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updated: 9/5/2013 4:54 PM

Scouting Tri-Cities girls volleyball

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  • St. Charles North's Taylor Krage, left, is back to power what should be a powerful North Star squad this fall.

      St. Charles North's Taylor Krage, left, is back to power what should be a powerful North Star squad this fall.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Taylor Marmitt should have some more exciting plays to celebrate as part of a talented Geneva squad.

    Taylor Marmitt should have some more exciting plays to celebrate as part of a talented Geneva squad.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer


Maybe it's not the Cubs unseating the Cardinals to become the NL Central power, but there was a changing of the guard of sorts in the area last fall.

While St. Charles East has been the measuring stick for years in the postseason, last October it was Geneva knocking out the Saints on their way to a sectional championship appearance against Glenbard West.

The Vikings also dethroned the Saints in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division continuing a trend of great parity at the top in the conference's short history with Batavia also owning a recent crown.

On the heels of their 29-10 season, and beating the Saints head-to-head in both conference and the sectional, can Geneva stay on top this fall?

If so, the Vikings will have to replace 10 seniors from that team including all-conference and all-area outside hitter and kill leader Hannah Buck, all-conference, all-area and dig record breaking libero Kelley Dalhiem, and all-conference right side Jess Wicinski.

Starting setters Nicole Schnieder and Sammy Gola, right side Renner Burns, and serving specialist Megan Bell also graduated.

Luckily for longtime coach KC Johnsen the Vikings bring back strength in the middle with Taylor Marmitt and Maddie Courter, outside hitter Hannah Lanasa, libero Kelsey Wicinski, and setter Courtney Caruso.

Add to that newcomers like outside hitter Kylie Thompson, defensive specialist Camille Kolquist, setter Megan Cameron, and freshmen right-sides Grace Loberg and Ally Barrett, and it's easy to see why Johnsen lists size, defense and depth at all positions as team strengths.

"We expect to be able to compete with just about anyone on our schedule and improve with experience as the season progresses," Johnsen said.

St. Charles East is largely inexperienced with just setter Carly Jimenez, libero Anne Hughes and middle Mikaela Mosquera returning.

Jimenez takes over for Erin Barry who set the Saints the past four years. While the Saints will feature a balanced attack, you can bet Jimenez will look for junior Megan Schildmeyer on the outside -- she had a team-high 9 kills in the Saints' opening win over Wheaton North -- in addition to Mosquera in the middle.

"I usually have that one big outside," Saints coach Jennie Kull said. "This will be different type of team for me. I'm kind of excited about the challenge."

Senior Carly Matthews, junior Meagan Smith and sophomore Sydney Urban joined the returnees in the Saints' starting lineup while Dana Voltolina, Ashley Bullock, Emily Vitel and Ally Watson all contributed off the bench. Outside Alex Mazanke was out with an injury.

"What we are starting with is very young," Kull said. "It's inexperience. It's a fresh start. Every day we need to see improvement of some sort. We have goals we need to reach. We just want to see improvement every day and by the time we are done we'll be the best we can be. That's our goal. Our conference is amazing this year."

The Saints and Vikings weren't the only Tri-Cities teams at last fall's Class 4A Larkin sectional. St. Charles North joined its River rivals before losing in the sectional semifinals to Glenbard West. Coach Lindsey Hawkins returns several of her top players from that team.

The North Stars welcome back 6-foot-1 Northern Illinois bound senior outside hitter Taylor Krage, 5-6 senior defensive specialist Alex Seavey, 5-5 senior setter Sydney Wohlert, 6-1 sophomore right side Claire Anderson, and 6-3 sophomore outside hitter Daley Krage.

"We are really excited about the season," Hawkins said.

Hawkins has good reason for excitement, and not just those impressive returnees. The North Stars add 5-6 junior setter Taryn DalDegan, 5-5 sophomore defensive specialist Sam Lappin, 6-0 senior middle hitter Sophia DuVall, and 6-1 junior middle hitter Emily Carroll.

"I believe one of our strengths this year is going to be our defense," Hawkins said. "We have four amazing defensive specialists who are going to frustrate many opponents. We also have very versatile players this year. Many of our athletes can play multiple positions, which I believe will help us keep our opponents guessing."

Several of the North Stars enter the season after piling up impressive summer accomplishments. Taylor Krage and Wohlert both won national championships for their club teams, the second for Krage.

Carroll began playing beach volleyball, and she and her partner earned a top-five ranking in the nation. She and Daley Krage also both started playing with players from around the country for a program called High Performance.

Batavia coach Lori Trippi-Payne always gets her team ready against a top-notch schedule, and that certainly was the case last year with the Bulldogs battling the aforementioned Vikings, Saints and North Stars. Batavia wound up at 20-17 and looks to improve on a 2-4 record and fifth-place finish in the River.

