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updated: 9/5/2013 5:08 PM

Girls volleyball: Scouting the Fox Valley

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  • Senior Sydney Doby is back to lead Harvest Christian's volleyball team again this season. The Lions have advanced to the Class 1A Elite Eight the past two years.

      Senior Sydney Doby is back to lead Harvest Christian's volleyball team again this season. The Lions have advanced to the Class 1A Elite Eight the past two years.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • Senior Katie Swanson returns to lead the St. Edward girls volleyball team this season.

      Senior Katie Swanson returns to lead the St. Edward girls volleyball team this season.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer


Bartlett Hawks

Coach: Michele Bickus (second season)

Last year:4-25, 1-4 Upstate Eight Valley; Wheaton Warrenville South d. Bartlett in Class 4A St. Charles North regional play-in, 25-9, 25-12

Top returnees: Elizabeth Arco (Sr. MH), Rachel Hartford (Sr., OH), Katie Hrbacek (Sr., OH)

Top newcomers:Sjalynn Kennedy (Jr., OH/RS), Jenna Kummerer (So., DS)

Outlook: With eight seniors on the 11-player roster the Hawks are likely to take a step forward after a 4-win campaign a year ago. Though they will regularly face a height disadvantage against Upstate Eight Valley rivals Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley, the Hawks, led by senior outsides Rachel Hartford and Katie Hrbacek and middle Elizabeth Arco, expect to rise to a more competitive level this season. "The biggest obstacle is our height," Bartlett coach Michele Bickus said. "We are not a tall team, but we are hoping to make up for it with a quick defense and quick offense. With so many returning we have many players with a lot of varsity experience."

Burlington Central Rockets

Coach: Marv Leavitt (ninth season at Central, 24th overall)

Last year: 25-11; Sycamore d. Burlington Central in Class 3A Hampshire regional semifinal, 25-23, 25-21

Top returnees: Makenna Jensen (Sr., MB), Allie O'Reilly (Sr., L), Jenna Schudel (Sr., OH), Caitlin Siebert (Sr., Opp/OH), Lauren Wiltsie (Jr., OH)

Top newcomers: Maddy Barry (Jr., S), Jane Collins (Jr., MB), Alyssa DeTamble (Jr., DS), Jenna Runde (Jr., DS), Brianna Venturini (Jr., DS)

Outlook: Central's defense remains a strength, thanks to 5-foot-4 senior libero Allie O'Reilly. Last season she obliterated the previous single-season school record of 449 digs with 553 en route to an all-area selection. O'Reilly had 40 aces and successfully received serve 93 percent of the time. Central also returns junior outside hitter Lauren Wiltsie and senior Jenna Schudel to go along with senior middle Makenna Jensen, a powerful hitter who saw significant playing time as a junior. "A big part of our offense returns with three hitters, and having O'Reilly back to quarterback the defense is huge," veteran coach Marv Leavitt said. "Our ball control is going to be very strong this year." Ball control success depends largely on junior passers Alyssa DeTamble, Jenna Runde and Brianna Venturini. The setter is another junior, Maddy Barry. In fact, the Rockets are a young team overall. Ten juniors and one sophomore (middle Alexis VanHiel) made the 17-player roster. Central lacks team height -- the tallest player is 5-foot-10 -- but will make up for it by running a faster offense than opponents have faced in recent seasons, Leavitt said. The Rockets will attempt to unseat defending Big Northern East champion Richmond-Burton, a tough task considering the Class 3A runner-up returns Penn State-bound, 6-foot-2 outside hitter Ali Frantti. "She is one of the best players in the country, not just the state," Leavitt said. "Until someone beats them, they have to be the favorite. But I like the mix of our team. We have no dominant hitters, but they are solid, we pass the ball well and we play good defense."

Cary-Grove Trojans

Coach: Patty Langanis (20th season)

Last year: 16-18; 5-7 FVC Valley (fifth); Prairie Ridge d. Cary-Grove in Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional semifinal, 16-25, 25-10, 25-18.

