Aurora Central Catholic
Coach: Dan Drye
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Last year: 11-22
Key returnees: Maddy Trnka, 6-1, MH, jr.; Andrea Biertiz, 5-6, S, sr.; Anneka Nilles, DS, sr.; Brie Minx, DS, sr.; Paige Allegretti, S, sr.; Natalie Droeske, 5-10, MH, sr.
Top newcomers: Morgan Spencer, 5-9, RS, sr.; Kendall Iversen, 5-7, DS, jr.; Sydney Audiffred-Zavner, 5-11, OH, so.
Outlook: The Chargers are turning the program over to Drye, who has assisted his brother Nate for 10 years on the ACC boys basketball bench. Dan Drye has 21 years of experience coaching volleyball including three at Bishop-McNamara in Kankakee, four at Wilmington, and club volleyball with Club 1 Volleyball in Plainfield. "I am extremely excited to be coaching and teaching (English) at ACC," Drye said. "I have tried off and on over that time (the past 10 years) to get in with volleyball and teaching but the timing and fit was never quite right. Finally this year everything fell into place. This is sort of my 'dream job' so I am thrilled to finally be here and getting the process started of building the program into what it can be." Drye likes the looks of his first team. "So far, things are going well with the team," Drye said. "We had a positive and productive summer program. My staff and I were able to get to know the girls and they were able to get an idea of what we expected. Our preseason practices have been very spirited."
The Chargers have a large roster (16 players) so there is intense competition for positions. "The girls are working very hard and have been receptive to what we are asking of them," Drye said. "Obviously, with a new coach, the learning curve is pretty steep and we have a long way to go, but the attitudes and work ethic have been encouraging."
Trnka gives the team size in the middle, "a very strong player, has the ability to dominate at times, has a very high ceiling," says Drye, who calls Biertiz "a true hustle player, gives everything she has, works her tail off." Nilles, Minx and Allegretti are defensive specialists competing for playing time, and Drye said they are "all good team players," and Droeske is a steady player who gets the job done. Among the newcomers, Spence is a "dynamic attacker, excellent blocker, go getter on defense," Drye said.
"We will be a defense orientated team, no question," Drye said. "We have 5 defensive specialists who could all start. They all work very hard and are talented. We are still working on the setting possibilities following an injury from the summer. Andrea is a good setter. We are still looking at some options at the setting position to complement Andrea. Attacking is the big question on our team. We have some good attackers, but we need to be better. If we can learn to attack aggressively and intelligently we could be OK as a team. I think it's fair to say we are a work in progress. They have some grit and guts to them. We will play hard and be a tough out so to speak. The question is if we will have enough firepower to compete with the upper echelon teams. But we are working diligently to get to that level."
Drye also has some long-range targets for his program. "As always going forward, our goal will be to win the regional championship, to peak at the end of the season, to be ready for the tournament. To compete for conference championships. To improve throughout the season. To build a consistently good program."
Coach: Allison Nyberg
Last year: 10-21
Key returnees: Makayla Beebe, sr.; Natalie Hayes, sr.
Outlook: Nyberg, the third-year coach, is an Aurora Christian alum who played volleyball for the Eagles and also at Trinity International University as a 4-year starter. "We're very excited for this season," Nyberg said. "Things have been going great with our team. We are building chemistry, have strong leadership and a very talented group." Beebe led the team in digs and aces. The Eagles also return their kills leader, Hayes. "She brings strength to our front row attack," Nyberg said. "We have a good amount of returners and more depth to our team than in previous years," Nyberg said. "We are excited for this season, as we have more experience and more weapons in our arsenal." Nyberg said IC Catholic Prep and Westmont are two of the most challenging teams on Aurora Christian's schedule.
Coach: Lori Trippi-Payne
Last year: 20-17, 4-2 (third place in the Upstate Eight River) Key returnees: Maddie Jaudon, 5-6, L, sr.; Anna Clausen, 5-10, MH, sr.; Jancy Lundberg, 5-10, MH, sr.; Katelynn Fegan, 5-5, DS, jr.; Sam Bradle, 5-8, S, jr.; Maddy Astling, 6-0, OH, jr.
Top newcomers: Alissa Danosky, 5-9, OH, jr.; Marielle Eustace, 5-6, DS, jr.
