Top athletes: Addison Trail: OH Sarah Tetrbok (sr., OH), Keara Schmitt (sr., RS), Anastasia Labatessa (sr., S); Benet: Sara Neilson (sr., S), Veronica Snelling (sr., RS), Gretchen Rudel (sr., OH), Lauren Barnes (sr., L); Downers Grove North: Clare Delaplane (jr., OH), Kendall Tucker (sr., L); Downers Grove South: Kiera James (sr., OH), Karina Kling (sr., MH), Renee Kryk (sr., S); Fenton: Paulina Milanowski (sr., S), Maggie Rusiecka (sr., OH), Natalia Skop (sr. OH); Glenbard East: Allison Hamaker (so., OH), Mackenzie Bell (sr., S), Meghan Wozniak (sr. S); Glenbard North: Maddie Vegrzyn (so., MH), Nicole Intal (sr., L); Glenbard South: Kathleen Millett (fr., OH), Claire Werner (sr., S), Bella Bauman (sr. OPP); Glenbard West: Claire Wagner (sr., L), Ella Ridinger (sr., RS), Rachel Hoder (sr., MH), Ananda Patterson (so., OH); Hinsdale Central: Emily Knutson (sr., S), Andrea Kopp (sr., L), Gilian Lail (sr., MH); Hinsdale South: Emily Drenth (sr., OH), Amanda Pultorak (sr., MH); ICCP: Tess Reardon (sr., S/OH), Katie Hendricks (sr., OH), Giana Curran (sr. L), Molly Fahey (sr. S); Lake Park: Jennifer Livesay (sr.OH); Nicole Vecchione (sr., RS); Metea Valley: Mikaila Dowd (jr., OH), Miranda Cada (sr., S); Maggie Petersen (sr., DS); Montini: Bethany Loftus (sr., OH), Joslyn Boyer, (so., L); Naperville North: Sarah Kushner (so., OH), Ari Budnik (jr., OH), Sarah Wastek (jr., MB); Naperville Central: Molly Stock (sr., OH), Sam Kurm (sr., RS), Sarah Schrank, (jr., OH); Neuqua Valley: Kora Kauling (sr., S/RS), Nora Meehan (sr., L), Lauren Coffman (sr., OH); St. Francis: Delaney Malloy (sr., OH), Cat Wilson (sr., MB), Alexia Brynes-Hosey (sr., S), and Becca Fernandez (sr., L); Timothy Christian: Kendra Teune (sr., OH), Ava Venema (sr., MH), Zoe Stanton (sr., L); Waubonsie Valley: Anna Jaskoviak (sr., OH), Gisela Bode (jr. OH); West Chicago: Laura Katarzynski (jr., OH), Molly Howard (sr., OH); Westmont: Morgan Arens (sr., MH), Rachel Chorney (sr., OP), Zoe Okon (sr., DS); Wheaton Academy: Brittney Wells (so., MH); Wheaton North: Elle Holland (sr., S), Brooke Syswerda (sr., S), Haley Horner (sr., RS); Wheaton Warrenville South: Jess Robinson (sr. MH), Cameron Lessick (sr., S), Paula Gross (sr. L); Willowbrook: Olivia Pennebaker (sr., OH), Jamie Chiappetta (sr., OH), Milena Sogura (sr., MB); York: Sarah Rose (sr., S); Sydney Bonthron (sr., MB/OH), Kriste Paus (sr., MH).
Scouting report: You can continue to shuffle schools up and down in the IHSA classes, but that doesn't mean the perennial DuPage Valley Conference powers won't keep going out and dominating the girls volleyball scene.
In 2015 St. Francis moved up to Class 4A after winning three consecutive Class 3A crowns. All the Spartans did was send out retiring coach Peg Kopec with a 4A championship to go along with her 11 previous state titles. The powerful Wheaton school finished 39-3 but faced a tough road, having to survive an epic three-setter with Benet in the supersectional and later knocking off Glenbard West in the state championship.
St. Francis, Benet, and Glenbard West each graduated superstars in the spring, yet all three programs will be strong again in 2016.