Top returnees: Delaney Bayer (So, DS), Abby Schebel (Jr., OH), Meghan Seymour (Sr., S), Kayli Trausch (Sr., MB)

Top newcomers: Bree Coffey (Jr., L), Sarah Graham (So., OH), Morgan Lee (Jr., MB), Erin Olson (So., S), Karisa Wilczynski (Jr., S)

Outlook: Already short-handed due to injuries to two projected starters during the club season, a very young team by Cary-Grove standards enters this season with an eye to the future. Of the 13 available players on the roster, seven are sophomores, two are freshmen. There are two seniors on the roster: middle Kayli Trausch and setter Meghan Seymour. Trausch is a returning middle blocker who touches over 10 feet. She returns healthy for the first time as a high-school player after sitting out the club season to rest her back. Seymour, committed to Division II Northern Michigan, has a unique role as the bridge between Cary-Grove's recent successful teams and the up-and-coming group of dynamic underclassmen. "She's a top-notch setter and one of the best we've ever had at Cary-Grove without a doubt," coach Patty Langanis said of Seymour. "She understands our history and our expectations, what it takes to be a Cary-Grove team. Her goal, regardless of how this season turns out, is to make sure she's handing down the idea of Cary-Grove volleyball to the next generation coming in that has so much power and so much potential. Meghan Seymour is the hub of holding on to Cary-Grove core values." Junior Abby Schebel moves from right side to outside hitter. Sophomore Sarah Graham saw action in several matches as a freshman and returns a better all-around player, Langanis said. Delaney Bayer saw playing time as a freshman defensive specialist until a foot injury ended her season. She returns along with junior libero Bree Coffey. Sophomore Erin Olson is a talented setter who also hits and serves well. Sophomore outside hitter Ally Vasquez (shoulder surgery) and sophomore middle Alli Splitt (heel) will miss the season, leaving roster spots open for two freshmen: outside hitter Ally Schebel and middle Maddy Katchen. "It's a young team, but they work extremely hard and believe in our captains so it's a really well-functioning group," Langanis said. "I'm definitely excited for this season because I feel this team is going to experience a tremendous amount of improvement."

Crystal Lake South Gators

Coach: Jorie Fontana (sixth season)

Last year: 27-10; 11-1 FVC Valley (shared title with Prairie Ridge); Prairie Ridge d. Crystal Lake South in Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional final, 25-16, 17-25, 25-18

Top returnees: Avalon Nero (Sr., OH/S), Nicole Slimko (Sr., MH); Carly Nolan (Jr., OH)

Top newcomers: Sara Mickow (Sr., MH) Cassy Sivesind (Jr., S)

Outlook: The Gators returned to the upper echelon of area volleyball in 2012 and appear poised to remain there. Last season they finished second at the Asics Preview and tied Prairie Ridge for a share of the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division title. Their hope for a FVC Valley Division repeat lies in a potent returning offense, led by all-area middle hitter Nicole Slimko. The 6-foot-1 senior finished last season with 73.5 blocks, 160 kills and 30 digs. Other weapons include senior outside hitter Avalon Nero (5-9), junior outside hitter Carly Nolan (6-0) and 6-1 senior middle Sara Mickow. Athletic junior Cassy Sivesind (5-11) takes over at setter. The Gators must replace a talented back row that included all-area libero Katie Meyers and defensive specialist Lindsey Murphy. "That's going to be huge," coach Jorie Fontana said of her team's defense. "I'm asking the girls to step up in an area that we don't usually have to worry about because we usually have someone coming back or coming in. Look for Slimko and Nolan to extend themselves and use their length to cover the floor." Losing the 2012 regional title match to Prairie Ridge in 3 sets on CL South's home court motivated the Gators in the off-season. "They are in the unique position of having lost such a close match last year that they're hungry for it now," Fontana added. "The trick will be keeping them focused all season and seeing how each part builds toward the whole. I want to be peaking at the right time and be contenders for the conference and a regional."

