Top athletes: Addison Trail: Sofia Susa (sr., L), Nina Muell (jr., OH); Benet: Lilly Johnson (sr., OH), Claire Byrne (sr., OH), Hattie Monson (so., L), Taylor Van Eekeren (jr., S), Ally Van Eekeren (sr., S); Downers Grove North: Clare Delaplane (sr., OH), Margeret Malhke (sr., OH), Beth Dunlap (so., S), Payton Wendt (jr., MB); Downers Grove South: Lucy Dumford (jr, OH), Addy Karmik (so., S), Clare McNeeley (sr., DS), Nora Woods (sr., DS), Fenton: Ashley Lira (jr., L), Vicky Krzyszkowski (jr., M); Kasia Zalewska (sr., OH); Glenbard East: Allison Hamaker (jr., OP), Sarah Elliott (jr., OH), Emily Sarles (jr., S); Glenbard North: Maddie Vegrzyn (jr., MB), Maddie Meyers (so., S), Anastasia Brown (so., MB); Glenbard South: Maggie Bair (jr., MB), Kathleen Millett, (so., OH), Mady Carli (sr., OPP), Bailee Flanagan (sr., MB); Glenbard West: Hannah Brodner (sr., S/OH), Ananda Patterson (jr., M), Nina Crawford (jr., M), Ellory Graf (jr., OH); Hinsdale Central: Lindsay Knutson (jr., S), Molly Schwarz (sr., L), Maggie Wilson (sr., OH); Hinsdale South: Tierney Ward (sr., OH), Veronica Terrell (sr., MH), Kaitlyn Hurka (so., OH); ICCP: Josie Lytton (sr., OH/RH), Sophie Zanoni (sr., DS); Lake Park: Olivia Szylar (so., S), Caroline Gibbons (sr., MH), Melina Coluczi (jr., L); Lisle: Francesca Wagoner (sr., OH), Carmen Johnson (so., RS); Metea Valley: Mikaila Dowd (sr., OH), Kailee Bass (sr., M), Sydney Aitchison (sr., S); Montini: Michelle Glover (sr., MB), Lexi Quaglia (jr., OH), Caitlyn Meeks (jr, OH), Joslyn Boyer (jr., S); Naperville North: Sarah Kushner (jr., OH), Ari Budnik (sr., OH), Sarah Wastek (sr., MB), Mackenzie Schulte (sr., S); Naperville Central: Sarah Schank (sr., OH), Johana Havenaar (sr., Opp.), Janelle Skinner (sr., S); Neuqua Valley: Maria Mayhew (sr., S/RS), Shannon Skryd (sr., OH), Lauren Young (sr., MB), Rachel Pu (sr., S/RH); St. Francis: Maddy Wikens (sr., S), junior Ashley Zulauf (jr., OH), Anna Calcagno (so., OH); Timothy Christian: Tracy Westra (sr., S), Rachel Stoll (sr., DS), Abygale Ahn (jr., L); Waubonsie Valley: Gisela Bode (sr., OH), Grace Kloss (sr., DS/L), Libby Valek (sr., MH), Melissa Walden (so., S), Michelle Lee (sr., L); West Chicago: Angelina Gromos (sr., MB), Laura Katarzynski (sr., OH); Westmont: Sydney Pardy (sr., OH), Kailee Schacht (sr., MH), Molly Jamison (sr., OH/MH); Wheaton Academy: Brittney Wells (jr., MH), Paige Dahl (sr., S), Jessika Bun (sr., L); Wheaton North: Emmy Barnhorst (sr., OH/MB), McKenna Otto (sr., OH), Ani Clark (jr., MB), Elizabeth LaBue (sr., L); Wheaton Warrenville South: Sara Field (jr., OH), Sarah Burau (so. S); Willowbrook: Payton Ceh (so., S); York: Logan Kazmierzcak (sr., L), Alex Danciutiu (sr, DS), Asha Labine (jr., MB), Sophia Glabus (jr., MH).
Scouting report: While last year's Class 4A finalists Minooka and Mother McAuley are getting most of the preseason hype -- and with good reason -- that's not to say we are not in line for another great season of girls volleyball in DuPage County.
