Scouting DuPage County girls volleyball
Top athletes: Addison Trail: Sarah Petrbok (jr., OH), Jessica Mell (sr., MB); Benet: Tiffany Clark (sr., L/OH), junior setter Sara Neilson (jr. , S) Veronica Snelling (jr., OH); Downers Grove North: Mary Helen Beacom (sr., S), Leah Rogoz (sr. OH), Lexi May (sr., MB); Downers Grove South: Rachel Schneider (sr., OPP), Megan Mayer (sr., OH), Karina Kling (jr., MH); Fenton: Emily Burris (sr., OH), Paulina Milanowski (jr., S); Glenbard East: Allison Farrell (sr., OH), Jessie Spontak (sr., L), Elin Ream (sr., OH); Glenbard North: Emily Krohn (sr., MH), Haley Wiser (sr., S) Stephanie Cole (sr., OH); Glenbard South: Payton Carli (sr., L), Kenzie Watterson (sr., OH); Glenbard West: Natalie Schilling (sr., OH), Kate Wagner (sr., S); Quianna Ware (sr., OH); Hinsdale Central: Meg Irvin (sr., OH), Nora Stack (sr., DS), Gilian Lail (jr., MH); Hinsdale South: Emily Drenth (jr., OH), Brittany West (sr., L); ICCP: Claudia Koch (sr., OH/MB), Tess Reardon (jr., S/OH), Kerry Mulligan (sr., L/DS), Katie Hendricks (jr., .MB/OH); Lisle: Robyn Griffin (sr., MH), Melissa Ericson (sr., L); Montini: Gina Cappetta (sr., S), Bryanna Crouch (sr., MH); Naperville North: Jennifer Dore (sr., S), Emily Bushman (sr., L), Ari Budnik (so., OH); Naperville Central: Andi Davenport (sr., S), Sam Herron (sr., OH), Claudia Wodziak (sr., MH); Neuqua Valley: Claire Grove (sr., OH), Alexis Douglas (sr., OH), Nora Meegan (jr., L); Metea Valley: Alexia Bass (sr., RS), Mikaila Dowd (so., RS); St. Francis: Molly Haggerty (sr., OH), Kamryn Malloy (jr., OH), Delaney Malloy (jr., MH), Dani Messa (sr., S); Timothy Christian: Kendra Teune (jr., OH), Ava Venema (jr., M), Dani VanLaten (sr., S); Waubonsie Valley: Caroline Cordes (sr., MH), Brooke Burling (sr., OH), Taylor Dunwell (sr., RS); West Chicago: Ronni Katarzynski (sr., L), Laura Katatzynski (so., OH); Westmont: Madeline Lubeck (sr., S), Halley Pardy (sr., OH); Wheaton Academy: Alecia Funk (sr., S), Jocelyn Kholmyer (sr., L), Elizabeth Melby (sr., MH); Wheaton North: Grace Tiesman (sr., OH), Abby Tiesman (sr., OH), Haley Horner (jr., OPP), Ali Maloney (sr., L); Wheaton Warrenville South: Kristin Martin (sr. OH), Kara Watts (sr., OPP); Willowbrook: Olivia Pennebaker (jr,, OH), Jamie Chiappetta (jr., OH), Kalyn Konrath (sr., MB).
Scouting report: St. Francis may very well add another state volleyball trophy to its already crowded trophy cases on campus, but the Spartans will not defend their Class 3A championship.
After three consecutive Class 3A titles, veteran coach Peg Kopec and her troops have been bumped up to Class 4A this year, where they must now contend with the likes of defending champ Benet and perennial power Mother McAuley.
St. Francis graduated three starters from last year's 38-4 team, and all three are playing in college.
But Wisconsin-bound All-America Molly Haggerty, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter, brings her dominating game back to St. Francis for one final season, and a talented supporting cast makes the Spartans a title contender even after moving up a class. Haggerty recorded 381 kills and 152 digs as a junior while garnering Gatorade State Volleyball Player of the Year honors.
