looks at some of the teams coming to a gym near you in spring '22

Lincoln-Way East’s Tyler Walenga (on the cover) is just one of a number of starters back for the Griffins, who reached the IHSA semifinals in 2021 before losing to Glenbrook North. Can they return in 2022 and enjoy a celebration like Glenbrook North did last year? (Photos by Dave Ruggles)

By Phil Brozynski Editor

Here is a look at some of the teams that will be vying for conference, regional and sectional championships, and, in some cases, IHSA quarterfinal berths and an eventual state championship in 2022 (in alphabetical order):

Andrew (3-13) – An atypical year for the Thunderbolts in 2021, who did not win a single game in the Southwest Suburban Conference and lost in the regional semifinals to Homewood-Flossmoor. But coach Troy Hari said an infusion of youth and club experience will help turn things around in Tinley Park. “We graduated eight seniors last year, so the roster will look vastly different this year,” he said. “This added youth will also bring on club experience. Last year’s JV team had a successful season, and much of that core has transitioned to varsity. The team had great tryout sessions and a strong start to practices. Practices have been very competitive with the depth reflected on the roster.” Top returnees for the Thunderbolts are 6-0 outside hitter Phillip White, 6-4 middle blocker Brandon Kulig and 5-6 defensive specialist Michael George. Newcomers include 5-10 junior outside hitter Cian Collins, 5-10 junior setter TJ Dziekan, 6-1 sophomore rightside Luke Spratt and 5-7 sophomore libero/defensive specialist Tyler Sempek. “We look forward to having a successful season,” Hari said.

Antioch (2-12) – It’s time to turn learning into earning (more wins) at Antioch. “Last year was a great year for learning at Antioch,” said coach Jamie Atkinson. “We spent most of last season with a varsity team of players who had actually never played volleyball before. We learned so much and are already seeing that translate in practice.” Looking to actualize some of that knowledge on the court this spring are 6-3 junior outside hitter Gavin Nelson, 6-4 junior middle hitter Tommy Weber, 6-2 junior middle hitter Matthew Schultz, 5-10 setter Ethan Losinger and 6-3 junior setter Nathan Young.  Anxious to absorb some of that know-how are newcomers Charlie Robison, a 5-11 freshman outside hitter, 6-1 junior outside hitter Dylan Niznik, 5-10 junior outside hitter Aiden Lennon, 6-4 junior setter Jared Luksik and 6-0 middle hitter Nic Bourgault, a transfer from Belvidere. “The boys have been working hard and spent the offseason playing club and other sports to prepare for this season<’ Atkinson said. “We are incredibly optimistic about this season.”

Barrington (15-5) – Charlie Spry, the third-leading attacker on Barrington’s 2012 third-place finisher and a member of Dominican University’s first recruiting class, becomes the Broncos’ third coach in three seasons. Talent will not be an issue for Spry’s guys, however, and neither should motivation after the second-seeded Broncos were staggered by No. 18-seeded Addison Trail, 25-17, 25-21, in a regional semifinal last spring. Talent-wise, there may be no better pin-hitting duo in the state – certainly none taller – than 6-8 outside hitter and Ohio State recruit Jack O’Riordan and 6-10 sophomore outside hitter Cole Hartke. Six-foot-6 middle Caleb Rohlwing, 6-5 middle Alex Zastawny, 5-11 junior setter Carsten Wegh, 6-3 junior rightside Quinn Kozak and 5-9 junior libero Marc Gryzlo should round out the club-hardened starting seven. “The group has a ton of talent,” Spry said. “We’ll need to work to put all the pieces together, but I feel really confident. With Jack and Cole leading us on the outside, we will provide ourselves with a ton of opportunities to score, even in difficult situations. I am really excited to see what this team is capable of achieving.” The Broncos will be seeking their third IHSA quarterfinal appearance in four years but first trophy since 2012.

Belvidere North (2-13) – A more experienced Thunder construct is looking to move up in the NIC-10 Conference after a difficult season last spring. “With this season being a full season, I look forward to the growth of this team and their ability to play together and move up in conference and show the NIC-10 what they have,” said head coach Storm Britt. The climb upward will rest on the shoulders of five seniors – 5-10 setter Gavin McClenthen, 6-6 middle blocker Jack Maville, 5-6 setter/defensive specialist Dominic Moran, 5-6 defensive specialist/libero Mikey Loeding and 5-5 defensive specialist Noah Veruchi. The offense should get a boost from 6-2 sophomore middle blocker Kyle Scott and 6-2 junior rightside/opposite Jake Neiber. Britt cited Rockford Jefferson and Rockton Hononegah as the teams to beat in the conference this spring.

Benet Academy (16-7) – This is the year Benet has been waiting for. “This group has been looking forward to this season and getting to play together,” said coach Jeff Steinberg. “There are 10 seniors on the team. There is a lot of size and talent, and the group is excited to compete in the state.” Back from the team that finished second in the East Suburban Catholic Conference behind Marist last spring are 6-3 outside hitter and Maryville University recruit Drew Rogers, 6-4 outside hitter Kovas Neverauskas, 6-7 middle blocker Peter Shanley, 6-1 middle blocker Justin Mitra, 6-7 sophomore rightside hitter Dominic Krzeczkowski, 6-2 setter Ryan Treacy and 6-1 libero Ben Guth.  Looking to hep Benet make a push in conference and the IHSA tournament are 5-11 freshman outside hitter Aris Maurukas, 6-2 setter James Buffardi and 6-0 outside hitter Owen Oei. Benet ended last season on a four-game skid, including a 25-20, 25-22 loss to Oswego in the regional semifinals. “We will need to prove that we belong, but we are up for the challenge,” Steinberg said.