Dundee-Crown Chargers

Coach: Christine Hopkins-Muehl (second season)

Last year: 14-22, 1-11 (seventh); Jacobs d. Dundee-Crown in Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional play-in, 25-16, 25-11

Top returnees: Payton DeLuga (Jr., OH), Lauren Lococo (Jr., OH), Emily Michalski (Sr., MB), Kathryn Novy (Sr., MB), Franki Scarpelli (Sr., L), Kaylee Sommers (Sr., L)

Top newcomers: Frankie Cavallaro (So., S), Ayana Gard (Fr., MB), Kiana Mays (Jr., OH), Kailey Moll (So., MB), Breanna Novak (So., OH), Ashley Raby (So., RS),

Outlook: The Chargers are a young squad with four sophomores and a freshman. The roster of 16 includes five seniors after the squad lost eight players to graduation. Youthful D-C enters the 2013 season with a motto: "Don't get by, get better." Second-year coach Christine Hopkins-Muehl said the team's overall youth is both a strength and a weakness. "They are not as experienced, but they are learning and improving each and every day," she said. "Establishing team chemistry will be crucial for us."

Elgin Academy Hilltoppers

Coach: Rich Witkowski (third season)

Last year: 13-13; Harvest Christian Academy d. Elgin Academy in Westminster Christian regional semifinal 25-11, 25-7

Top returnees: Liz Clements (So., MB), Kaitlyn Pearson (Jr., RS), Maggie Veltri (Jr., S)

Top newcomers: Rachel Dwyer (Fr., OH), Gia Joyce (Fr., MB), Olivia Oberdorf (So., S/L)

Outlook: The Hilltoppers have compiled a 27-26 record in Witowski's two previous seasons as coach. They'd like to take another step this fall despite the losses of Brigitte Keslinke and Claire Fluegel to graduation. Team strengths include Maggie Veltri's setting, Kaitlyn Pearson's hitting from the right side and a quick attack in the middle featuring sophomore Liz Clements. However, Elgin Academy is inexperienced at passing positions. The pieces may come together as the season evolves. "We need to figure out how to come together as a team," Witowski said.

Elgin Maroons

Coach: Scott Stewart (third season)

Last year: 2-34, 1-6 Upstate Eight River; Larkin d. Elgin in Class 4A Schaumburg regional play-in, 25-18, 25-21.

Top returners: Melanie Berg (Sr., OH), Taylor Hedl (Sr., L), Abby Pierre-Louis (Jr., OH), Maggie Powers (Sr., DS), Emma Sirridge (So, MB)

Top newcomers: Lauren Alexander (Sr., RS), Anna Eckholm (Sr., OH), Brooke Geils (Jr., DS), Kelly Miller (Sr., DS), Jessica Ramirez (Sr., MB), Tanya Welch (Sr., S), Nikki Zimmer (Jr., RS)

Outlook: The Maroons have several veteran, multisport athletes returning with a goal of at least 10 victories in mind. To that end, the Maroons shook up their schedule with three new tournament destinations: Rockford East, West Chicago and Westminster Christian. Overall team height will be an issue; only starters Abby Pierre-Louis and Emma Sirridge are 5-foot-10. They'll rely on teamwork to overcome their shortcomings. "We know we're a short team and that we need to make up for that with our effort and teamwork on the floor," coach Scott Stewart said. "Our strength is that these girls have been playing together for awhile. The majority of the roster is comprised of girls who have played at the varsity level for several years between volleyball, basketball and softball. They understand what it takes to win and have been working extremely hard all summer. We know we're a short team, but we will make up for it with sound defense and an energized offense."

