AntiochCoach: Jamie Atkinson (8th year)
Last year: 8-16
Top players: Lucas Winters (6-4 middle, Sr.), Troy Mayer (6-4 Right Side, Sr.), Nathan Borries (6-1 Setter, So.), Ian Flatley (6-4 OH, So.)
Outlook: The Sequoits are beginning to knock on the door. Of course, graduation took a toll this year. "This will be one of Antioch's youngest teams in the past few years,'' said Antioch coach Jamie Atkinson. "On the court we have quite a few players with a few years of varsity experience. The Sequoits will look to push a faster paced offense and build it up each day." Antioch won't suffer in the height department as at least three Sequoits reach 6-foot-4. Look for this team to surprise a few folks along the way.
CarmelCoach: Kevin Nylen (7th year)
Last year: 16-16
Top returning players: Derek Clement, Sr. OH; Andrew Wloch, Sr. S; Brad Gadek, Sr. MH; Kyle Zeman, Jr. OH/L; Patrick Meadie, So. OH/L
Top newcomers: Matt Kelly, Sr. RS/OH; Ryan Schweinhagen, Sr. MH; Michael May, So. RS; Drew Mehigan, Jr. S
Outlook: Experience is key for the Corsairs this season. Two players to watch are the seniors Clement and Wloch. Clement is nursing a sore ankle but should be back soon. Nylen is very high on his senior setter. "Andrew (Wloch) is a stud,'' Nylen said. "He has great hands as a setter but can also hit and has a powerful jump serve." Nylen is pleased with his middles (Gadek and Schweinhagen). Two sophomores (Meadie and May) have a chance of breaking into the lineup. "Every coach is excited about their teams potential at the start of the season, and I am no different,'' Nylen said. "I think that we have all of the characteristics of a great team. We have experience, senior leadership, athleticism, good kids and chemistry. We have a lot of depth, and to be honest one of the struggles at the beginning of the season is which possible lineup should be on the court for our first match."
GrantCoach: Jon Schaap (second year)
Last year: 6-29
Top players: Eduardo Castillo (6-0 Sr.), Tony Catinella (6-3 Jr.), Brock Lundman (6-3 Jr.), Andrew Fischer (5-8 Jr.), Jason Kaye (6-3 Jr.), Austin Freund (6-3 So.)
Outlook: Youth is back in style at Grant. Jon Schaap is back for another season to bring some more wins to this still emerging program. "This will be Grant's second year as an official IHSA team,'' Schapp said. Of his nine players, the Bulldogs have eight juniors. Freund is the lone sophomore as the Bulldogs will have no seniors. "The team is hoping that hard work and a positive mental attitude will help them overcome a lack of experience,'' Schapp said. "We will try to improve in the second year as a program. Only three players return from last season's varsity squad, but as the team is pretty young the coaching staff is hoping the future will be bright."
LakesCoach: Kate Cheek (1st year)
Top players: Richard Galat (6-0 Sr.), Dalton Solbrig (6-4 Jr.), Matt Parenti (Sr.)
Last year record: 18-16
Outlook: For those in the boys volleyball world, this Kate Cheek coach certainly knows something about playing this game. She (Katie Hofeldt) is generally regarded as Antioch's best volleyball player ever. So after coaching the girls program in the fall, Cheek takes over the boys program in the spring. And this is not a bad squad to inherit. Galat may stand just 6-feet but this team captain can play this game well. Solbrig is a legitimate threat in the middle. "Dalton is in line for a great season,'' Cheek said. "He is completely coachable. He has great sportsmanship and is very team-oriented. He always wants what is best for the players.'' Other players to keep an eye on for the Eagles are sophomores Nick Halberg and Colton Jewell. "They push each other in practice everyday and are helping to better the team,'' Cheek said.
Lake ZurichCoach: Lesly Ravenscraft (5th season)
Last year's record: 15-21
Top players: Michael Savio (5-10 Sr.), Pat Bush (6-1, Sr.), Brent Sweetwood (6-3 Sr.),
Outlook: With seven seniors in the lineup a degree of optimism is in the air.
"We have the ability and the experience,'' Ravenscraft said. "Now we just need the confidence and belief we can do it. With so many returning starters, we have high expectations for this season. We believe our experience will serve us well, especially in the tight matches where we need to finish." Savio is a four-year starter and doesn't back down to anyone despite standing 5-foot-10. "He really is the backbone of the team,'' Ravenscraft said. "He is a smart player who always competes at a high level." Bush is in his third year as the team's setter. Sweetwood is a tough blocker for the Bears. "Obviously, we would like to perform much better within our conference, and we want to win our regional,'' she said.
LibertyvilleCoach: Jenny Smith (1st season)
Last year's record: 12-25
Top players: Adam Sachs (5-10, Sr.), Chris Akers (6-1 Jr.), Zach Hauser (6-3 Jr.), Jacob Kumorowiez (5-11 Jr.)
