Plug and play.
Sounds like a simple formula for programs looking to reload rather than rebuild, which is something Glenbard West's girls volleyball team has done so well in recent years while consistently piling up 30-win campaigns.
But it didn't appear to be an easy task at all this fall after last year's state runner-up squad graduated superstar outside hitter Natalie Schilling, All-Area setter Kate Wagner and Division I hitter Quiana Ware.
But sure enough, the Hilltoppers are off to another fast start, 16-3 after claiming the title at the 12-team Glenbard West Hilltopper Invite on Saturday. The program did return some players from last year's powerhouse but has also gotten a huge boost from a strong sophomore class and from junior Hannah Brodner, who was named MVP of the tourney.
A three-rotation defensive specialist last season, Brodner is the team's setter and a leader on the court, and she amassed 113 assists, 36 digs and 8 kills while helping her team finish first.
"We did lose big hitters last year, but all the underclassmen have stepped up," said Brodner, who had 28 assists in a semifinal defeat of Glenbard South, which was followed by a 25-15, 25-17 defeat of Oswego East in the finals. "I was a (defensive specialist) so I played three rotations last year, but now I'm setting and playing six rotations. It's a lot more as a role both leadership and like physically, but I think I'm able to do it and I just want to play for my team."
Glenbard West knocked off the Raiders 25-19, 25-18 in the semis by finishing each game well. In the opener the champion led 15-9 following a kill by Gabi Marquez before the Raiders fought back to draw even at 17-17 after a kill from Bella Bauman. But the Hilltoppers came up big late and closed the set when Ella Ridinger's attack went into the Raiders block and dropped down for the winning point.
The second set was similar. A Raiders winner by Maggie Bair closed the gap to 19-18 before Glenbard West scored the match's final six points with the clincher a block by Nina Crawford and Marquez. Ellory Graff, one of six sophomores on the team, led with 8 kills.
"Right at the end there they kind of finished us out," said Raiders coach Chad Grant, whose team had a seven-game winning streak snapped in the semis before settling for fourth place. "They made plays. It was tight until, like, 20, and then they seemed to go on a run to close it out. They're tough. They're tough to get kills on because their defense is really solid. They make it difficult on you. So we tried to stay aggressive, which probably caused us to make a few more errors."
Bauman led the way with 6 kills and freshman Kathleen Millett added 5 against the Hilltoppers. Despite the setback Grant is happy with his team's progress.
"I'm excited. We're starting to come together," he said. "It's been fun to watch. From the start of the season until now this is probably the team that I have seen the most growth from in that period of time. We're going to keep going. We're not done yet."
Joining Brodner on the all-tourney team for Glenbard West were Ridinger and Claire Wagner, while Glenbard South's Claire Werner and Allie Sims, Glenbard East's Alison Hamaker and West Chicago's Laura Katarzynski also picked up the honors.