While the Bulldogs graduated three players who went onto college careers -- Kristen Koncelik (Evansville), Briahna Havis (Roosevelt University), and Lizzy Thrun (North Central College) -- Batavia does bring back three-year starter Heather Meyer, a 5-11 senior outside hitter and captain. Meyer led Batavia in kills last year with 235 and was the team MVP.

Senior setter Audrey Faulhaber also is on varsity for the third year and broke the school record last season with 715 season assists. Middle Shea Thayer is the team's third three-year starter.

Junior libero Maddie Jaudon was named an AAU all-American this summer in Orlando. She was the libero for SPVB 16 Blue, which won the 16 Classic division.

Among the newcomers to watch are 5-10 junior right side Anna Clausen, and 6-foot sophomore middle Maddy Astling.

"This team might look very different from recent teams we have had," Trippi-Payne said. "We are hoping to build on some of the blocking success we had last season. I think we can become very competitive as the season goes along. We may have some growing pains at first, as we will have many offensive and defensive changes from last season."

The Bulldogs will prepare for the River by playing defending Class 4A state champs Benet and defending 3A champs St. Francis, among others. Trippi-Payne expects a tight conference race.

Moving outside the Upstate Eight, change is the operative word at both Kaneland and West Aurora.

The Knights welcome Kerri McCastland who replaces Todd Weimer as coach of a team coming off a 21-13 season and the school's first regional title in 21 years.

While Kaneland does bring back junior outside hitter Ellie Dunn, the rest of the team is pretty young. Dunn had 216 kills, 42 blocks and 88 digs as a sophomore and will be joined by six other juniors, lone senior Jenny Lubic, three sophomores and two freshmen.

At West Aurora the Blackhawks have even bigger shoes to fill with the graduation of Lauren Carlini, ranked by as the best volleyball player in the country last year. Now at Wisconsin, Carlini led the Blackhawks to back-to-back DuPage Valley Conference titles while winning captain honors of the Daily Herald's All-Area team the past three seasons.

The Blackhawks, coming off a 32-6 season, have three returners: senior middle Abriya Zeitz, senior outside Demi Heiss and junior outside Mallory Jones who is currently out with an injury.

Newcomers for coach Kari Nicholson include junior outside Kristin Fick, and junior middle Lucy Currie.

"We are very young this year, but after an impressive tryout, we very excited about our upcoming season," Nicholson said. "We have two returners who should play very well for us, and we have many up and coming athletes who should perform quite well. We feel very positive about this upcoming season."

Aurora Central Catholic is coming off an 11-24 season, 4-11 in the SCC Blue Division under coach Jeanne Czipri.

Lauren San Diego, a 5-4 senior setter, 5-7 three-year starter Clare Tack (a senior libero), Maddy Trnka, a 6-1 sophomore middle, sophomore Gabbie Gutierrez, a 5-8 senior outside, and senior right side Hailey Watkins return from that team.

"I am most excited to see how much they grow this year," Czipri said. "The energy and bond that this team has is awesome. They are great communicators and work extremely well together. We will have some bumps in the road due to some inexperience, but I am anxious to see how far they can go. They are willing to put in the work, and have a passion for this game and each other ... which will create a very strong atmosphere for them to train and compete in."

Czipri welcomes junior setter Andrea Bieritz, junior defensive specialist Paige Allegretti, junior defensive specialist Kalie Soris, junior defensive specialist Brionna Minx, junior middle Natalie Droeske, junior right side Brittany Decker, junior outside Annie Krogulski, junior outside Anneke Nilles, sophomore outside Kendall Iverson, and freshman middle Sydney Audifred-Zauner to the mix.

Czipri considers the SCC Blue one of the toughest conference divisions in the state.

"While our competition is always strong and decorated with Division I commits, the Chargers will be able to compete well," Czipri said. "We are a very young team and have a lot of work to be done to get us to a point where we can win some big conference games, but this group has a very strong work ethic and team bond. I expect to see a lot of growth not only in our physical game, but in our decision making and mental game as well.

"We are very young and inexperienced offensively, but have two very strong and capable setters in Lauren and Andrea. Our defensive specialists position has a lot of depth with a seasoned leader in Clare, which will create some strong competition for playing time but also provide a scrappy and consistent back row play."

Rosary opened its season last week with a loss to Geneva. Junior outside Nina Valaitis led the attack with 12 kills plus 8 digs and 2 blocks.

Senior Josephine Gallagher set 14 assists in that match. Other Royals to watch include middle blockers Michaela Ping (junior), senior Jessica Wade and Joanna Wedge, defensive specialists Taylor Vandenberg and Claire Nelson, libero Genevieve Talbot, and Erin Burke, a freshman already making an impact on the outside.

Aurora Christian split two matches in the opening week including a 15-25, 25-13, 25-19 win over IMSA. Natalie Hayes (6 kills, 2 blocks), Jamie Gebauer (6 kills) and Gabby Galbato (5 kills) led the Eagles.

Follow John Lemon on Twitter @jlemonDH.

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