Outlook: Smith takes over the program having spent time coaching girls at both at Libertyville and Vernon Hills. She's hoping to turn things around. "Last year was a bit rough for the boys with a disappointing record,'' Smith said. "But we are really looking forward to the fresh talent on our squad this first season. We now have a coaching staff that reflects our successful girls program and are planning on using that in combination with these kids, who are some of the most hard working I've coached, to build this program back up to be a contender in the conference." Smith's first team has just one returning senior in Adam Sachs. He's stationed at libero. Among the newcomers to watch is 6-5 Peter Feely in the middle and freshman Sam Kharash on defense. "We want to use our quick athletic player to be a bit more dangerous this year,'' Smith said.
MundeleinCoach: George Dressen, Jr. (13th year)
Last year: 19-13
Top players: David Everding (Sr., Capt.), Luke Ramer (Sr., Capt.), Sam Nelson (Sr.), Jake Langlie (Jr., Capt.), Roman Tkackuk (Jr.), Danny Lake (Sr., Capt.).
Outlook: The boys volleyball program at Mundelein suffered a major blow earlier this year when former player Ian Turkula passed away in his battle against a brain cancer. The program moves on this year as coach George Dressen, now in his 13th season at the helm of the Mustangs, has appointed a number of captains to run the next team. Yes, he has six captains. One of them is a veteran in the lineup. David Everding is back for another season. Those other senior captains are Luke Ramer, Sam Nelson, Jake Langlie, Roman Tkackuk and Danny Lake. Mundelein won 19 games last year and with four returning players the Mustangs should have another strong season. "A large amount for the team has limited varsity experience,'' Dressen said. "But they all work hard and follow direction well."
StevensonCoach: Eric Goolish (1st year)
Last year: 31-5
Top players: Keenan Herman (6-2 Sr. OH), Conner Perlin (6-4 Sr. OH), Eric Chang (6-4 Sr. MH), Jeffrey Maskalunas, (6-5, Sr. RH) Joshua Cliffer (6-5 Sr. RH)
Outlook: Tim Crow has stepped down as head coach. Eric Goolish steps up to take that role and wonders what happened to all of the stars from last year. Like Brad Tiller, Jonah May and Aaron Zalewski. Yes, a fresh class of players is ready to take the reins of the next Pats club. "This will be the first time in memory where the varsity team does not return a setter and libero from the previous year's team,'' Goolish said. "This inexperience combined with our youth will be our greatest challenge to overcome. Out of the gate, our strength is our size, depth, and athleticism at the net." Clearly, this team will have plenty of help in the height department. And there are three senior defensive specialists who should see some playing time. Those players are Tim Park, Sean Grant and Thomas Rzepecki. With four seniors who stand 6-4, there is still room for a 6-7 freshman named Lucas Creevy. Numbers won't be a problem for the new coach. Stevenson has plenty of players.
Vernon HillsCoach: Chris Curry (14th year)
Last year: 32-7
Top players: Mike Heinz (6-2 Sr. OH), Ryan Opitz (6-4 Sr. Setter), Tyler Small (6-0 Sr. MH), Max Spiglanin (6-1 Sr. RS), Dylan DeBoer (6-2 Jr. OH), Lem Turner (6-5 Jr. MH)
Outlook: They just seem to reload at Vernon Hills. Actually, this program is used to going further than last year's sectional final. "We failed to win (or share) the North Suburban title for the first time in six years last year,'' Curry said. "We hope to be in the mix this year for our seventh NSC title in our 14 years as a school. We neither raise nor lower our expectations as a program in any given year. We expect to compete for conference titles and be playing for a trip to state every season." The returning list of players sounds like a best of the best list. Max Spiglanin proved to be one of the area's top blockers. Setter Ryan Opitz and outside hitter Mike Heinz are clearly dangerous players. In Opitz's case, what team couldn't use a 6-4 setter? Middle hitter, Lem Turner, set records blocking for the Cougars as a sophomore last year. Tyler Small is another threat in the middle. "We return six of the eight players who were on the floor for us in the sectional final loss to Deerfield last spring,'' Curry said. "This year, there aren't raised expectations: we expect to be in that match again and we're working, as we do every year, to be prepared to win it. Maybe things will break our way and we'll get that chance."
WarrenCoach: Yun Chen (10th season at Warren)
Last year: 26 - 11
Top players: Arvind Kouta (Sr., Setter), Mitch Maan de Kok (Sr., MH), Max Bongratz (Sr., MH), Bryant Holland (Sr., OH), Zach Schultz (Soph., OH), AJ Ceisel (Sr., Libero), Jeremy White (Sr., RS).
Outlook: Twenty-six wins for Warren last year? Now that sounds like a great season. And Yun Chen's latest team shouldn't take a step back this season. Kouta proved a year ago he is a gifted setter. Bongratz and Holland will get a number of sets from Kouta. Out of the 15 players, seven are returning players. "So we have a lot experience from last year's team,'' Chen said. "We are looking forward to build on the success we had last year and use our experience to our advantage this year."