior Will Hince and senior foreign exchange student Guilliam Rey are vying for the job.
Geneva opens its season this weekend at the Plainfield North tournament.
The other River co-champion, St. Charles East, went 15-20 overall last year. The Saints bring back seniors Iain O’Connor, Sam Pulcanio, Tom Dieter, Jacob Samuels and Clayton Davis.
St. Charles East coach Kate McCullagh also is counting on juniors Luke Spicer, RJ Yoder, Mark Healy, Tom DeBruyne and Robert Kudlicki. Joining that group are a pair of newcomers, senior David Knudsen and junior Kriss Brunovskis.
“Programs are growing and teams are getting better, and we are looking forward to all the tough competition we will see this season,” said McCullagh who has to replace Billy Russell, now playing on the club team at the University of Illinois.
“He was our only senior last year,” McCullagh said. “He is a phenomenal player and will be missed. Fortunately with the rest of the team returning, most of whom have been playing club volleyball in the offseason, we have an opportunity to be a strong team. As a program we plan to work hard, train to become smarter players and compete at the highest level we can.”
St. Charles North is coming off a 21-14 record in Todd Weimer’s fourth year as coach. The North Stars lost to Wheaton North in the regional finals.
The North Stars are experienced this year behind seniors Ryan Dal Degan, a libero, a captain and a third-year varsity player. Another defensive specialist, Jimmy Vainisi, also is starting his third year on varsity.
John Orech is another captain who can play outside, middle or right side while senior Kevin Beach will see time at outside and right side. Senior middle Zach Ziesmer is the third captain while senior Pat Misiewicz will set.
Newcomers include seniors Jake Hamilton (OH/RS), Jack Harbaugh (RS), Trevor Case (OH/RS), Doug Donnon (DS), Parker Wayne (S/DS) and Arry Rizky (RS/DS), and juniors Jack Bujko (MH) and Nic Cook (DS/L).
“We are quick and fast on offense and our passers are extremely consistent to help us stay fast,” Weimer said. “Serving and blocking is our strength and we’ll be able to put opposing teams’ backs to the wall.”
Weimer is looking for his team to improve on the fundamentals and playing with more consistency.
“We have a ton of depth with 12 seniors and two skilled juniors,” Weimer said. “While we are extremely heavy on seniors, the leadership and skills will be extremely fun to watch. It’s a great group of guys who just want to work hard.
“We also have a great balance between offense and defense. It’s been really cool to watch the guys improve. This is my first group of boys who were freshmen when I took over the program four years ago.”
Weimer said the team’s goal is to win conference and a regional title.
West Aurora is coming off a 23-13 season that saw the team win the Blackhawk Invite and take first at the Fremd Invitational.
The Blackhawks graduated Patrick Ronan who is now the starting libero at Cardinal Stritch University, the No. 6 rated team in NAIA. Ronan made second team all-state last year and was a four-year varsity starter.
Senior middle James McGrath is back after totaling 144 kills and 95 blocks as a junior. West Aurora also will look to junior outside Timothy Lambert plus newcomers Lucas Kilmer, a junior outside hitter, and junior right side Michael Mascetti to put balls away.
Senior libero Sean Kent is back after posting a 2.18 passer rating last year.
“We have the most program depth at West Aurora since the program began in the late ‘90s,” West Aurora coach Tolis Koskinaris said. “Our ballhandling should be a strength. James McGrath will be in discussion for the best middle attacker in DVC this year.”
Koskinaris, who points to Wheaton Warrenville South and Glenbard East as the “class of the DVC,” has been impressed with Adam Fitzgerald’s transition to setting at the varsity level.
“He is a young ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ He is handling everything very well so far,” Koskinaris said.
“We just want to continue competing in the DVC and improving the program. Our win total has gone up four years in a row. These boys want to keep that streak going. It is a very self-motivated, high-character group. They don’t require a lot of pushing.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.