Scouting Fox Valley boys volleyball
Top local teams: Bartlett, St. Charles North, Geneva, St. Charles East, West Aurora
Top players: Christian Ayar (South Elgin, jr., S), Jake Bettag (Marmion, sr., MH), Andrew Bland (Geneva, sr., OH), Mik Brunovskis (St. Charles East, sr., OH), Kendall Burns (Larkin, jr., MH), Jacob Bush (Bartlett, sr., M), Jakob Coker (St. Charles East, jr., L), Raul Correa (South Elgin, jr., O/R), Manny Delgado (Larkin, sr., S), Jack Dullum (South Elgin, sr., M/RS), Kyle Gruber (St. Charles North, sr. S), Jeremie Gutierrez (West Aurora, sr., OH), Colin Hanley (St. Charles East, sr., OH), Joe Hoberg (Elgin, sr., S), Joseph Huizar (Streamwood, sr., OH), Carlos Jasso (Streamwood, sr., S), Will Johnson (Geneva, sr., RS), Martin Radomski (Bartlett, sr., OH), Luis Ramos (Elgin, sr., OH), Danny Risner (West Aurora, jr., S), John Roche (Marmion, sr., OH), Aron Saenz (Larkin, sr., OH/OPP), Roberto Sanchez (Streamwood, jr., OH), William Shaoul (Elgin, sr., S), Ted Simpson (Geneva, sr., RS), James Tews (Marmion, jr., L), Jaash Thakker (St. Charles North, sr., OH), Connor Vrchota (West Aurora, sr., MH), Toiyon Walton (Bartlett, sr., M), Ben Woytych (St. Charles North, sr., RS)
Bartlett -- The Hawks have nine seniors and two juniors on their roster and, as head coach Bob Schwantz puts it, "I think my team is pretty stacked at every position. We'll be able to attack from anywhere we want, defend against anything teams throw at us and just play overall great volleyball. It'll be interesting to see who shines the brightest once the season begins." Last year Bartlett wound up 22-15, essentially reversing its wind up of just two seasons earlier. The bad news for Hawks opponents? "Most of my seniors continued playing volleyball, many of them on the same team, during the off-season. They just got better, stronger and faster." Don't say you weren't warned, Upstate Eight.
Elgin -- 2018 started well for the Maroons, who went 6-3 in their first nine games. Then, the bottom fell out and Elgin managed just three more wins over its final two dozen matches. As a result, the Maroons roster has received a near-total makeover. "The biggest change for us is our lack of experience," explains head man Andrew LeGoff. Only two players return from last year's Upstate Eight squad, David Quezada and Demaryan Benton. LeGoff has recruited a trio of volleyball newbies from the basketball team -- Cameron Muller, Kefonte Taylor and Trey Yarber -- to fill the void. Those are some good pieces, deep in athleticism and altitude, but they form a puzzle that LeGoff will be challenged to put together quickly. "It's going to be a very competitive, yet fun year," said LeGoff.
Geneva -- There's a lot to be said for experience, and experience is something Geneva has in spades: 10 seniors have been part of the volleyball program since their freshman year. The Vikings had an overall slate of 13-20 last season and finished 6-4 (fifth place) in conference play, but that goes out the door since Geneva will be playing its inaugural season in the DuKane Conference in 2019. And experience isn't all that Geneva has going for it. "Every player on this team is hardworking and passionate about putting together a successful season," said head coach Stephanie Rasmussen. "We're going to be playing a lot of well-coached, successful volleyball teams in the DuKane conference. Every game will be competitive and serve to prepare us for the post season." Experience, hard work, and passion? Sounds like a winning combination.
Larkin -- The ancient Chinese proverb says that, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Larkin head coach Katie Smiley may be hoping that a competitive 2019 begins with a single, key win from last season. "Last year, we won our first Upstate Eight game in years," explained Smiley. "We finished 7-18-3, and I'm pleased with that but I know we're ready to play harder and get more wins this year." Another cliché says that defense wins championships, and if that's true, things bode well for Larkin. Smiley grins when she says that, "Defense will be our strength this year. Our middle and back rows step up to every challenge, and this is a great strength."
