Coach: Jamie Atkinson (first year)
Last year: 20-16
Top players: Sam Falco (6-4 Sr.), Marissa Grant (5-9 Jr.), Amanda Spear (5-10 Jr.), Hannah Skoog (Sr.)
Outlook: Jamie Atkinson, the boys volleyball coach, inherits a strong club left behind by retiring head coach Glen Heitman. Evidently the state of Michigan sent scouts to watch the Sequoits in action. That's because middle blocker Sam Falco is headed to Eastern Michigan University for more volleyball next year. Junior Marissa Grant, too, is going north. The setter has already verbally committed to Central Michigan for the 2015 season. Both girls are returning all-area players. "This is one of Antioch's best teams in years," Atkinson said. "The varsity team alone has three to four players in each spot who could play at any moment. The girls have been working hard all off-season, and I suspect it will pay off for them this fall." Amanda Spear will help in the middle, and Hannah Skoog is slated for duty on defense.
Coach: Dave Pazely (third year)
Last year: 21-17
Top players: Alyssa Armada (5-10 Sr.), Sierra Kepski (5-2 Jr.), Shauna Meagher (5-4 Sr.), Gracie Schofield (6-0 Jr.)
Outlook: Carmel brings back some special players from a successful season. Alyssa Armada is a returning All-ESCC player who can play a number of roles. Both Sierra Kepski and Shauna Meagher are known for their defense. A year ago as a sophomore, Gracie Schofield became a fearsome hitter. She led the Corsairs with 232 kills. Armada and Schofield made all-area last year. "This is one of the deepest teams Carmel has had in years," coach David Pazely said. "Several players are making strong cases to earn a spot in the rotation, which is a great problem to have as a coach. It's good to know that we will be able to make adjustments as needed without losing a step. We hope to improve our conference record from last year, win a tournament this season and win a (Class) 4A regional."
Pazely noted his Corsairs won its summer league in preparation for the season.
Coach: Sue Thompson (17th year)
Last year: 16-18-2
Top players: Beka Couch (5-11 Sr.), Nicole Buckley (5-11, Sr.), Kylie Mueller (5-9 So.)
Outlook: The emphasis this summer was to turn this Grant club into a tough serving act. Coach Sue Thompson believes with power hitter Beka Couch, her team will have enough offense. "Our division is usually settled on the last match or two of the season," Thompson said. "And we think we can be one of those teams battling it out for the top spot." Look for Couch to be the primary hitter on this Bulldogs team. Nicole Buckley makes the move from the middle to right side to help with blocking and adding offense. Thompson also has high hopes for sophomore Kylie Mueller. "We are hoping to improve on our record from last year," Thompson said, "and also in the postseason."
Coach: Jason Janczak (eighth year)
Last year: 24-14
Top players: Alex Dahlstrom (6-2 Sr.), Gabi Casper (5-9 Sr.), Anna Basten (5-8 Sr.), Lexi Beckman (5-9 Sr.), Hannah Thomas (5-7 Sr.), Allie Daul (6-2 So.), Teresa Curtis (5-6 Sr.), Hayley Peterson (5-8 Jr.), Dani Sentz (5-4, Jr.)
Outlook: Clearly the Rams' latest team has some veterans. All-area hitters Gabi Casper and Alex Dahlstrom wind up successful careers when this season concludes. Coach Janczak worries that his club lacks size, but with the 6-2 duo of Dahlstrom and Allie Daul, there is hope in the tall department. "This is a cohesive group of girls who work hard and have the ability and desire to win this year," Janczak said. "If these girls continue to work hard, we should be competitive all season long. We had a great summer with a lot of good long hours in the gym and we return a core group of experienced players." Janczak noted that his team worked hard in the summer in quickening the offense.
Coach: Nikki Kirchway (eighth year)
Last year: 13-24
Top players: Summer Camper (Sr. OH), Alaina Geissberger (Sr. MH), Maggie Fish (Jr. OH), Stefani Keilwitz (Jr. L), Bailee Hardy (Jr. OP), Nicole LeBaron (Jr. OH), Cassie Reimbold (Jr. L), Kendall Buckmann (So. S)
Outlook: Despite a losing record a season ago, the Knights finished strongly, losing in a regional title game. And this team returns some key players. "All four returning players have varsity experience, which will help lead our team tremendously," coach Nikki Kirchway said. "All our athletes have dedicated their time during the summer to get better individually and as a team." The Knights play in the competitive Fox Valley Conference, but Kirchway is optimistic. "We are ready to prove to ourselves and to other teams that we can battle and win," she said. "The girls are very excited to begin playing matches, and they want to play at a higher level at every possible moment."
