Boys volleyball: Scouting Lake County

 
By Bill Pemstein
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 3/31/2016 2:43 PM
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  • Vernon Hills' Jared Bennett soars against O'Fallon in the last year's state quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates. Bennett is back for his senior season with the Cougars.

      Vernon Hills' Jared Bennett soars against O'Fallon in the last year's state quarterfinals at Hoffman Estates. Bennett is back for his senior season with the Cougars. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

ANTIOCH

Coach: Jamie Atkinson (ninth season)

Top returning players: Ian Flatley, Sr. Outside; Jordan Hart, Jr. Setter; Thomas Howe, Sr. Libero; Bryan Ortiz, Jr. Outside

Newcomers: Sean Berring, Jr. Outside; Nathan Cielek, Jr. Setter

Season outlook: These Sequoits can play some defense. A season ago, Ian Flately notched 199 digs. "We are bringing back a mostly returning team and have great leaders in Tommy Howe and Flatley," coach Jamie Atkinson said. Atkinson has the luxury of running a 6-2 offense. Both Jordan Hart and Nathan Cielek can fill in at setter. Hart ran the offense for the sophomore team last spring. "Our team is moving a few players, but these moves have only made the Sequoits stronger," Atkinson said.

CARMEL

Coach: Kevin Nylen (ninth season)

Top returning players: Patrick Meadie, Sr, OH; Michael May, Sr. S/RS; Spencer Mueller, Sr. Mb; Ryan Fuller, Sr. L/DS; Jack Herron, Jr. S; Sean Wittmann, Jr. DS

Newcomers: Pete Bitto, Sr. RS; Jimmy Ivers, Sr. OH; Garrett Tworek, Sr. S; Nathan Wojociechowski, Sr. RS; Ben Burkhalter, Jr. MB; Kerrick Podgorski, Jr. OH

Season outlook: The Corsairs are loaded with experience. Outside hitter Patrick Meadie is a four-year varsity performer. He will play for Fontbonne University in the St. Louis area next year. Michael May is one of the most dangerous hitters in the county. A year ago, he slugged 242 kills. He will also give setting a try this spring. "I'd imagine that we have one of the more experienced teams in the county," coach Kevin Nylen said. "I think that we've got some talent as well. The goal is to put (the experience and talent) together." Other players to watch include outside Jimmy Evers, middle Spencer Mueller and libero Ryan Fuller. Both Sean Wittmann and Jack Herron saw plenty of action as sophomores. "Jimmy Ivers is one of the most improved players that I've coached," Nylen said. "He's made himself into a very good outside. Ben Burkhalter was pressed into varsity service during the Lake County tournament last year and proved that he was ready to play with the varsity." Nylen knows his conference play will be tough as four teams from the ESCC won a regional crown last year. "We've been at it only a week, but I am thoroughly enjoying being around these young men," Nylen said. "They are good volleyball players and even better people."

GRANT

Coach: Daniel Bryant (second season)

Top returning players: Austin Freund, Sr. MB; Ryan McGarry, Sr. S/OPP; Connor Cray, Sr. L

Top newcomers: Scott Warren, Jr. OH; Alec Barrettsmith, Jr. OH; Jeff Helmich, Jr. S; Timmy O'Toole, Jr. MB; Cooper Meier, Sr. OPP

Season outlook: Grant has been playing varsity volleyball for a few years, but this is the first year the Bulldogs will play a rugged schedule. Coach Daniel Bryant thinks his team will be ready for it. "We have four club players with two or more seasons at the club level, a first in Grant Volleyball history," Bryant said. "Their experience and expertise, along with the other players' skills and talent will make for a successful season. This season brings much excitement, as this is the most talented team we have had." Bryant's top players could be his seniors, Austin Fruend, Connor Cray and Ryan McGarry. "They have all been playing well and providing leadership," Bryant said. Also bringing in club experience are Scott Warren, Timmy O'Toole and Jeff Helmich. "They have improved tremendously with their successful club seasons," Bryant said. "Our goals and expectations this year are the same as every other year. We are going to work hard every day, improve every day and do our part to make the team better. We know that if we do those three things, wins will come naturally."

