Top teams: Benet, Downers Grove North, Glenbard South, Glenbard West, IC Catholic Prep, Metea Valley, Montini, Naperville North, Naperville Central, Waubonsie Valley, St. Francis, Wheaton North and WW South.
Top athletes: Benet: Racheal Fara, sr, M; Natalie Canulli, sr., L; Tiffany Clark, jr., OH/L; Downers Grove South: Katie Vondra, sr., OH; Downers Grove North: Grace Larson, sr., OH; Selene Ushela, sr., L; Mary Helen Beacom, jr. setter; Fenton: Valerie Andrews, sr., M; Glenbard East: Sam Bell, sr., S; Sarah Murphy, sr., Allison Farrell, jr., OH ; Glenbard North: Nicole Tobison, sr,. OH; Glenbard South: Sydney Bauman, sr., M; MacKenzie Watterson, jr., OH; Alex LaPonte, sr., S; Glenbard West: Alison Burelbach, sr., OH; Natalie Schilling, jr., OH; Kate Wagner, jr., S; Hinsdale Central: Lauren Fuller, sr., OH; Hinsdale South: Taylor Barnes, sr., MH; Lizzy Niestrom, sr., S; IC Catholic Prep: Frannie Cerbone, sr., S; Hannah Hartnett, sr., OH; Claudia Koch, jr., MB; Metea Valley: Lexie Lobdell, sr., OH: Ashley Walker, jr., M; Autumn Long, jr., L; Montini: Monica Loscus, sr., OH; Gina Cappetta, jr., S; Jordan Bruscianelli, sr. RS; Mary Bowe, sr., OH; Naperville Central: Phoebe Havenaar, sr., MH; Andi Davenport, jr., S; Sam Herron, jr., OH; Naperville North: Emily Kwak, sr., S; Megan Wernette, sr., MB; Caitlin Miller, sr., MB; Neuqua Valley: Abby Skryd, sr., OH/S;Claire Grove, jr., OH; Alexis Douglas, jr., OH; St. Francis: Molly Haggerty, sr., OH; Mary Boken, sr., MH; Lisa Mordell, sr., L; Timothy Christian: Kacie Stoll, sr., OH; Hanna Markewycz, sr., L; Waubonsie Valley: Becky Breuer, sr,. OH; Lauren Hiller, sr., S; Sydney Slevin, sr., L; West Chicago: Ronni Katarzynski, jr.; L; Kiera MacPherson, sr., S; Wheaton North: Kelly Thornton, sr., S; Grace Tiesman, jr., (OH); Wheaton Warrenville South: Rachel Burau, sr., S; Erin Staunton, sr., MH.
Scouting report: Some very talented players moved on after last season, and there have been many conference changes, but DuPage County volleyball will still look pretty similar this fall. That is Benet will be loaded again and a contender in Class 4A, and the same can be said for St. Francis in Class 3A. IC Catholic Prep was hit hard by graduation after winning the Class 2A crown in 2013, but it wouldn't be wise for anyone to look past the Knights this season.
Waubonsie Valley has to move on without last year's Daily Herald Team captain, Rachel Minarick, now at Michigan State, yet the Warriors return plenty of talent and another 30-win campaign is not out of the question.
Naperville North and Glenbard West each piled up the wins last year and each squad returns plenty of firepower. Glenbard South, too, boasts a boatload of talent and experience.
So many of last year's powers plan to stay on top, but programs like Naperville Central, Wheaton North and Neuqua Valley also look to make some noise at the front of the pack.
Benet suffered some injuries last season, but the Redwings still managed to go 36-6 and take second in the state in Class 4A, making it three straight years with a state trophy and the fourth time in last six years that Benet has reached the the 4A championship.
Another run to the finals may be difficult after Benet lost six key players to graduation, but six players who saw plenty of action are back in 2014, including Racheal Fara, a 6-foot-3, senior middle who led the team in kills and blocks and has committed to play at Northwestern University. Senior libero Natalie Canulli (Penn State) will anchor the defense and Tiffany Clark, a libero during club season, will be a weapon on the outside for the Redwings.
Naperville North welcomes back a strong nucleus from a 34-5 team, including Emily Kwak, a four-year varsity setter. Megan Wernette is a three-year starting middle blocker. "This is a hard working group that will challenge the top teams in the state by the end of the season," said coach Jennifer Urban, who enters her 10th season with a record of 297-79 for the Huskies.
Naperville North fell to Benet in the sectional finals last year. The Huskies may be the team to beat in the DuPage Valley Conference this year, but the Redhawks (18-18 last year but 10-4 in the DVC) look to contend, and Wheaton North and WW South also will field strong squads.
"We want to fight to get into that mix again," Redhawks coach Jeff Danbom said of his team's lofty goals. "We have a strong tradition at Naperville Central and we want to get that back. The girls are hungry."