Hampshire Whip-Purs

Coach: Andrew Lindley (second season)

Last year: 13-17, 4-8 Fox Valley Fox; Sycamore d. Hampshire in Class 3A Hampshire regional play-in, 25-16, 25-11

Top returnees: Erin Foss (Jr., OH), Julianna Gass (Sr., L), Brittany Laffin (Jr., S)

Top newcomers: Kaila Kienzler (Jr., MB), Dallas Krueger (Jr., MB)

Outlook: Graduation losses hit the Whip-Purs hard as dominant hitters Jen Dumoulin and Arianna Rominski moved on. So did a pair of dependable middles. The ultimate success of this Hampshire team will depend on how well some junior newcomers like Kaila Kienzler and Dallas Kreuger play in the middle alongside junior outside hitter Erin Foss and junior setter Brittany Laffin, each of whom is entering her third varsity season. Senior Julianna Gass returns to provide experience along the back row. "We're pretty young," second-year coach Andy Lindley said. "We have a couple of returning seniors and a couple of juniors who have been playing since their freshman year. We have three or four juniors who are going to have to step up and be successful if we're going to be successful."

Harvest Christian Academy Lions

Coach: Kim Floyd (third season)

Last year: 31-5; Keith Country Day School d. Harvest Christian Academy in Class 1A Lanark Eastland supersectional, 18-25, 25-19, 25-18.

Top returnees: Ellie Burzlaff (So., OH), (RS), Chloe Corbett (Sr., OH), Sydney Doby (Sr., OH), Shayna Manusos (Jr., DS/L), Jade Martinez (Jr., L/S)

Top newcomers: Ashlyn Floyd (Jr., S), Allie Frantz (So., MB), Rachel Oostdyk (So., M/RS), Mikayla Robinson (Fr., MB)

Outlook: They've been knocking on the Redbird Arena door for two years. Now the Lions hope to break through. Following back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in the Class 1A tournament, Harvest Christian Academy aims to advance to the state finals for the first time. The team returns all-area outside hitter Sydney Doby, who in June committed to Division II Grand Valley State. The 6-foot-2 senior entered the state tournament last fall with 233 kills, 87 blocks, 79 aces and 158 digs. She teamed with Larkin stars Olivia Kofie and Brianna Stewart and several other elite players on the Fusion Black squad that won an AAU national championship in Orlando in June. Jade Martinez is a versatile varsity veteran. The senior will play either setter or libero. Outside hitter Jordan Sollars graduated (Judson University), but an influx of young talent restocks the roster. A notable addition is 6-foot-1 freshman Mikayla Robinson (Fr., MB), the daughter of former Chicago Bears wide receiver Marcus Robinson. A Sky-High trained player, Robinson can already touch 10 feet, 3 inches. Two 5-11 sophomores can play the middle: Allie Frantz and Rachel Oostdyk. Oostdyk could see time on the right side. Coach Kim Floyd says the newcomers could help Doby and the veterans get over the supersectional hump. "Sydney is holding a leadership role and all the seniors have done a great job taking the younger players under their wings," Floyd said. "They've helped them along and encouraged them. We're looking forward to a great season. We would really like to continue the tradition of high-level volleyball and reach further than we've ever done, get to that next level. All the pieces are coming together so we'll see."

Huntley Red Raiders

Coach: Karen Liss (second season at Huntley, eighth overall)

Last year: 17-20, 6-6 (fourth FVC Valley); DeKalb d. Huntley in Class 4A Rockford East regional final 26-24, 28-26

Top returnees: Brittney Gundlach (Sr., MB), Rachael Kisten (Sr., OH), Erin Lyman (Sr., OH), Eilish Regan (Sr., DS), Rachel Shores (Sr., L), Emily Westermeyer (Sr., OH); junior Kelsey Dewulf (Jr., S)

Top newcomers: Alyson Dion (Fr., OH), Erin Erb (MB), Alex Kisten (Sr., OH)