For the Spartans, Lisa Ston takes over after serving as Kopec's assistant coach for 14 years. While All-Area team captain Molly Haggerty moved on to play at Wisconsin, the Spartans looked to have five starters back this fall. But Kamryn Malloy suffered a torn ACL during the club season and will be out all year.
Kamryn's sister Delaney Malloy is back to pick up some slack on the outside while fellow senior starters Wilson, Brynes-Hosey and Fernandez are back to make St. Francis an area power again. Talented newcomers Anna Calcagno, a freshman, and sophomore Ashley Zulauf, will be contributors as will seniors Jessica McCall and Ally Hafertepe.
"I'm real excited to take over a program with such a great tradition," Ston said. "Peg has built an amazing atmosphere here … and it's just very exciting to be able to continue what she started."
For Benet last year's tough loss to St. Francis left the Redwings two wins shy of defending their Class 4A title. Brad Baker's team, which also won it all in 2011 and 2012 and was second in 2013, is loaded again this season.
Four starters are back from a 37-3 team including All-Area setter Neilson, who has run a 5-1 for Benet the past two seasons and is committed to Minnesota. Snelling (Missouri State) and Rudel also return along with Barnes, a talented libero (Minnesota).
"We return four starters from last year and a few others that saw quality time during the season," said Baker, who will have a trio of 6-1 players including Lilly Johnson, a junior who saw plenty of action last year. "This year's team is extremely motivated to get farther than last year's team. Our goals from this year will be the same as they have been in the past."
Glenbard West has recorded five straight 30-win seasons but will sorely miss Natalie Schilling, who recorded her 500th season kill last year in the state finals and is now playing at Duke. The Hilltoppers also graduated All-Area setter Kate Wagner and Division I hitter Quiana Ware, but coach Pete Mastrandrea does not have an empty cupboard in 2016.
"Schilling is going to be hard to replace," he said. "She did so much for our program. But we don't want to rebuild. We want to try and take a little giddy-up and move forward. We're hoping that by the end of the season these young players build into a pretty talented team."
Back for Glenbard West are four starters -- Claire Wagner, Ridinger, Hoder and Patterson, who started as a freshman and blocked Haggerty three times in the state finals. Patterson, one of the top players in her class, is recovering from a fractured ankle she suffered during club nationals.
Mastandrea will also lean on a very talented sophomore class, while junior Hannah Brodner takes over the setting duties.
Wheaton North won the DVC last year, finishing 21-14 overall and 7-1 in conference before becoming one of a number of talented teams to fall to St. Francis in the postseason.
The Falcons will miss Grace Tiesman, Abby Tiesman and Allie Maloney, who graduated, but setters Holland and Syswerda, and Horner are back and will serve as captains. Junior McKenna Otto and libero Elizabeth LaBue also will play big roles for the Falcons.
"The level of play and experience that this team brings is very exciting and we're hopeful for a great run. Again our competition this year has stepped it up a notch with the DVC and our nonconference matches," coach Carole Kristensen said.
Naperville North went 28-11 last year and gave St. Francis a fight before falling 25-22, 25-21 in the sectional finals. Kushner picked up All-Area honorable mention honors as a freshman and is one of five returners for the Huskies, who were second in the DVC.
"We'll be led by a strong tandem of outside hitters in Sarah Kushner and Ari Budnik. Both players competed on high club teams in the off-season and are stronger in every facet of their game," coach Jennifer Urban said. "Rachel Shuty is a three-year varsity letter winner who will provide valuable leadership on and off the court. Overall, this is a dedicated, competitive, and high-energy team who will be fun to watch."
Neuqua Valley recorded its best record ever at 29-9, won its first regional crown and tied for second in the DVC before dropping a three-setter to St. Francis in the Class 4A sectionals.
Back for the Wildcats this fall will be All-Area Kauling, who recorded 504 assists, 216 kills and 120 digs, and third-year libero Meehan. Maria Mayhew shifts positions to help with the setting along with Rachel Pu and Stephanie Smith.