Coach: Katie Cheek (first year)
Last year: 23-13
Top players: Haley Halberg (5-8 Sr.), Megan Behrendt (5-8 So.), Maddie Demo (5-6 So.)
Outlook: Fresh off an unbeaten NSC Prairie season, Lakes had a change in its coaching staff. Katie Cheek steps up to be the coach after five years in the program. She will get some help from middle hitter Haley Halberg. Cheek is impressed with Halberg's high goals. "She is a senior who is setting the bar high and giving the underclassmen someone to look up to," Cheek said. "She pushes the other players in practice everyday and is helping to promote team chemistry." Cheek is also counting on two sophomores. Megan Behrendt has already been voted as a team captain, and fellow 10th-grader Maddie Demo will take over the setter role. "I think it is important that every season starts with a new team that creates new team chemistry, while still holding on to the traditions left from the program before them," Cheek said. "It is fun to start new traditions that we can pass down through the program. We are looking forward to playing our conference matches."
Coach: Matt Aiello (eighth year)
Last year: 24-13
Top players: Kristin Walding (6-1 Sr.), Sydney Glover (6-0 Sr.), Ashley Dina (Sr. L), Mallory Parsons (5-11, Sr.), Mickenzie Andrews (Jr. OH), Kiley McPeek (Sr. OH)
Outlook: Now that her college choice is in the books (Northeastern of Boston), all-area senior Kristin Walding will work on setting the Bears offense. One thing is clear, coach Matt Aiello is sold on her. "She is the best setter and player in the conference, no doubt," Aiello said. "I've had great setters at both Lake Zurich and Buffalo Grove, and she is the best." And Walding is not the only player in his lineup who is playing college volleyball. Six-footer Sydney Glover is headed to Duquesne University. Aiello notes it will be fun to watch senior libero Ashley Dina, an all-area choice last year, plays defense with the best. "She handles the position like no other in this area this year," he said. "She is fearless, strong and smart." Keep an eye on junior outside Mickenzie Andrews. She could be a surprise player this season. Both Kiley McPeek and Mallory Parsons are three-year starters.
Coach: Greg Loika (fifth year)
Last year: 34-8
Top players: Alex Basler (6-2. Jr.), Rhiannon Prentiss (5-7 Sr.), Vicky Liu (5-3 Sr.), Morgan O'Brien (5-5 Fr.), Cassie Ostmeyer (5-4 Sr.), Lizzie Apgar (5-7 Jr.), Kate Jarecki (6-0 Sr.)
Outlook: Fresh from a fourth-place finish in the state, the Wildcats have to replace setter Cindy Zhou (Michigan) and defensive whiz Kristin Webb (Butler), who were named co-captains of the Daily Herald Lake County All-Area team last year. Coach Greg Loika is going to continue stress defense this fall. "(We're) going small but scrappy," Loika said. "We look very tough to earn kills against, and the longer rallies go, the better our opportunities to win. We return three starters from last year's team and several reserves who watched the team roll through the playoffs leading into the state semis and nearly upending eventual champ Benet Academy." Libertyville's schedule is not for the feint of heart. "We need to get healthy across the board and find the best mix of solid talent to help our team play to its strengths," Loika said. "No rest for the weary." The Wildcats' early-season slate includes matches against Hersey, New Trier and Crystal Lake South. "We'll get a good look early on about the kind of team we're going to be," Loika said. "I believe we'll find ourselves quickly, and when the right mix is achieved out there, watch out."
Coach: George Dressen Jr. (eighth year)
Last year: 15-21
Top players: Madi Wilcox (5-11 Sr.), Yasmeen Johnson (5-10 Jr.), Sarah Bregenzer (5-11 Sr.), McKenzie Kehr (5-7 Jr.)
Outlook: Is it possible senior Madi Wilcox got caught up in all the hoopla surrounding the Florida Gulf Coast men's basketball team last March? Well, here's a chance for this gifted volleyball player to watch those players in person. Next season, Wilcox will take her setting and hitting skills to the Sunshine State to play for Florida Gulf Coast. It's been a nice run for the returning all-area athlete and, according to coach George Dressen Jr., this Mustangs team might make some noise this season. "This group is very gung-ho," Dressen said. "They have prepared themselves for a match every night." Wilcox has some strong players to set this year. This includes both junior Yasmeen Johnson and 5-11 senior Sarah Bregenzer. Talented gymnast McKenzie Kehr looks to make her mark in this sport as well. A win over Barrington last week showed this team can be a contender.