Mother McAuley won it all last season and returns Gatorade Player of the Year Charley Niego, while the runner-up Indians return their starting lineup loaded with Division I talent and are atop most of the preseason rankings.
But usual area powers Benet, St. Francis, Glenbard West and Neuqua Valley look to be solid again this fall, and programs like Downers Grove North, Waubonsie Valley, Montini, Naperville North and Metea Valley -- just to name a few -- look primed for break-out campaigns in 2017.
Last year Benet fell in the sectional semifinals to Marist, which then came up short in the sectional finals to Mother McAuley. After winning Class 4A state titles in 2011, 2012 and 2014 (and taking second in 2013), last year might have felt like an off year to some, but the Redwings won the Benet Invite and Mizuno Cup tournaments and still managed to go 32-6 while finishing ranked 83rd in the nation by prepvolleyball.com.
Leading the attack this season will be Johnson, a 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter committed to Bradley who was All-Area honorable mention in 2016. Coach Brad Baker also expects an impact from 5-10 senior Byrne and Monson, a sophomore libero who played for the highest USA team for her age group this summer and who has already committed to Notre Dame.
Adding to the talented roster are junior middle Anna Paoni and senior libero Olivia Michniak, who each saw varsity action last year, and cousins Taylor Van Eekeren (committed to West Florida) and Ally Van Eekeren (committed to Creighton), who will battle for the setter spot, a position that was manned the last three seasons by All-Area performer and Minnesota freshman Sara Nielsen. Benet also has a long list of talented newcomers, including super sophs Sophie Gregu and Annie Sobolewski, and Rachel Muisenga, whom Baker refers to as "one of the best freshmen in our state."
"The girls are excited about this year," he said. "They are driven to be successful and motivated to have a good season."
Like Benet, St. Francis was powerful last year but didn't quite match its recent string of elite state status. After claiming three straight Class 3A championships, the Spartans moved up to 4A in 2015 and again won it all. The 2016 campaign closed out at 30-9 after a setback to Geneva in the 4A sectional finals.
Gone from last season are All-Area defender Becca Fernandez and All-Area outside hitter Laney Malloy, both college recruits, but the Spartans do return four varsity players, including Wikens, a senior setter, and senior defensive specialist Maddie Shulski. The other top returners are Zulauf and Calcagno, who will each swing from the pin for St. Francis.
"We have a lot of talent and we have a lot of juniors who should adjust to the speed of the varsity game quickly," said coach Lisa Ston, who took over for Peg Kopec last season and carried on the program's winning ways.
Expect key contributions from newcomers Skylar Lukowych, Katelyn Hanrahan and Maria Russo.
Glenbard West has compiled an impressive 198-36 mark over the past six years and last year's 28-11 team was the first during that span not to reach 30 wins in a season. Coach Pete Mastandrea will face a rugged schedule that includes Benet, Marist, Joliet Catholic, Montini and the usual West Suburban Conference opponents.
The Hilltoppers return pretty much everyone from 2016, minus All-Area libero Claire Wagner. Three-year starter Brodner returns, but the senior may move from setter to outside. Other returners include defensive specialists Roxy Stirb and Katie Ryan, middles Patterson and Crawford and outside hitter Graf. Newcomers include outsides Lucy Brizzolara and 6-foot sophomore Virginia Curtis, and setter Kaitlyn Dumerer.
"We are excited about the versatility of this team," Mastandrea said. "We should be a strong serving and defensive team. How we progress on offense depends on who is our setter. Hannah Brodner returns at setter but may be at outside hitter this season. Decisions at the setter position could slow up the progress of the offense initially, but we feel Kaitlyn Dumerer has the ability to run a balanced attack."
After a school-best 27-11 record and a share of the DuPage Valley Conference title with Wheaton North, Neuqua Valley will return six varsity players led by senior setter/rightside hitter Maria Mayhew, who is committed to the University of California, San Diego. Mayhew was all-conference and All-Area honorable mention in 2016 after recording 310 kills, 362 assists and 40 blocks. Other talented returners include: Skryd, Young, Pu, junior Bella Aguilar and sophomore Faith Johnson.
Wildcats coach Kelly Simon, entering her 24th season as a coach and her 17th at Neuqua Valley, is 17 wins shy of the 500 club.