"The convergence of depth and versatility, combined with talent and leadership will be the foundation of this team's success," Neuqua Valley coach Kelly Simon said. "Despite graduating amazing talent from 2015, the Wildcats are not a team to be overlooked and will once again be competitive in the DVC and in the Chicagoland area in 2016."
Metea Valley should make some noise in the DVC thanks to a trio of college commits: Dowd (Georgia Tech), Petersen (West Point Academy) and Cada (University of North Carolina), along with returning starters libero Caire Rothenberger, setter Sydney Aitchison and Kailee Bass.
"This year should be a fun year as long as we stay healthy and worry about our side of the net," Mustangs coach David Macdonald. "We have the players and tools to be a competitive team. We just have to make sure that we come together as a team first."
Naperville Central has plenty of experience and is looking to turn things around behind seniors Stock and Kurm, and junior Schrank, a three-year varsity returner, and Maddie Goblet. Junior Olivia Richter and setters Megan Scott and Janelle Skinner also will be key contributors.
"We're turning things around. We've got a strong group of juniors and some seniors to provide good leadership and we're excited about this year," Redhawks coach Jeff Danbom said.
Montini suffered a dropoff last fall after 12 seniors had helped the Broncos make it downstate in 2014. Coach Steve Dowjotas needs to replace departed star setter Gina Cappetta, but he has lots of talent this fall.
A group of sophomores who played varsity as freshmen will provide a spark, along with seniors Ally Nicholson and Trisha Fischer, and freshman setter Tess Noonan. Boyer returns after flashing her libero skills on the court as a freshman and transfer Caitlyn Meeks, a sophomore, will help both the offense and defense as a solid six-rotation player.
"We're young, but we'll be pretty good," Dowjotas said. "The good news is we have this class of sophomores for 2-3 more years. If the setting position can get taken care of we'll be pretty solid all the way around."
Addison Trail is another program looking up in 2016. The Blazers went 22-14, won the WSC Gold and have eight seniors back including four-year starter Tetrbok, who recorded more than 300 kills in 2015.
"We're definitely looking forward to this season. Everything we've been doing the last couple years has been building forward and we're seeing a different level of play in the gym," coach Dan Styler said. "We're ready to compete with anybody."
Downers Grove North coach Mark Wasik says the Trojans will be a little young this year after graduating a trio of seniors with at least three years of varsity experience from a 21-16 squad, but the Trojans will have a nice mix of talented newcomers and returners.
Back are sophomores Margaret Mahlke and Payton Wendt last year's kill leader Delaplane, and Tucker, all of whom started last year. Delaplane, who has interest from Villanova, Pitt and Temple, will be relied upon for her power on the outside.
In the starting lineup for Downers Grove South are returning senior four-year varsity James, who is verbally committed to SIU-Carbondale, fellow four-year varsity player Kryk, Kling (University of Chicago) and senior Payton Froats. The Mustangs, who have eight returners, also expect an impact from senior libero Aly Buie, sophomore Lucy Dumford and freshman setter Addy Karmik.
Glenbard South, a solid 25-13 last year and a Class 3A regional champion, has been hit hard by graduation and other departures, including a transfer by a top player and others who decided not to play volleyball this fall.
Even so, the Raiders do return seven players who saw significant action last year, and coach Chad Grant expects big things from Millett, Werner, Bauman and junior middle blocker Bailee Flanagan.
Anne Bremner is hoping to continue to make strides in the Glenbard North program in her third season at the helm. The Panthers top returners include Vegrzyn and seniors outside hitter Mua Paye. Middle hitter Daniela Heupel, outside hitter Juliette Glogovac and setter Jenney Bettinger. Talented freshmen Maddie Meyers and outside hitter Anastasia Brown will also provide some pop.
For Glenbard East, Hamaker returns after a solid rookie campaign of 176 kills, 44 digs and 22 blocks, and setters Bell and Wozniak are also back for a Rams team that went 19-20. Sarah Elliott and Erin Cluskey will play big roles this season.