"She's just an extremely impressive player. She's super all-around," Kopec said of Molly, the youngest of three sisters who each excelled in high school. "We haven't chosen captains yet, but she's certainly a leader on the team. She leads with her skill. You don't want to have to lean on her all the time if you don't have, but she's exceptionally good."
Also back for St. Francis are the talented Malloy twins -- Kamryn and Delaney -- and starting setter Dani Messa. Kamryn, an All-Area performer as a sophomore in 2014, will play outside hitter, Delaney will be in the middle and Messa returns as a three-year starter, who will run the offense. With so much talent back, St. Francis opened the new year ranked third in the nation by MaxPreps.com. Kopec, who has won 11 state titles, doesn't get too worked up over these rankings.
"It's nice, but preseason rankings are just, whatever," she said. "You have to play. You have to play the game."
Now in the GCAC, St. Francis will see McAuley in conference matches as well as in the usual competitive tournaments. Last fall the Mighty Macs, owners of 14 state titles, handed Benet its lone setback, but the Redwings got revenge in the postseason with a memorable 27-25, 37-35 supersectional triumph.
After surviving that super marathon, Benet (41-1) breezed past Normal Community and then Libertyville to win the 4A title, its third in four years.
The Redwings graduated five of eight starters including Rachel Fara, the Daily Herald 2014 All-Area Volleyball Team Captain, but opponents will not be feeling too sorry for the Lisle school.
Back on the court this year will be senior Tiffany Clark, junior setter Sara Neilson and junior outside Veronica Snelling. Redwings coach Brad Baker calls the 5-10 Clark, "one of the best liberos in the state and one of the best to ever play in Illinois." Clark played outside for the state champs last season and excelled in both offense and defense.
"Our team is so young and has so many uncertainties that it is going to make for a very exciting year," said Baker, who was gone 298-30 in eight seasons at Benet. "We have lots of room to get better and because of that, this team will look dramatically different at the end of the season."
Sometimes overlooked in the state -- and the county for that matter -- Glenbard West may not have grabbed all the state hardware that Benet and St. Francis have in recent years, but the Hilltoppers have been awfully good and should be again in 2015.
Under the guidance of coach Peter Mastandrea, Glenbard West went 33-6 last year with conference and regional crowns before falling to St. Charles East in the sectional finals. The Hilltoppers have won at least 30 matches in the last four seasons while going 134-19.
A pair of superb four-year starters will lead the way for the Hilltoppers, as Natalie Schilling and setter Kate Wagner look to close out stellar prep seasons in fine fashion. Schilling is a 6-1 committed to Duke who is a two-time All-Area honoree and who holds the school record with more than 900 kills. Wagner was all-West Suburban Conference last year and has 101 wins under belt.
Glenbard West also has Quianna Ware, a returning starter who will play at Western Michigan, along with a strong cast of newcomers led by 5-11 Ella Ridinger on the right side.
"We are really optimistic with the two four-year starters in Schiling and Wagner back," Mastandrea said. "Both could be the best we have had (at their positions) and they have experience in tough games. Ware has incredible hitting skills and this should be our best offensive team."
Fellow WSC opponent Downers Grove North also will be solid this year. The Trojans, who went 22-15 (4-2 in conference) last year, return five starters, but did graduate all-area top hitter Grace Larson and two-year starting libero Selene Ushela. Back is four-year varsity setter Mary Helen Beacon, four-year Leah Rogoz, and third-year varsity middle blocker, 6-4 Lexi May. Returning starter, sophomore Clare Delaplane, moves from the middle to the outside this year and has serious Division I potential. Junior libero Kendal Tucker also is receiving Division I interest. "Given the amount of experience we return, I expect this team to build off the success of last season," Trojans coach Mark Wasik said.
Downers Grove South, meanwhile, returns four starters, and will be led this fall by Rachel Schneider, Megan Mayer, Kiera James, Renee Kryk and Karina Kling.
"I really have high hopes for this group of athletes," Mustnags coach Trisha Kurth said. "They are such hard workers and have set goals for themselves that will definitely take it. I have no doubt that this group is ready to compete."