"This team brings a level of experience, maturity and leadership with six returning players," Simon said. "Add to this solid core, eight very skilled newcomers who will play key roles, allowing for versatility. This combination creates tremendous anticipation about the talent this team has the potential to possess this season."
Naperville North graduated just one senior from a 23-14 squad and welcomes back a strong nucleus led by Kushner, who had 252 kills as a sophomore All-Area outside hitter, and 5-10 senior Budnik.
"Sarah Kushner and Ari Budnik will lead the Huskies as two returning pin hitters," said coach Jennifer Urban, who has a career mark of 373-114. "The Huskies are eager to compete at a higher level this season with a more veteran roster."
Five seniors are back after playing varsity last year -- Budnik, middle blockers Wastek and Shanely Hrubesky, setter Schulte, and libero Caroline Surges. Kayla Griesbach, a 5-11 junior rightside, also returns, and junior setter Grace Selman and junior libero Molly Russel will also impact Naperville North this fall.
Montini went downstate in 2014 but young, inexperienced teams suffered drop-offs the last two years. The Broncos went 17-19 last season while often starting 4-5 sophomores as well as working freshmen in at setter and libero at times. But this year all of that returning talent -- joined by now-eligible transfer Michelle Glover -- should make for a strong campaign.
"We're going to be pretty good this year," Broncos coach Steve Dowjotas said. "This year we've got almost our entire starting lineup back, which is awesome."
Juniors Quaglia, Meeks, Johanna Kingsfield and Boyer are all returning starters. Quaglia and Meeks provide firepower on the outside, Kingsfield is a 5-11 middle, and the talented Boyer will handle the setting duties but is a Division I recruit as a libero. Add to that Glover, an athletic middle who sat out last season after transferring from Glenbard South, and there are plenty of reasons for the Broncos to have a big bounce back in 2017.
Dowjotas can't wait to see Glover in action this year. "She's a game changer," he said of the 5-11 Glover who is also a gymnast. "What were close matches last year are going to go in our favor this year. She can add 6-7 points offensively and 4-5 points defensively with the block and such. Plus, everybody's going to have to key on her so our two outsides that are studs and our other middle can be really, really good now."
Wheaton North won the DVC last year and finished a program-best 30-8 before falling to St. Francis in the sectionals. The Falcons, however, graduated four talented seniors including All-Area first-teamers Brooke Syswerda and Haley Horner. But hitters Barnhorst (team captain), Otto and Clark (committed to Clemson) are back to help carry on the winning ways. LaBue, a senior libero, and senior Madison Schorle will key the defense for the Falcons, who will start this year with two new setters, Eve Light and Peri Holland.
"Despite graduating great talent from 2016, the Falcons are not a team to be overlooked and will continue to be competitive in the DVC," coach Carole Kristensen said. "The level of play and overall experience that this team brings is very exciting and we're hopeful for a great run. This will be a fun team to watch this year."
With a potent 1-2 outside hitting duo of all-stater Delaplane (Villanova) and Malhke (St. Louis University), Downers Grove North should jump up drastically from last year's 20-17 mark. Coach Mark Wasik's lineup is loaded with returning starters after a freshman setter and three sophomores started last fall for the Trojans, who won the Waubonise Valley Warrior Blast and also fared well in tough tourney fields at the Wheaton Classic, Autumnfest and the Mother McAuley Asics Challenge.
The 6-1 Delaplane had 437 Kills, 30 blocks, and 229 digs while making the Daily Herald All-Area team, and the 6-0 Mahlke had 255 kills and 34 aces. Other top returners include setter Dunlap, 6-2 middle Wendt, opposite Maddie DeGiorgio, and a pair of senior defensive specialists in Kessie Olekemna and Madi Chudzik. Newcomer Jade Casper adds more talent and depth.
"Our success will be dependent on the quality of our first and second contacts given that we have solid attacking ability at all positions," Wasik said.
Waubonsie Valley went 22-15 last year and 5-3 in the rugged DVC and returns a slew of experienced players including senior college commits Bode (Lewis University) and Kloss (UC-Santa Barbara).