Outlook: Coming off a successful summer, Huntley looks poised to challenge for the FVC Valley title with seven seniors on the 10-player roster. The Red Raiders won the Great Lakes Challenge at Sports Performance this summer. "The girls played extremely well over the summer, they all played club and several of them played sand (volleyball) so they've been working hard," second-year coach Karen Liss said. "We have a lot of talent and if everyone stays healthy I expect us to go further than last year. We have a lot of seniors. From Day 1 of the preseason they've put in extra hours and have not taken breaks. They're ready to start." The Red Raiders return offensive firepower in Emily Westermeyer, Erin Lyman and Rachael Kisten and a strong block, thanks to Brittney Gundlach and Erin Erb. The defense should be improved, keyed by libero Rachel Shores, DS Eilish Regan and junior Kelsey Dewulf, the setter. DeWulf "picks up balls I don't know how she gets to," her coach said. A key addition is freshman Alyson Dion, the sister of 2011 Daily Herald all-area honorary captain Amy Dion, now a sophomore libero at Maryland. The younger Dion is a 5-foot-9 outside hitter. Huntley was stunned by a loss to DeKalb in last year's regional title match. The Raiders would prefer not to relive that experience. "There is no greater challenge than when you've got something to prove," Liss said. "We have a lot to prove."

Jacobs Golden Eagles

Coach: Lisa Dwyer (ninth season)

Last year: 27-10; Crystal Lake South d. Jacobs in Class 4A Crystal Lake South regional semifinal 25-19, 19-25, 25-14

Top returnees: Kassie Kasper (Jr., L), Bridget Wallenberger (So., MB), Mackenzie Traub (Sr., S), Katie Mahoney (So., OH), Jenna Bilgrien (Jr., RS),

Top newcomers: Allie Campbell (Jr., MB), Kyla Fitzsimmons (So., OH), Ester Onate (Jr., S), Monet Charron (So., DS)

Outlook: A youth movement is afoot in Algonquin following the graduation of the successful Class of 2013, which was led by four-year starter Alyssa Ehrhardt (Toledo). These Golden Eagles will be led by tri-captains Mackie Traub at setter, junior libero Kassie Kasper and junior middle Allie Campbell. Traub split the setting duties last season with Taylor Laudner and will again set a 6-2 offense along with junior Ester Onate. Kasper is an all-area honorable mention libero back to lead the defense. Campbell was set to be a major contributor last year until an off-season ACL injury cost her the entire season, though she remained with the team throughout. Another key returnee is talented right-side hitter Jenna Bilgrien. The youth movement centers on the Class of 2016, led by sophomore middle Bridget Wallenberger (6-foot-1) and outside hitter Katie Mahoney (6-0), each of whom played significant roles last year as freshmen. They are joined by sophomore classmates Kyla Fitzsimmons on the outside and defensive specialist Monet Charron. "They may be young, but they are definitely a talented bunch," coach Lisa Dwyer said of her team. "Yes, we lost some talented kids, but these kids have a lot of energy and commitment to the program even if they are a little inexperienced. I think we'll surprise some people."

Larkin Royals

Coach: Henry Graack (second season)

Last year: 19-17, 3-3 UEC River; Lost to Schaumburg in Class 4A Schaumburg regional semifinal, 16-25, 25-22, 25-23.

Top returnees: Amelia Gill (Jr., L/OH), Paige Grantham (Sr., MB), Olivia Kofie (Sr., MB), Alyssa McGhee (Sr., S), Alexi Price (Sr., OH), Brianna Stewart (Sr., RS)

Top newcomers: Natalie Kofie (Fr., S), April McGhee (Fr., L/OH), Danielle Newquist (Jr., OH)