Coach: Kristin Lilly (second year)
Last year: 7-24
Top players: Melinda Blomberg (So. S), Izzy Rodriguez (Sr. OH), Destiny Brown (Sr. OH), Melissa Mejia (Sr. MH)
Outlook: The Panthers look to rebound this season. Helping that cause is sophomore setter Melinda Blomberg. "She is controlling the game efficiently," coach Kristin Lilly said. Blomberg has plenty of options. Seniors Izzy Rodriguez, Destiny Brown and Melissa Mejia should prosper with Blomberg in charge of distributing the ball. The Panthers will have to wait for Mejia to come back from an injury. In the meantime, look for sophomore Marisela Valadez to step into her role. Lilly is encouraged by her team's attitude. "This year's team brings more talent to the floor than past seasons," Lilly said. "Our team has the typical Round Lake never-say-die attitude that includes scrappy defense and fight no matter what the score. While I know we will surprise some teams this year, it won't surprise us. We aren't just hoping to be better. We have worked to ensure it and become smarter players in the process. This is a team, both in skill and character, that will build Panther Pride at Round Lake High School."
Coach: Tim Crow (12th year)
Last year: 34-4
Top players: Khaila Donaldson (5-11 Sr.) , Kara Maleski (6-5 Sr.), Julia Osmund (6-2 Sr.), Alexa Bykowski (5-8 Sr.), Peyton Bykowski (5-7 Sr.)
Outlook: They just seem to rebuild every year at Stevenson. The latest Patriots club has two players headed to the next level. Hard-hitting all-area talent Khaila Donaldson is headed to Washington D.C. and Howard University. As a junior, she was second in the team in kills and the team leader in aces. Kara Maleski, a 6-5 middle, is headed to Wichita State. There are seven girls who stand 5-11 or taller. "We look forward to a competitive conference schedule and I expect a few surprises from a number of the girls this season," coach Tim Crow said. Also look for help from seniors Jen Karpov and Grace Duffy. Freshman Jorie Radtke has also made the varsity.
Coach: Abbie Gutzmer (seventh year)
Last year: 14 -23
Top players: Katie Brettman (6-0 Jr.), Tori Smith (5-6 Jr.), Kasey Firnbach (6-2 Jr.), Mia Polisky (5-8 Jr.), Siennea Spiglanin (5-6 Jr.), Jade Godfusky (5-2 So.), Val Barybina (5-11 Jr.), Haley Lieberman (5-2 Jr.)
Outlook: Coach Abbie Guzmer brought out an old song to characterize her present team. It was Timbuk 3's biggest hit. "The future's so bright," Guzmer said. "We were a young squad last season that had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but hopefully we have learned from that season and will have a stronger one this year. It might take awhile to get back into game shape as we have lots of basketball players, soccer players and softball players." Star Shannon Nugent has moved on to Emory University, but Gutzmer is looking to 6-2 Kasey Firnbach to take her spot. "We are an athletic squad and will use the nonconference matches to prepare us to play in the tough NSC," Gutzmer said. "Along with a strong core of returners, we have some excellent additions in Sienna Spiglanin and Jade Goldfusky to our starting lineup to fill some roles opened up by graduation."
Coach: Julie Filippo (11th year)
Last year: 20-18
Top players: Rachel Ziegler (5-11 Sr.), Allyson Mitchell (5-10 Sr.), Jenna Walczak (6-0 So.), Lauren Frericks (5-9 Jr.), Lindsey Biedron (5-10 Jr.),Kim Hengesh (5-11 So.)
Outlook: What a pleasant finish for last year's squad. Coach Julie Filippo's club caught fire and won a regional crown. Graduation hurt the Blue Devils, but returning an all-conference/all-area setter should help. Senior Rachel Ziegler is back to help this next team. Warren won't lack for height. "We look to improve daily with some very talented personnel," Filippo said. It's also good to have a backup at the setting position. That's where junior Lauren Frericks will be.
Coach: Alison Williams (second year)
Last year: 22-13
Top players: Susan Karhoff (5-8 Sr.), Sara Sexton (6-2 So.), LeAnne Sakowicz (5-9 So.), Ashley Anderson (5-3 So.)
Outlook: The Bulldogs graduated star setter/hitter Megan Tallman (Indiana), but they return captain/all-area standout Susan Karhoff. It's her third season on varsity, and it will be her job to lead a young squad. The Bulldogs succeeded with the help of three freshmen last year, and those players are now seasoned. Coach Alison Williams noted how much all three sophomores have improved from last year. "We have a good core group of returning varsity players," Williams said. "And we are gaining new players who will be able to step on the court at the varsity level. We are looking to improve our conference record from last year and are hoping to stay in the top of the conference. We are also looking forward to seeing this team grow as the season progress."