Outlook: Last time we saw Trippi-Payne's scrappy squad, they were battling Geneva to a three-set loss in the regional finals -- after beating Geneva during the conference season. Geneva went on to win the first sectional title in school history. As always Batavia brings an upbeat attitude into the new season despite losing five starters. "Replacing seven seniors is always tough, especially when three were 3-year varsity members," Trippi-Payne said. "However, we will have some height and have a good core of returners with plenty of experience from last year's 20-win team. We should play very good defense. The key will be if we are able to compete and step up on the offensive end. Our graduates accounted for over 800 kills last season. We play a very tough schedule, and so we may have some growing pains early on."
Jaudon was a member of the SPVB 18 Elite team which won the AAU 18 Open National Championship in Orlando this summer and has verbally committed to NCAA DI Elon University. The third-year varsity player led Batavia in digs with 332 (third all-time in school history behind current Loyola University libero Steph Kinane). She set a new program record for serve-receive at 95 percent.
West Chicago joins the River this fall. "I think conference will be quite interesting," Trippi-Payne said. "From all that I can tell, I think St. Charles East and Geneva will be the teams to beat in the conference. St. Charles North and us and Larkin will try to replace many key starters from last season."
Trippi-Payne is also proud of the work her team is doing off the court. On Aug. 10, Jaudon and Bradle, with the help of other volleyball players, organized a charity sand volleyball tournament in support of Project Fit America (a national agency that works with schools and front line educators to create new opportunities for kids to be active, fit and healthy.) The tournament raised $250. "Our girls are very involved with our community and have a goal to help make a difference," Trippi-Payne said.
Coach: Annie Seitelman
Last year: 29-10
Key returnees: Kelsey Wicinski, 5-10, L, sr.; Hannah Lanasa, 5-10, OH, sr.; Maddie Courter, 6-0, MB, sr.; Kyley Thompson, 5-11, RS/OH, sr.; Grace Loberg, 6-2, so., OH: Ally Barrett, 6-1, OH/RS, so.
Top newcomers: Mikayla Lanasa, 5-8, S, so.; Ally Mullen, 6-0, MB, so.
Outlook: Longtime Geneva coach KC Johnsen has left first-year coach Seitelman quite a squad to start with. Fresh off the school's first sectional championship, Geneva returns two players from that team already committed to Division I schools. Seitelman herself was a Division I player, a middle blocker at Indiana from 2004-07. She coached Geneva's sophomore team last year. Wicinski (Maryland) and Loberg (Wisconsin) give the Vikings a 1-2 punch of top-notch defense and serving from the former and blistering power from the later -- plus another player who gets a lot of digs in the back row. Geneva has others who have experience putting the ball down too in Lanasa, Courter, Thompson and Barrett. "We have a majority of our varsity players returning from last year's squad with a core group of underclassmen led by a large group of seniors," Seitelman said. "We are looking to finish in the top three of conference." The Vikings are running a 6-2, and Seitelman said she would like to see her team continue to work on defense. "I think every team can get better at serve-receive, making sure we are in system more consistently," Seitelman said.
Coach: Cynthia Violett
Last year: 16-16
Key returnees: Ellie Dunn, OH, sr.; Riley Hannula, MH, sr.; Anna Senese, OH, sr.; Brittany Grider, DS, sr.; Rachel Kintz, OH, sr.; Kathy Nguyen, L, jr.; McKennzie McMullen, MH, jr.
Top newcomers: Sami Burgin, OH, jr.; Hannah Nauert, S, so.; Hollie Fedderly, S, jr.
Outlook: Violett takes over at Kaneland. She played at Hampshire High School, then two years at Elgin Community College and two years at Upper Iowa University. She started coaching volleyball at Kaneland in 1994 before leaving coaching in 2002 to finish a master's degree and spend more time with her family. Last year's Knights reached a regional final before seeing their season come to an end, and they bring back a true star in Dunn who has committed to Ball State. Hannula also already has made her college decision, choosing Greenville College. "Our team goal is to make it past regionals this year and head to state," Violett said. "Along the way win conference with Sycamore and Dekalb being tough matches."
Coach: Rachel Hartmann
Last year: 13-25
Key returnees: Grace Konovodoff, 5-5, S/RS, sr.; Erin Burke, 5-10, OH, so.; Joanna Wedge, 6-0, MH/RS, sr.; Michaela Ping, 6-2, MH, sr.; Martha Konovodoff, 5-7, L/DS, so.
Top newcomers: Meegan Hart, 6-0, MH, so.; Julia Gauthier, 5-9, S/RS, so.; Molly Curley, 5-7, OH, so.