Outlook: After taking second place out of 40 teams in their summer league, the Royals aim to transition seamlessly to a productive fall season, led by all-area outside hitter Olivia Kofie (Western Michigan) and all-area middle Brianna Stewart, two of the top players in the area. Together they helped their club team, Fusion Black, win a second straight AAU national championship. Last season Stewart notched 260 kills, 95 blocks, 39 assists, 22 aces and 142 digs. Kofie produced 254 kills, 88 blocks, 39 aces and 193 digs. Also returning is setter Alyssa McGhee; she contributed 369 assists as a junior. Libero Amanda Gill (26 aces, 105 digs), middle Paige Grantham (26 kills, 70 blocks), and outside hitter Alexis Price provide depth and experience. Larkin intends to challenge St. Charles East, Batavia and Geneva for the title in the River Division of the Upstate Eight with its returning firepower coupled with an improved back line. "Last year I felt our blocking was solid, but we were missing some defense behind the block," coach Henry Graack said. "If summer league is any indication of what our defense will look like, then it is much improved. Our one weakness continues to be height across the front row. We have some taller athletes, but most teams are able to fill their front row with six players who are above 5-9. We have three players that are above 5-9; the other three will be at a height disadvantage. We plan to make up for that with quick sideouts and good defense."

South Elgin Storm

Coach: Joni Plach (ninth season)

Last year: 20-10-4, 4-2 Upstate Eight River; Geneva d. South Elgin in Class 4A Batavia regional semifinal, 25-19, 25-9.

Top returnees: Katie Innis (Jr., LS), Adrianna Loiacono (Sr., RS), Ashley Oandasan (Sr., OH), Bri Reum (Sr., OH),

Top newcomers:Jessica Donzelli (So., S), Sarah Hallas (Jr., MB), Alyssa Miner (Jr., MB)

Outlook: The South Elgin girls volleyball program took a big step forward last season by winning 20 matches, a new school record. Though a good portion of that team graduated, the Storm returns all-area senior outside hitter Ashley Oandasan, who last year contributed 143 kills, 25 aces and 206 digs. Returning outside hitter Bri Reum provides South Elgin with bookend offensive weapons. However, few of the others gained much varsity experience. Adrianna Loiacono had the misfortune of playing behind two talented senior middles last year. She will play right side this season and "is looking good" thus far, according to her coach. Katie Innis is a versatile player who can play outside hitter, but she may also see time at libero because she also excels in the back row. Several players will adjust to new roles. Filling the positions vacated by graduated all-conference middle blockers Allison Osbourne and Amanda Nadler will be juniors Sarah Hallas and Alyssa Miner, both of whom played junior varsity last year. The team will be set by sophomore Jessica Donzelli. "We have pretty much a brand new team besides Ashley and Bri," ninth-year coach Joni Plach said. "One of our goals is always to be the best in U-46. I feel that goal is attainable this year. I'd also like to see us place in the top half of all the tournaments we play." The Storm will compete in tournaments at West Aurora, Hampshire, Elgin and Maine East.

St. Edward Green Wave

Coach: Jaime Dovichi (10th season)

Last year: 15-18; Kaneland d. St. Edward in Class 3A Hampshire regional semifinal, 25-17, 25-18

Top returnees: Casey Gredzieleski (Jr., S), Mallory Gross (Sr., S), Shannon Igielski (Sr., MB), Cory Kelly (Sr., RS), Allison Kruk (Sr., L), Alicia Martinez (Sr., OH/DS), Clara McDowell (Sr., DS), Cecile Rapp (Jr., MB), Katie Swanson (Sr., MB/OH), Maria Von Ahnen (Sr., MB),

Top newcomers: Megan Barth (So., MB) Sarah Madden (Jr., DS), Alyssa Saunders (Jr. DS)

Outlook: Three-year starter Katie Swanson (5-foot-10) heads a talented senior class. Swanson led the Green Wave last year with 203 kills to go with 150 digs. Third-year performer Cory Kelly (5-11) returns on the right side and senior libero Allison Kruk leads a strong back row that also includes returning defensive specialists Alicia Martinez and Clara McDowell and newcomers Alyssa Saunders. "Defense is definitely our strength right now," said 10th-year coach Jaime Dovichi, who directed the Green Wave to state trophies in 2004 and 2008. "Alison Kruk has three years on varsity at libero and they will all dig a lot of balls. It was a tough tryout for defense." The Green Wave might use three middle blockers, including 6-foot-3 junior starter Cecile Rapp. The team returns starting setter Mallory Gross and backup setter Casey Gredzieleski. Does St. Edward have enough talent to challenge for the Suburban Christian Gold title before leaving for the Metro Suburban Conference next season? "I'm excited about who we have coming back and excited about the new kids because we look like a different team," Dovichi said. "I definitely think we will be able to compete in (Class) 3A this year.

