Montini has chip on shoulder; constant effort key for Cogs

Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore, talking to his team at last year’s Plainfield North tournament, must replace eight seniors including three Division I players. continues its coverage of the 2018 Illinois girls high school season with another set of team previews.  

School: Abingdon-Avon
Conference: Prairieland
Head coach: Cindy Powell      
Last season’s highlights: 10-17 overall, lost 25-21, 25-14 to Illini West in Class 2A regional semifinal. 
Top returnees: 5-10 junior outside hitter Payton Florine (221 kills, 62 aces, 205 digs), 5-10 junior outside hitter Emma Curry (96 kills), 5-10 middle blocker/setter Courtney Moore (192 assists), 5-11 middle blocker/setter Tori Adolphson, 5-4 senior libero Charli Johnson, 5-9 junior Gracie Tatham, 5-7 junior Kaylee Palmer (92 assists), 5-6 senior Sydney Scott.
Top newcomers: 5-3 junior defensive specialist Delaynie Goehl, 5-8 junior middle hitter Lakin Robinson, 5-10 junior setter/middle hitter McKayla Sloan.
Coach’s quote: “We ran a very young team last year with no seniors, four juniors and the rest sophomores. We will be very competitive this year. We will have a more balanced attack and our floor defense is much better. Our goal is to be a force to be reckoned with by the end of October.”
Outlook: Four-time state qualifier and 2016 Class 1A champion West Prairie continues to dominate the Prairieland. Lewistown and Illini West should be contenders, and Elmwood and Brimfield may play spoilers. Abingdon-Avon will be a darkhorse and hopes to finish in the top third in a very tough conference. 

School: Genoa-Kingston
Conference: Big Northern
Head coach: Keith Foster       
Last season’s highlights: 21-14 overall, won Plano tournament, lost to Stillman Valley 25-27, 25-22, 25-12 in Class 3A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-8 senior outside hitter Kaylee Rease, 5-8 senior opposite hitter Rebecca Brown, 5-3 senior libero Leea Perry, 5-6 senior setter Natalie Botello, 5-6 sophomore outside hitter Lily McPherson.
Top newcomers: 5-10 senior outside hitter Mary Smith, 5-8 junior opposite hitter Amber Hermann, 5-5 junior defensive specialist Sara Taylor.
Coach’s quote: “This season, our program is building an identity of hard work, positive support and constant effort. If we can buy into this culture, we feel we can compete at a high level even although we lack size at the net.”
Outlook: Genoa-Kingston must replace six-rotation players Jadalee Snyder (McHenry Community College) and Madison Wagner and continue to play the tough defense that was a staple of last year’s team.

School: Lincoln-Way East 
Conference: Southwest Suburban
Head coach: Kris Fiore       
Last season’s highlights: 26-11 overall, 5-0 in conference, conference champions, 10th at Asics Challenge at Mother McAuley, second at Lincoln-Way Central invite, lost 25-16, 25-18 to state champion Marist in a Class 4A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-6 sophomore libero Kaleigh Ritter (program record 56 aces, 171 digs), 6-foot senior outside hitter Molly Skoda (161 kills).
Top newcomers: 5-9 senior outside hitter Nicki Bechtold (Valparaiso University), 5-7 senior setter Hannah Kowalczyk, 5-10 junior outside/opposite hitter Jess Pappas.
Coach’s quote: “We lost eight seniors from last year’s team, including three Division 1 players and three-year starters. We were lucky to have a lot of talent at the lower levels which has led to a lot of competition in our gym now for playing time. The bar has been raised in our gym and our girls look forward to pursuing a third consecutive 25-plus win season.”
Outlook: The defending conference champions will miss the offensive presence of Molly Hackett, 6-1 outside hitter Hannah Lesiak (Northwestern) and 6-2 middle hitter Haley Hart in the traditionally tough Southwest Suburban where Sandburg, Lincoln-Way West and Lockport will prove formidable. But Fiore, who led the Lincoln-Way East boys to a state title in the spring, seems to find a way.      