Outlook: Last year the Royals relied on their outsides to put most points away. They still have power there -- Burke is a force -- but one thing Hartmann likes about this year's team is the increased options on the attack. That is especially true in the middle with players like Hart and Ping. "We're going to be a more offensive team," Hartmann said. "We've got a lot more hitters this year. We're not just outside heavy. When we start to establish the middles it will make everyone's lives a lot easier." Hartmann also is excited about her defense in the back where Martha Konovodoff returns. "I think Martha is one of the best liberos in the state and she's always going to make an impact in every match," Hartmann said. With seven sophomores on the roster this is still a very young Rosary team, so while Hartmann expects improvement this year she understands it could take a little while. "Communication, there's a couple new girls getting used to each other," Hartmann said. "I think they are comfortable with each other. They are going to be good. I don't know how good. As a coaching staff we just have to get them more confident and serving more aggressively."
St. Charles East
Coach: Jennie Kull
Last year: 31-7, 5-1 and co-Upstate Eight Conference River champions
Key returnees: Anne Hughes, sr., DS/L; Emily Schildmeyer, sr., OH; Meagan Smith, sr., OH; Chloe Rojas, sr., DS; Mikaela Mosquera, sr., MH
Top newcomers: Morgan Kull, so., S, Morgan Windau, sr., S, Kyla Augustine, OH, Avery Macklin, RS, Alex Mazanke, sr., MH, Riley Schumacher, jr., MH
Outlook: The Saints are coming off another outstanding season, and they bring two All-Area players from that squad in Hughes and Schildmeyer. Hughes had 41 aces last year during the regular season, a 2.13 passer rating and 500 digs to earn an unanimous all-conference selection. Schildmeyer moved from her setting position in club volleyball to the outside and finished with a team-high 210 kills, 59 aces while adding 271 digs and 46 blocks in the regular season. Smith and Mosquera also are back after making honorable mention All-Area, and Kull is counting on that experience helping her newcomers make a smooth transition. "We are hoping that the leadership of our older kids will help the young players step up right away," Kull said.
St. Charles North
Coach: Lindsey Hawkins
Last year: 31-6, 5-1 and co-Upstate Eight Conference River champions
Key returnees: Daley Krage, 6-3, OH, jr.; Emily Carroll 6-2, MH, sr.; Claire Anderson, 6-0, OH, jr.; Jaclyn Taylor, 6-1, RS/S, jr.; Taryn Dal Degan, 5-7, S, sr.
Top newcomers: Kailey Grove, 6-1, MH, sr.; Abby Graham, 6-0, OH, fr.
Outlook: While the North Stars graduated last year's All-Area captain Taylor Krage, they return her sister -- among plenty of other talented players that promise to make St. Charles North one of the best teams around again. "We are very excited to start the season," Hawkins said. "With such a strong finish last year, the returners are anxious to begin where we left off." Krage already has committed to Northwestern, and Carroll gave her pledge to Stetson University. "We are looking to some of our returners to really step up in her (Taylor Krage's) absence," Hawkins said. "We will again have a very evenly spread team in terms of offense -- there doesn't seem to be one standout at this point and we seem to be spreading out the offense very evenly." Hawkins also is confident in her team's ability to stop an opponent's attack. "I have a feeling that our defense is going to be one of the best parts of our game this year," Hawkins said. "We have a very tall front row and very scrappy defensive specialist who run our back court." While Geneva and St. Charles East have plenty of skill returning, Hawkins wants to make sure people don't forget about the North Stars when talking about the Upstate Eight River race. "We obviously are hoping to contend for another conference title," Hawkins said.
Coach: Kari Nicholson-Rigaud
Last year: 9-27
Key returnees: Mallory Jones, 5-9, OH, sr.; Kelly Townsend, 5-7, S, jr.; Lucy Currie, 5-11, RS, sr.
Top newcomers: Jordyn Poppen, 5-9, OH, jr.; Kayla Battle, 6-0, MH, so.; Sidney Fedor, 6-0, MH, so.; Grace VanDorn, 5-5, S, so.
Outlook: The Blackhawks are looking forward to their move to the Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division where they will compete against the likes of Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, South Elgin and Bartlett. "We are excited to play these teams," Nicholson-Rigaud said. "We feel like we have quite a bit of talent and look forward to seeing how we do against these teams." Nicholson-Rigaud's squad got their season started this week with a win over East Aurora, and she expects this year's record to be noticeably better than last year. "We have a talented group of players with a few returners this season," Nicholson-Riguad said. "Our varsity will be young and have a few athletes coming back with varsity experience, but we are motivated to prove we are ready."