"This group played exceptionally well together over the summer, and we hope to continue improving every day," said coach Kari Galen, who has eight seniors on the team. Valek returns in the middle and Galen says "we will look to her to be a strong middle attack as we try to spread out our offense." Setter Walden did an excellent job running the offense last year as a freshman, and this year she should also be a threat on the right side. Lee is back for a fourth varsity campaign as libero and will continue to be essential in the back row, along with Kloss. Galen's deep squad features more key returners -- including senior Greer Griffin and junior Cassie Chinn ---- along with talented newcomers.
At Metea Valley five players return from last year's 25-10 squad, including the Georgia Tech-bound Dowd, who had 329 kills last fall while earning All-Area honors.
"This year we will rely on our senior-dominated team. We have five returning players with a lot of experience coming back from last year's 25-win team. We are looking forward to competing against all the strong teams in the area as well as the DVC. Our defense and block this year will decide if we will be as successful as we want to be," coach David Macdonald said.
Aitchison returns to set the attack, the 6-1 Bass will man the middle and is a Belmont University commit, and Emma Aske and Sydnie Herrmann are also key returners. The Mustangs will also get a boost from newcomers Sydnee Marks, libero Jamie Samojedny and Lara Adekunle, a senior middle.
Brie Isaacson returns to take over at Naperville Central, a program that she coached to state titles in 2005 and 2007 before stepping down after a decade in 2012. With All-Area outside Shank back along with most of last year's starting lineup, the Redhawks should post a record much more impressive than the 19-17 mark from 2016.
"We return almost all of our starters from last season," Isaacson said. "We are returning six of our seven starters this fall and we are a senior-heavy team with varsity experience. We will be competitive and continue to get better as the season goes on."
Shank, who is committed to play at Marshall University, will have plenty of support up front where senior middle blockers Olivia Richter and Grace Wichhart provide good height, and the 6-foot Havenaar will line up opposite. Skinner (Olivet Nazarene) will handle the setting duties and junior libero Alex Vanwestrienen will control the defense.
Glenbard East went 20-17 last year and won the Valley Division of the Upstate Eight with a perfect 5-0 mark. The Rams welcome five starters back, including a trio of juniors paced by Hamaker, an opposite hitter who was named Daily Herald All-Area honorable mention as a sophomore.
"We are very excited about the upcoming season," said Glenbard East coach Marci Maier, who has nine returning players this year. "The girls have worked hard in the off-season and are excited for the new year. We hope to have balanced play offensively and defensively."
Leading the way for the Rams along with Hamaker will be fellow juniors Elliott on the outside, setter Sarles, and a deep talented cast that also includes Erin Cluskey, Ellen Kirsh and Emily Denton.
Timothy Christian had a stellar campaign in 2016, finishing 31-6 overall and 11-1 while winning the Metro Suburban Conference East Division crown. The Trojans have three top players back: Tracy Westra, Stoll and Ahn, who helped the program reach 30-plus wins a third straight season.
"We are looking forward to another strong year even though we are melding together a couple teams. We return six varsity players including four starters," coach Scott Piersma said. "We are hoping to have a deep postseason run in the 3A state tournament play."
Timothy Christian, looking for a seventh consecutive conference championship, welcomes top newcomer Heidi Westra, a junior rightside hitter.
New coach Alison Balmer has high hopes for Hinsdale South in 2017 after the Hornets went 15-22 last fall. With several key returners, including Ward, Terrell and Hurka, the cupboard is not bare. Additionally, junior setter Abby Mihalkanin, Sydney Benson and Alyssa Errandi bring back more experience.
"We have a very talented, hardworking, and passionate group of girls this year for our varsity team," Balmer said. "I think that this is our year to make our way back to the top of the West Suburban Conference. I know that Downers Grove North, Addison Trail and Downers Grove South are always great competitors within our conference. Overall, we have a lot of strong returning players, with some powerful newcomers that make us a team to watch out for this year."
Fenton returns seven players and the Bison will work toward having their strongest team in many years. Coming off consecutive 13-23 seasons, they are expecting to improve on 13 wins. Zalewska, a senior captain is back and Lira returns to spark the defense while Krzyszkowski is a force in the middle. They'll be joined by returners Agata Kukielko and Julianna Krebasch, along with junior setter Mackenzie Miller.
