Top teams: Benet, Downers Grove South, Glenbard West, Lake Park, Naperville Central, St. Francis, Waubonsie Valley
Top Players: Addison Trail: Anthony Chiaramonte, OH, sr.; Alex Dickmann, OH, jr.; Benet: Ricky Gevis, OH, jr.; Scott Kleiser, OH, jr.; Ben Mazza, S, so.; Garrett Metzger, OH, sr.; Downers Grove North: Mike Mierzwa, MH, jr.; Downers Grove South: Jordan Pawlicki, S, sr.; Mike Schmitt, OH, sr.; Will Tischler, OH, jr.; Tyler Zowaski, L, sr.; Fenton: Andy Gonzalez, S, jr.; Anthony Lopez, OH, sr.; Glenbard East: Sterling Glover, OH, sr.; Cory Soehren, S, sr.; Glenbard North: Pasquale Fiduccia, S, sr.; Scott Schlacks, OH, jr.; Mike Vegrzyn, MH, sr.; Glenbard West: Kyler Kotsakis, RS, so,; Andrew Roberts, L, sr.; Parker Swartz MH, jr.; Hinsdale Central: Grant Kelly, MH, sr.; Lake Park: Shawn Fritsche, RS, sr.; Quin Krisik, S, sr.; Sean Moore, MH, sr.; Dominick Terry, OH, sr.; Metea Valley: Ryan Luckinbill, OH, sr.; Andrew Miller, S, sr.; Naperville Central: Jack Burton, OH, junior; Jon Chiczewski, OH, sr.; Dan Trembacki, S, sr.; Naperville North: Kevin Figge, MH, sr.; Jake Hafen, OH, sr.; Kevin Romy, S, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Aaron Lauth, S, jr.; Austin Neace, OH, jr.; St. Francis: Greg Churney, OH, sr.; Jeff Jendryk, MH, sr.; Robert Smith, S, sr.; Waubonsie Valley: Connor Douville, MH, sr.; Jake Furman, S, so.; Michael Simmons, OH, sr.; Wheaton Academy: Braden Martin, OH, sr.; Wheaton North: Joe Bianco, DS, sr.; Hank Bowen, S, sr.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Kolbie Knorr, OH, jr.; Zack Meyer, OH, so.; Jared Wilcox, RS, sr.; Willowbrook: Ben Wozniak, OH, sr.; York: Sebastian Guzman, L, sr.
Outlook: In only a year the Downers Grove South volleyball team has gone from surprise success story to the guys with the target on their backs. After the Mustangs' impressive run to the state championship last year, there will be many teams eager to and capable of taking the crown away.
Out of respect for their history, we'll start with Wheaton Warrenville South, which has dominated Illinois boys high school volleyball since the turn of the century. The Tigers went 19-18 in 2013, which was something of an off year for them. That was a young team, but coach Bill Schreier assures that this year's group is athletic and more than ready for the DuPage Valley Conference, weekend tournaments and postseason wars.
"The great difference this year," Schreier said, "will be more solid first-ball contact. We are a strong group of pin hitters led by captains Wilcox and Knorr, and we have great setting and competent middles."
There is a new DVC gun in town, Lake Park, and the Lancers return almost everybody from last year's 26-13 squad. The team's 11 seniors led by All-Area setter Krisik, played together on the same club team last summer and earned an open bid to nationals. "Our strengths this season will be team unity and speed," coach Tim Murphy said. "And our transition game has a quicker pace. We are very excited to join the DVC."
Also competing for the top spot will be a fast-improving Naperville Central team. The Redhawks will be coached by Roger Strausberger, former head man at Naperville North, and will feature an array of talented veterans including Butler, one of the top hitters in the area. "Offensively, we're where we need to be," Strausburger said. "We need to work on blocking and floor defense. Our goal is to make it to state."
Glenbard North is coming off a good year and looking to continue its success. Wheaton North should be on the upswing, while perennial powers Glenbard East and Naperville suffered heavy graduation losses and could require some time to come together. But they should be there at the end of the season.
Among the other state contenders, Benet is experienced, fast, balanced and perhaps the tallest team around. Outside hitter Gevis, who has grown to 6-foot-11, will cause nightmares for the opposition. "We can attack the ball from any position," said Benet coach Amy Van Eekeren.
Glenbard West is one of the newer programs in the area, but the Hilltoppers have quickly grown into a consistent contender for state. This year veteran libero Roberts leads a group of nine seniors, and sophomore hitter Kotsakis, one of five lefties, should be dominant. "We can play with the big dogs¸" coach Christine Mayer said. "We have high expectations."
Waubonsie Valley could accomplish this season what they planned to do last year before major injuries knocked out the Warriors' two best players. Senior outside hitter Michael Simmons is healthy from the beginning this year and eager to prove why many consider him the best in the area.
St. Francis, Downers Grove North and Neuqua Valley are perennial powers who are always in the mix with the top teams. The Spartans' Jendryk is a force in the middle, while the Lauth-Neace connection could take the Wildcats a long way.
In the West Suburban Gold, Wozniak of Willowbrook is a great all-around player outstanding hitter who will help the Warriors continue their winning tradition that was re-established two years ago. Dickmann of Addison Trail is an all-star. There will be a lot of strong competition along the way, but with the experience of winning it all, Downers Grove South, which finished 31-10, approaches this season with a great deal of confidence. Setter Pawlicki is an athlete who runs a fast offense. He's a leader who can set up his teammates with great location and timing. The middle hitters have to be replaced, but Schmitt and Tischler are a couple of stars on the outside and libero Zowaski, who has great anticipation, can cover most of the court.
"Everyone who was here last year is eager to go out there and prove that we have what it takes to get back to state and do it again," said Downers Grove South coach Kurt Steuer. "We have good speed, height and depth. Our offense will be strong. We also have tremendous team chemistry and confidence that has gotten stronger thanks to last year's success."
Key dates: April 3-5 Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic; April 8: Naperville Central at Lake Park; April 12: Glenbard East Springfest; April 22: Neuqua Valley at Waubonsie Valley; April 25-26 Downers Grove South Invite: April 26: Addison Trail Invite; April 26: Downers Grove North Invite; April 29: Naperville North at Naperville Central; May 2-3: Benet Invitational; May 6: Waubonsie Valley at Metea Valley; May 8: Glenbard West at Downers Grove South, May 15: Lake Park at Wheaton Warrenville South: May 26-27: IHSA regionals first round; June 6-7 state finals.