York setter Rose, who along with Benet's Neilson is among the top setters in the state, is back for a Dukes team that had its season end with a tight, three-setter against Glenbard West in the Class 4A sectional finals. Juniors Alex Danciutiu and Molly Evans will look to help extend York's winning ways.
Willowbrook, 16-21 last fall, will look to a quartet a seniors and freshman libero Peyton Ceh to lead the way. Outside hitters Olivia Pennebaker and Jamie Chiappetta each recorded 148 kills last year, while setter Emily Ligocki and Milena Sogura also are back for their senior campaigns.
At Waubonsie Valley, former assistant coach Kari Galen takes over the program that went 23-11 last year and took fourth in the DVC. The Warriors lost four impressive seniors to graduation but Galen expects senior Jaskoviak and juniors Bode, Michelle Lee and Grace Kloss to provide leadership both on and off the court. Sophomore setter Cadyn Linden and senior Briana Webb will also play big roles.
Fenton returns eight players and the Bison will have their strongest team in many years, expecting to improve on last year's 13 wins. Melinda Boehm, Isabella Wielga and sophomore setter Mackenzie Miller will step up. "Our seniors have meant so much to the program becoming competitive again and our younger players are following the lead of the seniors and are working each and every day to make sure we have success," Fenton coach Kelly Kleidorfer said.
For Hinsdale Central, eight seniors return including a trio of leaders from a 15-20 team that was slowed by injuries in 2015. Knutson, Kopp and Lail will pace the Red Devils, along with outside hitters Anna Bryjak and Abby Tosello.
Hinsdale South also battled injuries last year and the Hornets will be led in 2016 by returners Drenth, Pultorak, Tierney Ward and Abby Milhalikin, a sophomore setter.
After tremendous success in Class 2A for two years, IC Catholic Prep was bumped up to Class 3A last year and lost in the regional finals to a strong Rosary team. Back in Class 2A, the Knights should be a force again in the postseason.
Five seniors are back for ICCP, including Reardon, the team's top hitter and setter in 2016 and the lone player still around who saw action for the state championship team in 2013. Hendricks, Curran, Fahey and serving and defensive standout Kaitlyn Salduto will lead the way for the Knights, 24-12 in 2015.
"Having five seniors back is a huge comfort, but we're not going to rest on it," coach Nancy Kerrigan D'Amore said. "We have a lot of work do. Being back in 2A we realize we have a lot of opportunities to work towards. I think the girls are focused and excited about what this season can bring."
Timothy Christian went 37-5 and finished tied for first with Illiana Christian in the Metro Suburban Conference East Division, giving the Trojans at least a share of five straight league titles.
Teune, Venema and Stanton all return after strong junior campaigns. Newcomers Emily DeBoer, Ruth Hruska-Kelley and Abygale Ahn will also play big parts as the program moves back up to Class 3A.
West Chicago has seven varsity players back and likes its chances of improving on last year's 21-15 record. "We hope to compete for the title in the Valley Division in the Upstate Eight," coach Kris Hasty said. "We have a solid core back with varsity experience. I am looking forward to a successful season as have options like we have never had before."
Setter Jessica Meissner and middles Jen Orr and Angie Gromos all return.
With just one starter back, it will be a challenge early on for Wheaton Academy. Sophomore Wells will be the focal point on offense, while senior Kayla Tyrrell will look to spark the attack as well. Seniors Alicia Bun and Samantha Wolfe will provide plenty of defense on the floor.
Wheaton Warrenville South has five seniors back and a strong core of youngsters. Seniors Robinson, Lessick, Gross, Taylor Kyllonen and Jayne LaBelle will provide good height and leadership.
"It will be an interesting season for sure," Tigers coach Bill Schreier said. "Everything will be contingent on how well the mix of old and new blends. Definitely a lot of talent in the gym, though a little untested."
Westmont won 23 matches in 2016 before falling to Timothy Christian in the Class 2A sectional finals as the Trojans went on to a fourth-place finish at state.
Three key players graduated, but the Sentinels do have five returning seniors, who should all see consistent playing time this year, including Sarah Schlacks and Melissa Wilfong.