The DuPage Valley Conference will be tough as always, but now even more so as neighborhood rivals Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley join the fun. That means as Naperville North looks to defend it's DVC crown, it will have to contend with a Wildcats team that went unbeaten last year while claiming the UEC Valley championship.
Neuqua Valley went 25-11 in 2014, 7-0 in conference and lost a tough three-gamer with St. Charles North in the regional finals. Nine seniors return this fall led by outside hitters Claire Grove and Alexis Douglas, Grove and junior libero Nora Meegan, each earned all-conference honors last year for the Wildcats. Coach Kelly Simon expects newcomers senior Phylicia Ervin and Lauren Coffman to join the returners and provide an explosive attack. The responsibility of feeding all these hitters falls on two gifted setters who are new to varsity: Kora Kauling, a junior, and senior setter Hannah Ramsdell.
"Ultimately the cohesiveness and overall team dynamic of this group throughout the summer, success in summer league and during this past week in preseason following tryouts, have proven that the Wildcats will not be a team to be overlooked as a competitive new addition to the DuPage Valley Conference and in the Chicagoland area for the 2015 volleyball season," Simon said.
Naperville North won the DVC last year while finishing 26-10 overall and reaching the regional finals before falling to Geneva.
"We'll be led by two three-year varsity players in setter Jennifer Dore and senior libero Emily Bushman," said Huskies coach Jennifer Urban, who notched her 300th win last fall. "Sophomore outside hitter Ari Budnik has made great strides in the off-season and she will lead the team offensively."
Dore is a 5-11 setter committed to the University of Wisonsin-Whitewater, while senior libero Bushman is committed to Iowa. Returning outside hitters Budnik and Aline Miller will provide some height and power at the net, along with a pair of new middles in Anna Folliard and Sarah Wastek.
Wheaton North (25-9, 8-2) was second in the DVC last season and the Falcons return Grace Tiesman and Abby Tiesman. The Teismans each earned all-DVC honors in 2014 and will serve as captains this fall, and the Falcons also return junior Haley Horner and senior libero Ali Maloney.
Top newcomers for Wheaton North include McKenna Otto, Elisabeth LaBue, Maddie Duncan, Kailyn Williams and setter Brooke Syswerda.
"The level of play and experience that this team brings is very exciting and hopeful for a great run," coach Carole Kristensen said. "Our competition this year has stepped it up a notch with the new DVC and our nonconference matches. Can't wait to start competition and see what lineups work best, many options this year for the Falcons."
Second-year coach Anne Mastandrea Bremner hopes to see continued progress from the Glenbard North program after going 11-24 last year. "Our goal this year is to continue to be competitive within our conference," she said. "We are in year two for building a new program and culture at Glenbard North and we are excited for the challenges we will face this year. Our No. 1 goal, which will stay the same, is to get better every time we step on the court."
The Panthers have eight seniors this year, so they'll have experience and leadership on their side. Seniors Emily Krohn, Haley Wiser and Stephanie Cole are all three-year varsity players, and freshman Maddie Vegrzyn is also expected to lay a big role.
Naperville Central was .500 last year and hopes to improve that mark with senior setter Andi Davenport and senior Sam Herron leading the way.
Other top players include sophomore Sarah Schank, senior libero Annie Fong, senior Claudia Wodziak and sophomore setter Brenna Hess.
Coach Jeff Danbom is ready to see how the new-look DVC shakes out.
"We're looking forward to that. I like the idea of having all five Naperville schools in the DVC, plus the Wheatons, Glenbard North and Lake Park," he said. "I think it's going to be a good mix. It's going to be tough, but you'll see a lot of good volleyball action. Let's battle it out."
Waubonsie Valley (24-14) returns plenty of talent with Caroline Cordes, a 5-11 MH, who was All-Conference and All-Area last year, at the top of the list. Cordes and Brooke Burling each committed to play beach volleyball at Arizona, and they'll be joined on the court this fall by Taylor Dunwell, Lauren Howard, Anna Jaskoviak, Briana Webb and libero Michelle Lee, to give coach Kristen Didier seven returning starters.