Marmion -- Once upon a time a new athletic program had to pay its dues before tasting the fruits of victory. Marmion head coach Barb Ebert is having none of that. "We're entering just the third year of our program, and we expect to bring a heightened level of competitiveness to our matches this year," Ebert said. With six returning varsity players and four JV starters moving up, the Cadets' on-court synergy gets two thumbs-up from coach Ebert. Junior libero James Tews and senior setter Zach Minnis will be joined by senior outside hitters John Roche and Christian Damico, juniors Ben Riner and Christian Cardenas, and middle hitters senior Jake Bettag and junior John Demos. "We expect to be better than last year's record (16-17). We're stronger both offensively and defensively."
St. Charles East -- Over in the DuKane Conference, the Saints biggest strength is their lineup. Six returners -- seniors Mik Brunovskis and Colin Hanley (outside hitters), Chris Heuser (middle hitter), Neehar Shah (outside hitter/right side), Bob Villa (defensive specialist) and junior libero Jakob Coker -- make up a seasoned and experienced crew. Add to that junior middle hitter Jacob Stark and five newcomers -- senior outside hitter Ben Fox, sophomore setter Bayden Slavik, sophomore middle hitter Bennett Mortensen, junior defensive specialist Ryan Kemble and junior outside hitter/right side Thomas Ditsworth -- and coach Kate McCullagh's cautious optimism is understandable: "We're looking forward to competing in a strong, new conference."
St. Charles North -- St. Charles North ran the Upstate Eight table last season, going 10-0 in conference action en route to a 26-12 overall finish and the school's first regional three-peat. And so what do the North Stars get for that impressive effort? Shipped over to the DuKane Conference. "We graduated some key seniors, but we have our starting setter back along with varsity returners at outside hitter, middle hitter, right side and libero. Plus we have 11 newcomers who are young and loaded with energy," said head man Todd Weimer. The North Stars' JV team was strong last year as well, and the meld of JV and varsity should be impressive. "We look really good so far coming out of tryouts and we will do everything we can to face some tough tournament teams and conference opponents," assessed Weimer. "Our nonconference schedule is pretty tough as well. This group of guys are hard working, open, and ready to give their best."
South Elgin -- Any coach will tell you that goals are important to success. They should be specific and achievable. Storm coach Adam Plach has laid out a few clear, concise, and attainable objectives. "Last year we finished 7-25 overall and 2-8 in the Upstate Eight," Place said. "This year we hope to be the best team in [our district], in the top four in the Upstate Eight and better than .500 overall." Plach will be relying on seven returning players, including five juniors, a pair of seniors and five newcomers.
Streamwood -- Coach Jonathan Bacheller wasn't around last season when the Sabres won just three matches. He's bound and determined to bring a new perspective to Streamwood volleyball. "We are a family, and we're going to try to incorporate that into our overall play and mentality," said Bacheller. "I believe our team is eager to play and show improvement over last year. They have a renewed energy and we're a close 'family' on and off the court." Bacheller ran the summer camps last year, and he likes what he sees thus far. "We have two sophomores on the team that have some raw talent and are eager to get on the court. We also have four returning varsity players that have also played club together, so we have some good chemistry to build on and tap into. We have high expectations for this season and expect to do better."
West Aurora -- Last year the Blackhawks finished 18-19 overall and second in the conference. So this season, if you're planning to take coach Tolis Koskinaris out to dinner, don't even think about the evening of May 14. "Glenbard East won the Upstate Eight last year. That game against them at West Aurora on May 14 will be a big one," Koskinaris said. Overall, Koskinaris likes his chances. "I'm cautiously optimistic. We have a lot of good pieces and high character. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do within a tough boys volleyball schedule."