School: Montini
Conference: Girls Catholic Athletic Conference (Red)
Head coach: Steve Dowjotas   
Last season’s highlights: 22-11 overall, 4-3 in conference, third at Wheaton Blue and Gold tournament, seventh at Mother McAuley Preview, first at Latin tournament, lost 14-25, 25-21, 25-22 in sectional finals to Class 3A state runner-up Resurrection.
Top returnees: 5-5 senior defensive specialist Joslyn Boyer, 5-7 senior outside hitter Caitlyn Meeks, 5-10 senior middle hitter Johanna Kingsfield (pictured right), 5-5 senior defensive specialist Maddie Pickering.
Top newcomers: 5-7 junior rightside hitter Julia Marciniak, 5-9 freshman outside hitter Paige Pickering, 5-11 freshman middle hitter Maddie Kasallis.
Coach’s quote: “As always, our regular season and tournament schedules are extremely tough. We have added several new teams to our schedule in addition to our Class 4A-level schedule. We will be a mix of young and experienced players, and I expect the returning varsity players to bounce back from a tough loss in the sectional finals last year with a chip on their shoulder.” 
Outlook: Montini was middle-centric last year with 5-10 Michelle Glover (UIC) and Kingsfield, but Meeks is more than capable of picking up some of the slack following Glover’s graduation. If Montini can survive a schedule that includes the GCAC Red and league foes Mother McAuley, Loyola and St. Francis, the Broncos should be a factor in the Class 3A state tournament.  
Did you know? Johanna Kingsfield has committed to play Division I lacrosse at Northwestern.

School: Morris
Conference: Northern Illinois Big 12
Head coach: Taylor Lafond         
Last season’s highlights: 15-19-2 overall, 1-7 in conference, lost to Manteno 23-25, 25-11, 25-21 in Class 3A regional finals.
Top returnees: 5-10 senior outside hitter/middle blocker Nicole Guth, 5-8 senior libero Olivia Schultz.
Top newcomers: 5-10 sophomore outside hitter/middle blocker Kennedy Dransfeldt, 5-8 sophomore outside hitter Kaylie Adams.
Coach’s quote: “We have some great players returning mixed with a couple talented sophomores. Many are multi-sport athletes who also play club volleyball along with their other sports. They are very dedicated girls who have a great love of the game. We’re hoping that senior leadership can help make the younger players step up to compete at the varsity level.”
Outlook: The Northern Illinois Big 12 figures to be tough again this season with DeKalb, Yorkville, Kaneland and Sycamore among the league and area’s best. How quickly Morris’ younger players get up to speed on the varsity level will determine the team’s success.

School: St Francis High School     
Conference: Metro Suburban (Red)
Head coach: Lisa Ston     
Last season’s highlights: 25-13 overall, 6-2 in conference, second at Peggy Scholten Classic, second at Effingham Crossroads Classic, won Harvest Festival at Plainfield Central, lost 25-19, 23-25, 25-18 to Downers Grove North in a Class 4A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-foot senior outside hitter Ashley Zulauf, 6-1 junior outside hitter Anna Calcagno (pictured left), 5-10 senior outside hitter Katelyn Hanrahan, 5-9 senior setter Annabelle Tomei, 5-10 senior rightside hitter/setter Sam Ward, 5-11 senior middle hitter Skylar Lukowych, 5-5 senior libero Maria Russo.
Coach’s quote: “I think we will be very competitive this year.”
Outlook: The Spartans return most of their starting lineup from last year’s team, including their top two hitters – Zulauf and Calcagno. After a two-year absence from the state finals, the Spartans are back in Class 3A for 2018 and rate as one of the top contenders for the state title (which would be the school’s 13th in girls volleyball) along with Joliet Catholic Academy, Sterling and Quincy Notre Dame. 

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