Streamwood Sabres

Coach: Lisa Vazzana (fourth season)

Last year: 9-26, 1-5 Upstate Eight River; Lost to Wheaton North in St. Charles North play-in, 25-13, 25-16

Top returnees: Lexi Engram (Sr., MB), Kaitlyn Hedger (Sr., OH), Hannah McGlone (Sr., MB), Andrea Prytulak (Sr., OH)

Top newcomers: Betsey Arteaga (Sr., DS), Sarah Cimino (Sr., OH/RS), Mercedes Olmos (Sr., S/RS/DS), Jennifer Rodriguez (Fr., RS/S), Lauren Schiferl (Jr., OH/RS), Taylor Williams (Jr., MB)

Outlook: Making solid contact with the ball has been a challenge for the Sabres thus far. A team without the benefit of club-trained players, Streamwood lacks a true setter. Coach Lisa Vazzana will elevate freshman Jennifer Rodriguez to the varsity for that purpose. The team's strongest player at the net is senior middle Hannah McGlone, who stands six feet tall. She and fellow middles Lexi Engram (6-1) and Taylor Williams (5-10) represent the bulk of Streamwood's height. McGlone is the strongest offensive player. "Hannah is putting up a solid block and we can run a lot of quicks and hits out of the middle because she's a good threat," Vazzana said. "She was named unanimous captain by her teammates and has come out strong. She's good on the back row, too. I'm not running a libero with her." Potent outside hitter Kaitlyn Hedger will be back in action soon following a concussion, her coach said. Also a softball player, Hedger is swinging aggressively. Andrea Prytulak is a quick, agile player who hits opposite Hedger. Mercedes Olmos can set but she might also play defense. "Our focus has to be on our defense," Vazzana said. "We can definitely put the ball down if we put the other pieces together. We're very good with zone serving. We just need a little consistency."

Westminster Christian Warriors

Coach: Kathy Ramos (third season)

Last year: 21-9, 6-2 Northeast Athletic Conference; Harvest Christian Academy d. Westminster Christian in Westminster Christian regional final, 25-10, 25-14

Top players: Savannah Dutcher (Jr., MB), Cassidy Finnegan (Sr., L), Courtney Gnan (Sr., OH), Emma Kovachevich, Claire Speweik (Sr., S/RS)

Outlook: The Warriors graduated Cara Tyrell, now on scholarship at Judson University, but much of the talent from a 21-win team returns. Claire Speweik notched solid numbers as a middle blocker last season: 197 kills, 32 blocks, 133 digs and 85 aces. However, she will split time this season between setting and playing the right side. That leaves the middle to junior Savannah Dutcher, who as a sophomore posted 173 kills and 93 blocks. Also returning are senior outside hitter Courtney Gnan and senior libero Cassidy Finnegan (142 digs). "Our strength will be our strong offensive line with key hitters and continuity of a strong core that has played together several years now," third-year coach Kathy Ramos said. "In addition, seven varsity players played competitively in club volleyball in the offseason improving different aspects of their game." Ramos said the team has its sites set on defeating its toughest competition, namely nearby Harvest Christian Academy, which advanced to the Class 1A Elite Eight after knocking off the Warriors in a regional title match, and Keith Country Day, the reigning 1A champion. With improvement as the goal, Westminster scheduled nonconference matches against Class 4A schools Conant and Rolling Meadows to prepare for the state tournament. The Warriors will host a Class 1A supersectional.

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