Top teams: Wheaton Warrenville South, Glenbard East, Naperville North, St. Francis, Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South
Top players:Addison Trail: Alex Dickmann, RS, so.; Matt Hernet, OH, sr.; Kevin Grygo, S, jr.; Benet: Sawyer Yeazel, OH, sr.; Mike Jurkash, MB, sr.; Downers Grove North: Gilius Blinstrubas, OH, sr.; Brooks Nevrly, L, sr.; Tyler Saieg, sr.; Downers Grove South: David DeMarco, sr.; DS/L; Nick Timreck, sr., MH; Glenbard East: Joey Farrell, OH, sr.; Zach Greene, MH, sr.; Glenbard North: Aaron Santiago, MH, sr.; Tyler Wiser, DS, sr.; Glenbard West: Johnny Davis, OH, sr.; Jacob Stone, OH/S, sr.; Hinsdale Central: Danny Flynn, OH, sr.; David Whinery, OH, sr.; Hinsdale South: Robbie Mead, OH, sr.; Shaun Dulleck, OH jr.; Lake Park: Dillon Hock, OH, sr.; Quin Krisik, S, jr.; Metea Valley: Martin Krasuski, OH, jr.; Shiv Desai, MH, sr.; Naperville Central: Jon Chiczewski, OH, jr.; Jack Burton, OH, so.; Naperville North: Gert Lisha, S, sr.; Dan Koch, OH, sr.; Nikolai Jackowski, L, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Jeremy Royko, OH; Alex Coyne, S; St. Francis: Jeff Jendryk, MH, jr.; Patrick Flood, OH, sr. ; Joseph Santos, L; Waubonsie Valley: Michael Simmons, OH, jr.; Jon Pyne, OH, sr.; Connor Douville, OH, jr.; Tyler House, MH, sr.; West Chicago: Trevor Slonek, MH, sr; ; Wheaton North: Zach Sinn, OH, sr.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Greg Vlassov, OH, sr.; Jared Wilcox, OH, jr.; Ryan McCarthy MH, sr.; Willowbrook: Kyle Dewyer, setter, sr.; York: Jason Bowles, OH, jr.; Sebastian Guzman, L, jr.
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Outlook: Talk of boys volleyball in DuPage County always starts with Wheaton Warrenville South. The Tigers went undefeated at 42-0 last year on the way to the DuPage Valley Conference title and their seventh state championship in the past dozen years. The captain of The Daily Herald All-Area Team Thomas Jaeschke and most of the key operatives from that team are gone, but as always there's plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Last year's reserves and a promising group of newcomers have all been playing winning club volleyball at the highest level, and they're ready to help coach Bill Schreier carry on the Wheaton Warrenville South tradition. Vlassov, Wilcox and McCarthy know what it's like to be winners, and freshman Zach Meyer has already received national recognition. "We should be in the mix for a conference title and a state title once again," Schreier said. "We could struggle early as we get used to new things. But we're going to be better than people think."
Again this year Naperville North and Glenbard East will be there to make it interesting in the DVC with teams that are deep and experienced and capable of making an impact in the postseason.
The Huskies, who went to the state finals two years ago, lose Spencer Sauter, but Lisha, a 6-foot-6 setter who garnered some postseason honors, will anchor a talented team that also features returning starters Koch and Jackowski, and graduates from a strong JV team. "This may not be the biggest team we've had at North," said coach Nate Bornancin, "but it's the most athletic team I've had. We'll have a more balanced attack."
Glenbard East, a perennial powerhouse that went 32-7 last year, returns eight players led by Joey Farrell, an outside hitter who's one of the best in the area. "Joey has improved all facets of his game," said Rams coach Marci Maier. Greene will be a force in the middle. "We'll have a balanced attack running a quick offense and strong defense," Maier said. "Our goal is to be better than last year and make it to the state tournament."
After those three there will be a mad scramble among four teams, all of which look to be improved over last year. West Chicago, which is experienced and deep, will feature tough serving and a sharp passing attack. Glenbard North returns a good nucleus of veterans who have experience playing as a unit, while Wheaton North has good size and a core of club players who are looking to move up in the DVC standings. Naperville Central, led by three-year star Chiczewski, will also be in the mix.
Waubonsie Valley, which was expected to be a dominant team this year, will still be battling for the Upstate Eight Valley Division despite a devastating run of off-season injuries to all-star players Luke Furman (MCL and ACL) and Simmons (stress fracture in his ankle). Furman is gone for the year, and coach Al Lagger is hoping to have Simmons back late in the season. Lagger has been forced to make some position changes, but he's confident that with seven veterans, including outside hitter Pyne, still on board and a good group of newcomers, the team will still be successful. "We still have some guys who were major contributors," Lagger said. "We're tall and athletic, though it will take time for everyone to settle into their new roles. Hopefully, Michael will come back in May and give us a real boost."