"Our graduated seniors meant so much to the program becoming competitive again and our current players are following the lead of those girls and are working each and every day to make sure we have success," coach Fenton coach Kelly Kleidorfer said. "Our program has come a long way in the last five seasons and if our serve receive continues to improve we are certainly looking like a team that will continue the rise we have been on."
With four-year starter Sarah Petrbok gone to graduation, Addison Trail has some big shoes to fill, but the Blazers went 22-13 last year and the program looks to be on solid ground again this fall. The Blazers finished second in conference in 2016 before getting surprised by Leyden in the Class 4A regional semis. Susa is back to guide the defense and senior Nicci Scorza is a returning starter middle blocker. Coach Dan Styler expects a big year out of Muell on the outside and has high hopes for the versatile Giovanna Scarrabagia and Jessica D'Ambrose, who will each play multiple positions on the court.
"We made some positive strides last year and it was a great experience for some of our returning players, you know setting the bar high and being great role models for the newcomers on our varsity," Styler said. "The girls are hungry to get better,… Ultimately that team culture is going to be great to have in the gym every day to see where we can get by the end of the year."
Glenbard South returns plenty of offense in 2017 from a team that went 23-16 (10-2 in the Metro Suburban Blue) before falling to Rosary in a Class 3A sectional final. Bair, a 6-3 junior, had 187 kills and 66 blocks for the Raiders in 2016 and she'll get plenty of help from Millett, who had 168 kills and 176 digs as a freshman, and senior opposite Carli.
"We have a lot of experience at all of our hitting positions," coach Chad Grant said. "Maggie Bair will be a 6 rotation middle this year and is one of the top players in the conference, and Beth Kohl will build on a very strong finish to last year and will be one of our primary offensive weapons. I expect us to be in the hunt for the conference title, but it should be a wide open race this year." Kohl, a 6-foot junior, started in the playoffs last season and is expected to make a big contribution, and sophomore Sadie Camfield led the team with 37 aces as a serving specialist last year.
A young, yet experienced, Wheaton Warrenville South team will look to sophomore setter Burau and junior Field as the Tigers hope to improve on last season's 14-23 mark. The pair makes up just two of six starters back, joining Mackenzie Stebbins, middle hitters Annika Baron and Kaleigh Ammons and Emily Zappia, a 5-11 senior.
"We are still a young and physical team on paper, but continuing to gain excellent leadership and valuable experience through their play on varsity, coupled with some very athletic younger players," coach Bill Schreier said. "We are hopeful of the returners such as Sara Field and Sarah Burau continuing to add to their abilities with a full varsity season under their belts. It will be fun to watch the continued development of this group."
Freshman setter Zayna Meyer, and seniors Grace Buhmann and Hannah Joyce add depth to the WW South roster.
New coach Pamela Pater takes over a West Chicago team that returns six seniors and seven players all told. "We have plenty of experience and depth returning this year," Pater said. "The level of play, experience, dedication, and high-energy that this team brings is very exciting and we're expecting a great year."
Back for the Wildcats are Gromos and Katarzynski, fellow seniors Emily Murphy, Irene Horn, Britney Prebis and Maggie Smith and sophomore defensive specialist/libero Lilly Smith.
With four top players back on the court, Downers Grove South plans to improve on last year's .500 mark of 18-18. "Our roster this year consists of four returning starters that were impact players for us last year, so we are excited to get this season under way," Mustangs coach Trisha Kurth said.
Dumford will key the offense on the outside, while Karmik returns after serving as the team's setter as a freshman. Kurth expects another solid defensive year from seniors McNeeley and Woods. Other returning seniors for Downers South are setter Nicole Zowaski, outside hitter Sydney White and opposite Courtney Jackson.
Glenbard North is still working to build up its program under coach Anne Bremner, a former standout player at Downers Grove South and at Purdue. The Panthers will turn to three key building blocks this fall in Vegrzyn, a junior middle hitter, and a pair of sophomore outside hitters -- Meyers and Brown.
"This year is off to a great and optimistic start," Bremner said. "Our team is young this year and showing us how ready they are to learn and grow our program. Our strengths will be our athleticism and versatility. We are continuing to improve on our mental toughness on and off the court. We are excited to compete within our conference and improve our overall record."
