It's not often the Harper women's volleyball team finds itself near the bottom of the first NJCAA Division III poll of the year.
That's where the 10th-ranked Hawks are this fall -- but maybe that's a good thing.
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"I like that," Hawks coach Bob Vilsoet said of his team's poll position. "We have nowhere to go but up."
Last season, the top spot in the nation ended up going to Madison College, who eliminated the Hawks in the Region IV finals in five sets.
The Wolfpack has earned the top ranking in this year's preseason poll. The two North Central Community College Conference powers could meet for the first time this season at the DuPage Classic this weekend if both teams are able to advance out of there respective pools.
Harper is in a bit of a rebuilding mode, but the Hawks do return six sophomores with playing experience from last season.
The biggest loss may be that of NJCAA All-American Veronica Dabrowski, who is now playing at Bethel University in Indiana. Also gone to graduation are Alex Messner and defensive wiz Kelly Spychala.
"That's a huge loss" Vilsoet said of the trio.
The good news for Harper is that the Hawks also return some firepower from last year's team, including Lindsey Murphy. She led the country with 1,221 assists last season. Murphy also was the nation's leader in digs by a setter.
"She's an all-around player," Vilsoet said of the Crystal Lake South grad. Another "very strong defensive player," according to her coach, is Morgan Peterson (Conant).
An intriguing arrival is Alyssia Dugo, who played the last two seasons at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wis. Look for Dugo to be one of the Hawks' leaders.
"She's very smart (and) strong offensiveley," Vilsoet said.
There's a lot to talk about when it comes to the nine freshmen on the roster. One of the strongest positions on the court could be up the middle, where the Hawks will rely on three promising newcomers: Sarah Berggren (Barrington), Adriana Loiacono and Danielle Sortino (Conant).
"They are smart players, good blockers," Vilsoet said.
The family ties to the Harper vollyball program run deep in the Bregenzer household, as cousins Katie and Kelly Spychala both played for the Hawks. Sarah Bregenzer could see significant time at outside hitter this season.
The family vibe countinues with the addition of Shannon Igielski (St. Edward), the younger sister of Stephanie.
One challenge may be an overall lack of height, as Palatine grad Kim Butler (6-foot-2) is the only player taller than 6 feet.
But Vilsoet is eager to see how this new group performs. He's hoping to see his Hawks win, "on heart, desire and ball control. I don't think the fact that we are young is bad."