Lake Park made it to the state quarterfinals, and many of the starters from that team have graduated. Senior Hock is one of the top hitters in the state, but most of his supporting cast is made up of juniors. "This team has dedicated itself in the off-season," coach Tim Murphy said. "We have a lot of room for growth through experience. But I believe we have the physical talent to be a strong volleyball team."
Metea Valley, which has grown into a winning volleyball team, is expected to contend. Krasuski is a dominant hitter, and middle hitter Desai gives the Mustangs a diversified attack. "We've had some success the past two years," coach John Aister said. "But there's still work yet to be done for us to be competitive with the top teams in the area."
As it did last year, Neuqua Valley, which was part of the three-way tie for the UEC title with Lake Park and Waubonsie Valley, comes to the court with virtually a new lineup. Several returnees, notably Royko and Coyne, have experience as reserves, but the Wildcats are deep, with just about no dropoff in ability between the first and second teams. Six-foot-nine middle hitter Griffin Shields and sophomore outside hitter Austin Neace could both be outstanding. "Our defense and passing will be the difference for us," coach Erich Mendoza said. "Our balance will keep opponents from keying on one or two players."
St. Francis could be one of the top teams in the state with a lot of returning talent led by the 6-7 Jendryk, who is receiving a lot of national attention. Flood is an athletic scorer on the outside and Santos is a top-flight libero. And there's good height and athleticism throughout the lineup. Most most of the Spartans played club volleyball in the off-season. "We have the balance and the skill-level to match our team from three years ago that was ranked ninth in the nation," coach Mike Lynch said.
Benet comes off a phenomenal 28-9 season, but 10 seniors, including the all-area duo of Bobby Wehrli and Luke Ladowski, graduated. So there will be some growing pains as coach Amy Van Eekeen combines some younger players with a group of solid returnees, led by Yeazel and Jurkash. "We have to pass well, play defense. I'm excited that our combination of skill and outstanding leadership will produce another fine season."
Downers Grove South looks like the team to beat in the West Suburban Gold.
The Mustangs tied for first in conference and they return seven varsity players. Timreck in the middle and DeMarco at libero are two of the best around. "Our strength will be our passing and our defense," coach Kurt Steuer said. "We're quick and able to run down balls, and we recognize hitters' tendencies. Our ability and senior leadership make me believe that we can make a deep push in the postseason and possibly qualify for state."
The always scrappy Addison Trail and Willowbrook, which, last year had its best season in a while, will be challenging the Mustangs in the Gold.
The Blazers are led by kill leader Dickmann, who played on the junior national team over the summer. If coach Tom Hubner can find a few pieces to replace a pair of graduated stars, they should be solid.
Willowbrook graduated its top player, Jacob Schmiegelt, but the man who ran the show for the Warriors 26-11 season, Dewyer, is among an impressive returning group. "We expect a carryover from last year," coach Ryan Bazon said. "We have a number of good players returning, great chemistry, and what's most important, these guys believe in themselves."
Hinsdale South is building around All-Area senior Robbie Mead and the Hornets, who were young last year, are hungry to show that they've come of age.
In the West Suburban Silver Glenbard West, which has been a big and powerful team in recent years, comes off a 31-6 season with a new look. "We won't be as tall," coach Christine Giunta said. "But we will have a strong defense and we'll run a quicker offense. We'll try to force other teams into making mistakes."
Downers Grove North may not be as strong as last year's 30-8 team, but the Trojans, led by three-year starter Nevrly along with savvy seniors Blinstrubas and Saieg, will challenge for conference supremacy.
York, which is led by Bowles and Guzman, is a youthful outfit that could struggle early, but there's some talent that could challenge the Hilltoppers and the Trojans at season's end. Hinsdale Central is looking to bounce back from a down season with an impressive pair of outside hitters Flynn and Whinery leading the way.
Important dates: March 27, 28, 30: Tiger Classic at Wheaton Warrenville South; April 4: Naperville North at Wheaton Warrenville South; April 6: Springfest at Glenbard East; April 12: Benet at St. Francis; April 19-20: Downers Grove South Invite; April 20: Addison Trail Invite; April 26: Benet Invitational; April 30: Metea Valley at Waubonsie Valley; May 14: Wheaton Warrenville South at Glenbard East; May 21: IHSA regionals; May 31-June 1: State meet.
-- Neil Shalin