Westmont has seven seniors on the roster and coach Jennifer Gliwa-Bell expects them all to have an impact for the Sentinels. Pardy, Jamison and Schacht will lead the way.
"All seniors should be contributing to our success this year including (Maria) Medlicott at libero," Gliwa-Bell said. "Hoping for a strong offense and aggressive serving to be a factor."
Westmont plans to run a 6-2 offense with junior lefty Morgan Fukar and freshman Alexa Bueser, with seniors Allie Kraft, Abby Cannon and Daphnye Turner are counted on to perform well.
At Willowbrook, Irene Mason takes over the program from long-time coach Susan Bower and will have lots of experience and athleticism to work with. Five returners are back from a 15-22 team, including four that played quality minutes.
"I'm extremely excited to have the opportunity to take over as head coach of the program this year. The players have been working hard and pushing themselves to compete and improve every single day. The defensive energy and overall enthusiasm in the gym have been excellent."
Ceh led the team in digs last year with 261 and is expected to lead the way along with seniors Taylor Balsitis, Marissa Marcello, Katie Smith and Jessica Ragucci. Mason is also high on a junior class that includes 10 talented players including Emma Barrington, Teresa Noah, Caileigh Tuma and Katelyn McCann.
Ever since winning the Class 2A title in 2013, ICCP has ping-ponged up and down between 2A and 3A. Last year it was 2A and went 19-19 while reaching a sectional final and now it is back up in 3A.
The Knights lost five starters to graduation but expect Lytton, Zanoni, and juniors Nailah Landon and Maya Stovall
to step up big in 2017.
"We're going to bring in some young players, so this should be an interesting year," said coach Nancy D'Amore, who will have a few freshmen on the varsity roster. "We've got some experienced players and some new players to varsity. I'm sure it will be up and down at times. I'm grateful for Josie (Lytton) and Sophie (Zanoni) because they are such great leaders and very welcoming to the younger players. They're really doing a great job helping them get acclimated. I think by the end of the season we may surprise some people."
For Lake Park, sophomore setter Szylar is back after a solid rookie campaign and hopes to lead the Lancers back over the .500 mark. She'll get plenty of help from Gibbons, a 6-1 force in the middle, defensive leader Coluczi, senior Izzy Kennedy and talented sophomore Klaudia Rygula, a 6-3 middle, recovering from foot surgery.
"We're getting her back in shape now," coach Tom Bergen said. "If everyone gets in sync, we'll get there."
With three freshmen on the roster, York will have some youth this fall, but four returners are back for the Dukes -- seniors Kazmierzcak and Danciutiu, and juniors Labine and Glabus. Sam Kao will handle the setting and Patty Iverson also expects major contributions from Jess Levy, freshmen setter Emily Fleckenstein, OH Gigi Barr and Stella Barr, who will play both middle and rightside.
Coach Mike Konrad will lean on three top returners this year at Hinsdale Central. The trio of Knutson, a 5-10 setter, libero Schwarz and outside hitter Wilson will pace the Red Devils. Six seniors and 16 juniors are on the roster including Zoe Smith, a 6-2 junior middle blocker.
It was not a huge surprise that Bonnie Pettigrew guided Lisle to a winning record and a conference title last year in her first year at the helm of the Lions. After all the Lisle native was a setter on Penn State's first national championship team. But the program was hit hard by graduation so this fall may prove more challenging. Even so, Pettigrew expects big things from Wagoner on the outside and the 5-11 Johnson, a rightside hitter who moved from Indiana. Sophomore Kaitlyn Angileri will handle the setting.
Wheaton Academy took some lumps last year with a very young group of players. But things are looking up for the Warriors, who will be led by Wells, who will continue to carry a big load offensively and defensively at the net, and senior team captains Dahl and Bun.
"I started 4-5 sophomores last season at the varsity level, and I'm looking for the growth and experience we were hoping to give them," coach D.A. Nichols. "Our defense and offensive versatility will be keys to what we're able to accomplish this season."
Juniors Alyssa Mantia and Georgia Johnston return, while Grace Hansen and freshman Schuyler Williams are expected to step in and be impact players this season, along with Sarah Sellers and Jessica McDonnell.