"We join the DVC this year, which is exciting, and we are ready to battle each week,: said Didier, entering her ninth year as coach. "Our entire schedule is tough and will hopefully prepare us well for the postseason. We have a strong core of returning players and great leadership. We had a great summer and the girls have been working hard."
Metea Valley closed out the year at 18-13 after falling to Geneva in the regional quarterfinals in 2014. All-conference Alexia Bass returns to lead the way along with sophomore Mikaila Dowd, who had 117 kills and 40 digs.
The Mustangs will also count on Ashley Walker, Natalie Krasuski, Miranda Cada, and libero Claire Rothenberger.
For Wheaton Warrenville South, All-Area setter Rachel Burau, now at Wake Forest, will be missed, but the Tigers do return five starters. Kristin Martin, a three-year starter, returns after picking up All-Area and all-DVC awards in 2014, and 6-0 Kara Watts returns as a three-year starter.
The other returning starters are Jessica Robinson, Jayne LaBelle and libero Paula Gross. "We are taller across the board than we have been in the past. It still remains to be seen how we will jell as a team. I see this team getting better and better as the season goes along," Tigers coach Bill Schreier said.
After graduating just one starter, Addison Trail looks to jump up from last year's 9-24 mark. Junior Sarah Petrbok is starting her third season on varsity, while senior Jessica Mell returns in the middle.
"The returners got a lot of exposure last year. They played a number of teams at that elite level," Blazers coach Dan Styler said. "Definitely been a tremendous amount of growth. We're definitely going to see more Ws this year."
Area powers like Glenbard South and Montini will be glad to not have to worry about St. Francis in Class 3A this year.
The Broncos made it downstate last year for the first time and claimed a first state trophy by placing fourth.
"It was a really good experience. We had awesome matches down there," Broncos coach Steve Dowjotas said of the two tight setbacks at state.
But 12 seniors graduated from Montini's magical season, and setter Gina Cappetta is the lone starter back. "We're definitely in the rebuilding phase right now," said Dowjotas, who will take advantage of a deep and talented freshmen class to help stock the varsity squad.
Senior Bryanna Crouch and senior Grace Rivera return, along with Bethany Loftus, who as a sophomore moved up to help the Broncos during their playoff run. Freshmen Joslyn Boyer and Lexi Quaglia will make an impact right away.
Glenbard South won conference and went 27-9 overall before falling to Waubonsie Valley in a regional semifinal. The Raiders will be much younger this season but have a pair of leaders in libero Payton Carli and Kenzie Watterson back.
"We will be back in 3A this year," coach Chad Grant said. "We have very young team and have a ton of learning to do, but we have a lot of potential. I think we will be one of the better teams in Class 3A by the end of the season.
"We do have two returning three-year varsity starters that are all-conference players in Watterson and Payton Carli, who are two of the best passers in program history, so that is a good starting point. This should allow us to expedite the process of developing our young hitters."
Middle blockers Bailee Flanagan and Michelle Glover are expected to make big contributions for Glenbard South as well.
Timothy Christian returns four starters from a 36-3 squad and with a move back down to Class 2A, the Trojans should be a force again in the postseason. The team won four tournament titles -- going 20-0 in the process -- and won a 3A regional title before falling to Montini in the sectional finals.
The Trojans top three returners are Kendra Teune, Ava Venema and all-conference setter Dani VanLaten. Newcomers Zoe Stanton, a junior, and sophomore Tracy Westra also will be key contributors.
"We are looking forward to another strong year. The girls that are in line to fill the vacated spots due to graduation are strong players thanks to playing club volleyball for many years," said Trojans coach Scott Piersma, who is gunning for a fifth straight conference crown. "We are also back to Class 2A for state tournament play, so we are looking for a strong postseason run."
Like Timothy, Wheaton Academy reached 30 victories last fall, but the Warriors were hit hard by graduation. Ten seniors are gone from 30-7 team with just one starter back, setter Alecia Funk.