Naperville Central will be paced by three-year varsity middle hitter Phoebe Havenaar, who was the lone returner to last year's varsity team. This year she'll have plenty of experience around her including junior setter Andi Davenport and Sam Herron, a junior OH. Havenaar almost set the school's single-season mark for blocks last fall and expects to erase the mark this time around.
"We want to make a run at it (DVC)," Danbom said. "If we can continue to develop I think we've got a chance. The DVC is tough, but I like our chances."
In the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division, the Minarick-led Warriors were tough last fall, yet it was Metea Valley that went 6-0 to claim at least a share of its second straight crown. The Mustangs will miss a pair of talented graduates in MH Kaylyn Torain and setter Ellie Petersen, but coach Dave Macdonald has all-area OH Lexie Lobdell back and is not ready to concede anything in 2014.
"We have a lot back, and there's some good younger kids as well," said Macdonald, who will lean heavily on Lobdell's offense after the four-year starter recorded 35 aces, 279 kills, 24 blocks, and 170 digs in 2013. "We're really bringing a lot of our core back."
The Mustangs also have athletic junior M Ashley Walker back and libero back Autumn Long, who had 33 aces and 239 digs as a sophomore. Colleeen Shanahan and Miranda Cada will set in the 6-2 system, and Metea will also get contributions from 6-foot freshman right side Mikalia Dowd.
The Warriors, meanwhile set a school record for wins while going 30-8 before falling to Benet in a sectional semifinal. Gone are Minarick, all-conference libero Stephanie Tang and middle Katie Campbell, but lots of talent does return including OH Becky Breuer, who is committed to Emory, setter Lauren Hiller (committed to Wittenberg in Ohio), and senior libero Sydney Slevin (committed to Sacred Heart in Connecticut).
Coach Kristen Stuart says several others players had strong off-seasons, indicating that the program does not plan to drop off with Minarick and her talents off to the Big Ten.
Glenbard West went 34-4 while claiming West Suburban Silver and regional crowns in 2013. In the last three seasons the Hilltoppers have gone 102-13.
Senior OH Alison Burelbach, 6-1 junior OH Natalie Schilling and junior setter OH Junior Kate Wagner pace Glenbard West this fall. The Duke-bound Schilling had 336 kills while earning all-area honors as a sophomore last season.
In Class 3A St. Francis looks to reload rather than rebuild, but the likes of OH Maddie Haggerty and libero Sam Dubiel will be missed. Even so, the Spartans went 39-3 last year while winning another 3A title despite missing Haggerty to injury.
"I'm excited about the returning players and newcomers, but we still have a young team," said Spartans coach Peg Kopec, whose 2014 team will be led by OH Molly Haggerty and four-year starter Mary Boken. "We have some goals this season regarding state, however there are many challenging matches prior to late October."
DuPage County also features Montini Catholic and Timothy Christian, a pair of 3A powers in their own rights. The Broncos went 30-4 last year before falling in the regional finals in three sets to St. Francis, which went on to claim state.
Like St. Francis, Montini and coach Steve Dowjotas said goodbye to some very talented seniors last year, including all-area libero Bridget Lucas. But like the Spartans, the expectations remain high with 12 seniors are on the roster, including OH Monica Loscus and talented junior setter Gina Cappetta.
"We lost some really key players, but we have a lot of experience and depth, and Gina is doing a great job with a faster offense."
Montini is in a smaller conference this fall along with St.Francis, Rosary and Aurora Christian, before switching over to the Girls Catholic Conference in 2015 where they'll see state power Mother McAuley.
Timothy Christian was 28-9 last fall and shared a Metro Suburban Conference title with Glenbard South. Like Montini, the Trojans took St. Francis the distance in the playoffs before falling in three sets.
All-area setter Jenna Lodewyk has departed, but Kacie Stoll returns after 346 kills last year and libero Hanna Markewycz is an exceptional passer and defender.
Speaking of Glenbard South, the Raiders are coming off a 32-7 season that ended with a loss in the 4A sectional finals. Ten players from that team return, led by the talented trio of 6-foot-3 middle Sydney Bauman, OH MacKenzie Watterson and setter Alex LaPonte.
In Class 2A IC Prep sent veteran coach Jen Field went out a winner with the school's third state title. Now longtime assistant coach Nancy Kerrigan D'Amore takes over the squad. The former IC player will wish she had some of the firepower back that graduated, but the cupboard is not bare as five contributors from the state squad are back -- captain Frannie Cerbone, a senior setter; Hannah Hartnett, senior, OH; Claudia Koch, jr., middle blocker, and two talented defensive specialists, Molly Manion and Kerry Mulligan.
And Kerrigan D'Amore is not the only new coach in the area this fall. Kelly Kleidorfer has taken over a Fenton program that went 11-24 in 20103, and Anne Mastandrea, a former collegiate player and coach, will guide Glenbard North this fall.
-- Stan Goff