GRAYSLAKE CENTRAL

Coach: Dan Erlenbaugh (first season)

Players: Daniel Lantz, Sr.; Ryan Basten, Sr.; Jonathan Wong, Sr.; Bobby Fortmann, Sr.; Spencer Pulford, Sr.; Josh Garcia, Sr.; Jake Miller, Jr.; Aaron Guzman, Jr.; Jovani Martinez, Jr.; Dylan Sulzer, Jr.; Matt Kozak, Jr.; Evan Nordman, Jr.; Fernando Ortiz-Acosta, Jr.; Keegan Zack, Jr.; Matt Kosikowski, Jr.; Chase Werfel, Jr.; Preston Tower, Jr.

Season outlook: The Rams are in their first season as a varsity team. The roster includes six seniors and 11 juniors.

GRAYSLAKE NORTH

Coach: Nikki Kirchway (first season)

Players: Austin Martineau, Fr. OH/RS; Cole Pelegrino, Jr. MH; Alex Hartigan, Jr. MH/RS; J.D. Pelegrino, Sr. RS; Marshal Diep, So. DS; Brandon LeBaron, Jr. OH; Zach Schaefer, Sr. OH; Cody Seelye, Jr. S; Carter Price, Fr. MH; Bryan Melgoza, Jr. OH/DS; Tito Protasio, Sr. MH/DS; Josh Solis, Jr. DS

Season outlook: The Knighths are in their first season. The roster includes three seniors in J.D. Pelegrino, Zach Schaefer and Tito Protasio.

LAKE ZURICH

Coach: Lesly Ravenscraft

Top returning players: Nate Amos, Sr. MH; Nick Meyer, Sr., OH; Andrew Gilbertson, Sr. MH/RS; Jeff Carmody, Jr. S; Danny Kraverski, Jr. L

Top newcomers: Alex Krasowski, Jr. RS

Season outlook: A year ago, the Bears surprised the area with a regional crown. Two players from the successful basketball team are out for the team. Nick Meyer and Andrew Gilbertson bring good height and talent to this team. The team's best player might be the gifted Nate Amos. "The Bears are looking to better on last year's season," coach Lesly Ravenscraft said. "If our passing can be consistent, we should have a very successful season."

LAKES

Coach: Michelle Keenan (first season)

Top returners: Colton Jewell, Sr. S; Nick Hallberg, Sr OH; Matt Haufe, Jr. MB; Michael Modell, So. L

Newcomers: Jake Deener, Jr. OH/MB; Evan Schneider, Jr. MB

Season outlook: So where did coach Kate Cheek take off to? How about the scorer's table. In her place comes her JV coach from last year, Michelle Keenan. And Cheek did not leave this team without some talent to work with. Three-sport athlete Colton Jewell is back at setter. He's been an all-area player in volleyball, football and basketball in the last year. "He has a great understanding of the game and will be looking to exploit other teams' weaknesses," Keenan said. Like Jewell, Nick Hallberg is in his third year on the varsity. "Nick is an all-around solid player with huge leaping abilities," Keenan said. "He's a great leader on and off the court." Michael Modell started for the Eagles as a freshman. "I'm looking for him to be the defensive and vocal leader on the court," Keenan said. "Michael's skills improved greatly in the off-season. He will be one of the top liberos in Lake County." Matt Haufe returns with a season of club ball behind him. Keenan believes Haufe will have a big season in the middle. "We are a well-balanced team, and we will all contribute to our successes this year," Keenan said. "I am expecting our outside hitters to have lots of opportunities to be successful as our middle hitters are versatile and quick and will open up the block. Our libero will lead the way with great passing, defense and communication."

LIBERTYVILLE

Coach: Jenny Smith (third season)

Top returners: Nick Zoellick, Sr. OH; Sam Kharasch, Jr. L; Ryan Hirschel, Jr. S; Matt Franz, Sr. RS

Key newcomers: Brendan Cook, Drew Fortini, Jack Stevens, Shane Feiereisel, Carl Heard, Mark Demaree, Tanner Darrow, Ben Steens, Steven Donovan

Season outlook: Clearly, the Wildcats, who won 22 games a year ago, have the pieces in place for another strong campaign. Sam Kharasch was solid last year at libero. "We have an interesting balance of very experienced returners and quite talented newcomers," coach Jenny Smith said. "I'm the eternal optimist and expect a ton out of our teams. They are notoriously hard workers, and this group has a passion for the sport like no other." Libertyville has the quite the list of new players, so this project will be interesting to watch. "We have a new look and are on the younger side," Smith said. "The potential for greatness is there. We are all very excited to get the season started."

