Top teams: Glenbard West, Lake Park, St. Francis, Naperville Central, Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South, Wheaton Warrenville South, Glenbard East.
Top players: Addison Trail: Arlind Rojba, L, sr.; Colton Noel, MH, sr.; Jacob Grygo, S, jr. Benet: Tommy Kmieciak, L, jr.; John Folts, OH/RS, jr.; Nick Crnkovich, MH, jr.; Downers Grove North: Brian Long, MH, sr.; Mike LeGros, S, sr.; Matt Hopkins, L, sr.; Alex Koors, OH, sr.; Downers Grove South: Parker Connelly, MH, sr.; Bregin DeMarco, L. sr.; Shawn Tischler, OH, sr., Riley Dockendorff, MH, Sr. Fenton: Javier Sanchez, OH, sr.; Freddie Bajo, RS, jr.; David Gutierrez, MH, sr.; Glenbard East: Adrian Cebula, MH, sr.; Justin Murphy, OH, sr.; Mason Arnold, S, sr.; Glenbard North: Trent Weber, S, sr.; Eric Tripp, OH, sr.; Glenbard West: Zac Norvid, L, sr.; Matt Scruggs, MH, sr.; Johnny Winkler, OH, sr.; Sean Farmer, S, sr.; Robbie Murphy, OH, sr.; Cam Lilly, RS, sr.; J.T. Ardell, MH, jr.; Hinsdale Central: Mark Zelisko, OH, sr.; John Zolpe, S, jr.; Nick Tienken, MH, jr.; Lake Park: Jack Fischer, OH, sr.; Nick Martinski, MH, jr.; Justin Yost, S, sr.; Jordan Haigh, OH, jr.; Metea Valley: Matt Nealon,S, jr.; Andrew Kohut, RS, jr.; Montini: Michael Orr, OH, sr.; Joe Vogrin, OH, sr, Charlie Woods, RS, jr.; Drew Vogrin, S, jr.; Naperville Central: Felix Egharevba, MH, jr.; James Trowbridge, OH sr.; John Davis, OH jr.; Brandon Kochura, L, sr.; Kyle Ramey, OH, sr.; Naperville North: Connor Sheehan, L, sr.; Derek Amend, MH, sr.; Sam Wittwer, OH, sr.; Nick Beck, OH, sr.; Neuqua Valley: Kevin Kauling, S, so.; Brett Kliegl, L, sr.; Jeremy Grove, OH, jr.; Josh Alexander, OH, sr.; St. Francis: Jack McGuire, S, sr.; Tommy LaMantia, L, sr.; Bayden Keown, MH, sr.; Sean Riggs, OH, sr.; Dillon Brummel, DS, sr.; Waubonsie Valley: Levi Jordan, OH, sr.; Chris Breuer, OH, sr.; West Chicago: Ross Behr, OH, sr.; Wheaton North: Daniel Duggan, MH, jr.; Nick Sinn,L, jr.; Paxton Kocher, MH, jr.; Benett Schreiner, RS, so.; Wheaton Warrenville South: Alex Carr, S, sr.; Dan Higley, MH, sr.; Zeo Meyer, S/RS, fr.; Luke Robbins, OH, Sr.; Willowbrook: Tim Keefe, OH, jr.; Buddy Martens, L, jr., Nick Cookingham, S, jr.; York: Rio Diaz, S, sr.; Michael Pennel, MH, sr.
Outlook: Will this be the year that some of the top teams in Illinois finally catch Glenbard West? The Hilltoppers have dominated Illinois boys volleyball the past two years, winning the past two state titles. The boys in green, who were 42-0 last year, haven't even lost a set in 61 matches. Their record is 83-3 the past two years. But this year there's no Paulie Bischoff, The Daily Herald All-Area captain the past two years. He's brought his volleyball genius to Stanford and the Hilltoppers must find their poise, leadership and court presence from a group of talented returnees and newcomers. Also gone from the double championship team are outstanding right side Kyler Kotsakis (Loyola) and the underrated middle Will Church. So this is a new era and there's plenty of talent here to usher it in. Farmer is a great athlete who has been learning the game from Bischoff and is ready to step in as the team's next great setter. Norvid at libero and Winkler on the outside are both great passers, while the still-imposing front line features Murphy, Scruggs and the 6-foot-8 Ardell, who looks like a future star. "We believe that this team has the chance to do great things," said coach Christine Giunta-Mayer. "We have talent, depth and our guys are versatile. We have a very difficult schedule, but the team's chemistry and unity will be the keys to our success." If the Hilltoppers prove to be human this year, there are other teams who are ready to challenge.
The Lake Park Lancers, who lost to Glenbard West in the state quarterfinal last year, have built a pretty strong resume' in recent years. The Lancers were 30-9 and tied Wheaton Warrenville South for the DuPage Valley Conference title. Lake Park has qualified for the state finals three years in a row and have made it to the Sweet Sixteen eight straight times. Fischer, a member of The Daily Herald All-Area Team is a prolific outside hitter, even though he's not among the tallest. "Jack has one of the highest volleyball IQs I've ever seen," Murphy said. Besides Fischer, the 6-foot-7 Martinski is back and he's bigger, stronger and better, and the 6-foot-5 Yost is a great setter and floor-leader, quarterbacks what promises to be a quicker offense. "We have a ton of role players who are chomping at the bit," Murphy said. "Our goal is to win the state title, but we know Glenbard West will be right up there again."