"We are young in the varsity experience department, but believe we'll jell and play well this season," coach D.A. Nichols said.
Wheaton Academy will lean on seniors Jocelyn Kholmyer, Elizabeth Melby, Jessie Fernandes, Ingrid Prichard and Anna Aloisio to step into starting roles this season.
Westmont went 24-13 last year and claimed a regional championship before falling to Watseka in the sectional finals. Senior setter Madeline Lubeck and senior outside hitter Halley Pardy return after garnering all-conference honors in 2014. Amanda Prete, another senior, should see considerable time and contribute to the team's success this season, along with Hannah O'Malley and Maddy Debs.
For West Chicago, senior libero Ronni Katarzynski and sophomore Laura Katatzynski will lead the way for the program that went 12-22 (2-4 in Upstate Eight Conference River Division) last year.
"I think we will be very competitive in the Upstate Eight Valley Division this year," Wildcats coach Kris Hasty said. "We have several returning starters that will help the new players along the way. Under the leadership of captain Ronni Katarzynski, we will not go down without a fight. It should be a fun and exciting year."
Sophomores Maggie Smith and Angelina Gromos and juniors Jessica Meissner, Molly Howard and Jen Orr look to jump into the West Chicago starting lineup this fall.
Wins were hard to come by last fall for Fenton, but senior team captain Emily Burris hopes to change that this time around. The Bison, who went 10-24 overall and 0-12 in the Metro Suburban, are counting on another big campaign from Burris, an all-conference performer who excels in hitting and serving. The Bison also have junior setter Paulina Milanowski back to run the offense, fellow returners Natalia Skop, Jessica Bango and Maggie Rusiecka, and promising freshman setter Mackenzie Miller.
Glenbard East suffered a blow when senior middle Emily Hamaker was lost for the season with an injury, yet the Rams and coach Marci Maier still return eight players from a team that won 25 matches and a regional last fall after placing third in the Upstate Eight.
The cast of returners is led by Allison Farrell, libero Jessie Spontak and Elin Ream, but Glenbard East returns plenty more and also featured a talented group of newcomers including freshman Allison Hamaker.
"We have eight returning players from last year's team since Emily is out for the season, so we are very excited about this upcoming season," said Maier, whose Rams lost to York in the sectional semis in 2014. "We hope to have a more balanced attack and combined with good defense should help us to be a competitive team. Our goal is to get farther in postseason play than we did last year.
First-year coach Mike Konrad takes over a Hinsdale Central team led by Meg Irvin, Nora Stack and Gilian Lail. The Red Devils also expect big things from setting sisters Emily Knutson and Lindsay Knutson.
"We are very young with only one returning starter but there is a lot of depth in the junior class," Konrad said. "We will be in the learning stages early on, but we think we will be competitive and at the top of our conference."
Hinsdale South, meanwhile, was second in the West Suburban Gold while finishing at 12-25 following a regional loss to Hinsdale Central. The Hornets will be led by Emily Drenth, Paola Gonzalez, Brittany West, Tierney Ward and Amanda Pultorak.
IC College Prep reached the Class 2A supersectional last year before dropping a three-set match to Watseka.
For 2015 the Knights return five key players from last year: Claudia Koch, Tess Reardon, Kerry Mulligan, Katie Harvey and Katie Hendricks. Koch has been a key part of the program since 2013 when ICCP won the Class 2A championship. After playing middle blocker for the last two seasons, she'll transition to outside hitter this year in an effort to get her more consistently involved in the attack.
First-year Lisle coach Kristen Oros will count on several juniors, including five who played on the varsity as sophomores, but seniors Robyn Griffin and Melissa Ericson will lead the way, while sophomore Francesca Wagoner will be a strong force in the outside and middle positions. Griffin was all-conference in 2014.
Willowbrook was 18-18 last year and now welcomes back returners Olivia Pennebaker, Jamie Chiappetta, Kalyn Konrath, Dani McNamara, Maya Bullock and libero Kelly Conley. The Warriors expect big things from newcomers Emily Ligocki and Milena Sogura.