MUNDELEIN

Coach: George Dressen Jr. (14th season)

Top returning players: Abram Nazario, So. OH; Jose Reyes, Sr., DS/RS

Top newcomers: Linden Ewing, Jr. S; Jackson Steiner, So. MB; Steven Miritello, So. MB; Nickolai Kalinoski, Sr. OH; Mitchell Zaprzalka, Jr. DS/OH); Ben Arebalo, So. L

Season outlook: The Mustangs may be rebuilding this year. However, veteran coach George Dressen Jr. remains optimistic. "This is almost a completely new team," Dressen said. "The faster they get to know each other the better they will play." A season ago, the Mustangs dropped 25 matches. That shouldn't happen this season. "We are looking to be at least a .500 team," Dressen said.

STEVENSON

Coach: Eric Goolish (third season)

Top returning players: Grant Maleski, Justin Leonard, Mark Kanaris, Alex Pieprzycki, Jeremy Sandrof, Peter Drozdzewicz, Hudson Havenhill, Sudhish Gogula

Top newcomers: Matthew Cliffer, Junhao Chen

Season outlook: Talk about a rock for your Valentine's Day gift. Stevenson's volleyball team took a blow from club volleyball season on Feb. 14. Standouts Grant Maleski and Justin Leonard were injured. And these were not minor blows. Coach Eric Goolish expects his team has lost these talents through the month of April. "Initially, the injuries to Grant and Justin caused pause," Goolish said. "But the team now views this adversity as an opportunity to develop other players and play with balance." Stevenson hopes to fill the void with some gifted players. The Patriots do bring back two outside hitters in Mark Kanaris and Alex Pieprzycki. Defensive specialists Jeremy Sandrof and Peter Drozdzewicz have plenty of experience as well. "There is incredible excitement on the team," Goolish said. "The players have set as high of expectations this year as any team I have coached. Despite the injuries, we feel we will still be very competitive and can still compete for a Lake County title and some tournament championships."

VERNON HILLS

Coach: Chris Curry 16th season

Top returning players: Johnny McDonald, Sr.; Chris Winter, Sr.; Jared Bennett, Sr.; Zach Umansky, Sr.

Top newcomers: Matt Kushnir, Sr.; Matt Fiarito, Jr.; Derek Jones, So.

Season outlook: At Vernon Hills, they just reload every year. Last spring, the Cougars finished second in the state. "Most of these guys were part of a group last year that really reset the culture and the work ethic in the program," coach Chris Curry said. "They dedicated themselves to the process of constant improvement, of understanding the larger goals, and of putting team goals in front of personal goals." Having a returning setter in Jared Bennett is key. In addition to those 469 assists and 53 aces, Bennett still managed 215 kills. Johnny McDonald (214 digs) and Chris Winter also made strides last year. Curry is enthused about the latest group. "The first six days in the gym were the best I can remember," Curry said. "The effort and communication are in midseason form." Curry isn't claiming just yet that his latest team will get to state. "We've got to incorporate a lot of new faces into the mix," he said. "There will be a learning curve. There will be some struggles while we try to figure out what we're good at, what our options are, and what we need to work on. Like every year, we'll hope to be in the conversation for the NSC title."

WARREN

Coach: Yun Chen (12th season)

Top returning players: Jaxon Bongratz, Jr.; Asif Huq, Sr.; Daniel Johnson, Jr.; Parker Main, Sr.; Zach Schultz, Sr., Aaron Wagan, Sr.; Jake White, Sr.

Top newcomers: Brett Bauer, Jr.; Matt Daniel, Jr.; Mihajlo Gomez, Jr.; Maui Viola, Jr.; Kyle Wells, So

Season outlook: The Blue Devils fled to Lake Geneva recently for some team-bonding exercises. Veteran coach Yun Chen is hoping his latest club can compete in the NSC this spring. "The coaching staff is working hard to create a real competitive environment for this team," Chen said. "We have a few players that can play multiple positions, and that makes us very versatile. That makes (the coaches') job real hard to find the best lineup with best chemistry. We will be using our tournament schedule to fine-tune our lineup and be ready for the playoff run."

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