Bill Schreier's Wheaton Warrenville South team, which has won seven state championships this century, is always among the state title contenders. The Tigers all-time kill-leader Zack Meyer graduated, but Carr, the next in the line of Wheaton Warrenville South crafty setters, leads a formidable squad that includes Meyer's younger brother Zeo, an athletic and versatile freshman. "We have four starters back," Schreier said. "And we'll have a more diverse attack. We'd like to be in the mix for state if things can come together, especially if the new guys push themselves to advance their game and fit into the team component."
Right there with Lake Park and Wheaton Warrenville South vying for DVC supremacy is Naperville Central, while a group of others led by Naperville North is planning to make waves. And don't discount the potential of Wheaton North, Neuqua Valley and Glenbard North in a league that's strong from top to bottom. The Redhawks should challenge for the league title with a dynamic combination of senior leadership and experienced underclassmen, led by Egharevba and Ramey "We should be a contender for conference," said Redhawks coach Roger Strausberger "And we're hoping to make a deep run in the playoffs." Across town the Huskies, who lost three big hitters to graduation, will have more of a ball-control offense and rely on a strong defense that features ace libero Sheehan. Amend brings great athleticism to the middle. Returning starters Wittwer and Beck provide leadership and they'll be joined by a promising group of underclassmen to once again put the Huskies in the thick of things.
Glenbard North finished just behind the co-champs last year and hopes to make another run despite heavy losses. Weber is one of the best setters in the state and Tripp is an athletic, multisport star who will key the attack. "We have a group of hardworking kids who know the game," said Panthers coach Dedra DeBenedetti. "We have to overcome our height disadvantage. Our goal is to finish top three in conference."
Wheaton North comes off a down year, but the Falcons feature a young athletic group that had a successful off-season together in club volleyball, and they're focused on turning things around. The front line is tall and powerful and the back row defense is a developing strength. They'll probably finish in the middle of the pack but the Falcons will be interesting to watch later in the season. Schreiner at 6-foot-7 has unlimited potential.
Neuqua Valley loses its entire starting lineup except for setter Kauling, who broke in with a dynamic freshman season. He'll be counted on to lead the Wildcats who have depth at every position. Neuqua is still in the process of blending as a team. Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley are both improved and they'll be more competitive as the season goes on.
Glenbard East, won the Upstate Eight and the Rams are always a threat come playoffs time. Coach Marci Maier welcomes back 11 seniors from the conference champs. Arnold, Cebula and Murphy represent the glue that holds a savvy all-around crew together. "We will play great defense and we'll be better on offense," Maier said. "We are very encouraged about the upcoming season."
St. Francis coach Mike Lynch is fielding a typical Spartans powerful lineup led by a host of returning veterans, including three-year starters McGuire and LaMantia are the leaders of a team that will play a more up-tempo game this year.
The battle for bragging rights to Downers Grove should also be interesting as both the Mustangs and the Trojans are big, experienced and athletic. Downers Grove North has most of its top players returning including kill leader middle blocker Long and setter LeGros. There's size and depth and a great chemistry. "The guys have all put in solid work with their club teams the past year," said Trojans coach Mark Wasik. "We're looking to compete with the best teams in the state."
Connelly, vocal leader, who brings great quickness to the middle, heads a tall, veteran group at Downers Grove South. "There are still some things that have to fall in place," said Mustangs coach Kurt Steuer. "And when they do, we will be able to compete at the highest level."
Addison Trail is its typical tenacious self but this year the Blazers have a lot more height than they have in the past. Setter Grygo is a ferocious competitor who will lead a diverse attack of veteran hitters.
Hinsdale Central is looking to build on last year's great year which included a trip to the sectional final. The Red Devils will rely on strong defense and blocking.
Benet is in a bit of a rebuilding mode under new coach Jeff Steinberg, but the Redwings have the experienced talent to help make a smooth transition.
York, West Chicago, Willowbrook and Fenton will be works-in-progress, while Montini is young but building for the future under new coach Brian Opoka.
Key dates: March 30-April 1: Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic; April 4: Naperville North at Glenbard East; April 8: Glenbard East Springfest; April 13: Addison Trail at Glenbard West; April 18: Lake Park at Wheaton Warrenville South; April 19: St. Francis at Naperville Central; April 21-22: Downers Grove South Invite; April 28-29: Benet Invitational; April 28-29: York Invitel; May 4: Lake Park at Wheaton North; May 11: Naperville North at Naperville Central; May 12-13: Willowbrook Warrior Invite; May 22: Regional playoffs; May 26: Sectional playoffs; June 2-3: State finals at Hoffman Estates.