Bolingbrook (7-13) – Remember a dozen or so years ago when 7-13 was considered a good year at Bolingbrook? Not any more. And a repeat of last year is unlikely this spring when the Raiders roll out an upward-trending group led by 6-2 senior opposite Andy Stone. “Andy Stone is extremely physical and much more polished this year,” said coach Molly DeSerf. “We are looking to him to continue to lead and drive the culture in the gym.” Other seniors expected to play big roles are 6-5 middle/opposite Drew Sulima, 5-9 setter Junior Nunez and 5-8 defensive specialist Evan Tran. Six-foot-1 junior Byron Montgomery is also back from last spring’s regional finalist, while DeSerf is extremely excited about the potential of two talented sophomores — 6-5 middle/outside hitter Tristan Benbow and 5-9 setter Connor Dmochowski. “We are extremely excited about the season,” DeSerf said. “The guys have been committed to getting better physically in the off-season and doing all the right things.”

Bremen (5-7) – The Braves finished in the middle of the pack in the South Suburban Conference in 2021 and will be looking to move up after graduating just five players off last year’s roster. Head coach Jonathan Baikie hopes to lead his team into contention for an upper division finish with a roster that features 6-1 outside hitter Charles Parrish, 5-6 sophomore defensive specialist/libero Jose Hernandez, 6-5 rightside/middle hitter Darion Cooper, 5-8 libero Michael Castaneda, 6-2 junior middle hitter Adan Gaytan, 6-2 middle hitter Michael Zepeda, 6-0 junior outside hitter Yahir Perez, 6-1 junior setter Fernando Villalba, 5-7 defensive specialist Damian Cordova and 6-9 rightside/middle hitter Amir Gause.

Brother Rice (13-11) –
The Crusaders are looking to get back to the big show for the first time since 2017. Last year, St. Rita got in the way. But this team might be capable of overcoming any obstacle in its path. “This will be a strong year for the Crusaders,” said coach Dan Dwyer. “We have three returning starters from last year and a good mix of returning talent and newcomers who should make practices very competitive. Seeing who can produce and pass best from the outside will be the key.” Returning players include 6-4 outside/middle hitter Joe Pfeiffer, 6-4 middle hitter Tom Lamb, 5-9 defensive specialist Nick Scorzo, 6-3 outside hitter Connor O’Malley and 6-0 rightside Sean Paulsen. Newcomers hoping to leave their mark are 6-0 setter Luke Dwyer, 6-2 outside hitter Nathan Kramer, 6-7 middle hitter Brendan McCarthy, 6-7 middle/rightside Michael Bos and 5-11 defensive specialist Kevin Lufrano. “We have plenty of size up front, we just just have to find where they best fit,” Dwyer said.

Chicago Christian (9-6) – The Knights graduated one player off last year’s very successful team that reached the regional championship match in only its fourth season of competition. Coach Deb Lindemulder and company can look forward to another successful season in the Metro Suburban Conference with four of their top players back from that team who also bring some club experience to the program – 6-5 senior opposite Nolan Krygsheld, who played forUltimate B18 Gold during the club season, senior setter Jack Dryfhout (Ultimate B18 Blue), 6-6 senior outside hitter Grant Veldman (Ultimate B18 Blue) and 5-9 senior outside hitter/libero Pieter Lautenbach (Ultimate B18 Black).

Deerfield (18-8) – Although it lost some key pieces from the team that lost to eventual IHSA champion Glenbrook North, 25-22, 25-16, in a sectional semifinal, it’s not like Deerfield is starting over. Good programs like Eugene Chung’s rarely do. But there are some new faces Chung will have to integrate in the team in order for it to compete with Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South in the Central Suburban League. “We have a lot of new faces on the team this year, so we will be looking to gain a lot of valuable experience early on,” Chung said. Among those who need no introduction are 6-5 senior outside hitter and University of California-Irvine recruit Julian Albulescu and 6-4 senior middle hitter Sam Schecter. New faces in the gymnasium this spring include 6-2 junior middle hitter Ryder Spector, 6-0 junior outside/rightside hitter Bello Reynoso and 6-2 junior outside/rightside hitter Owen Auer.

Downers Grove North (9-9) –
For the second time in less than three years, the Downers Grove North volleyball commuity is dealing with the tragic loss of a family member. The Trojans will honor the memory of Mason Walters throughout the season, and have set aside a match specifically to honor his memory. And the Trojans hope to make this a season to remember. Top Trojans include 6-4 opposite Ian Schuller, who led the team in kills last spring, 6-1 junior outside hitter Theo Pawlik and 5-10 junior setter/libero Grant Henderson. “Ian will be one of the more dominant hitters and blockers in the state this year,” said coach Mark Wasik. “Theo is a good six-rotation player who will be one of our anchors both offensively and defensively, while Grant, who has outstanding ball control and defensive skills, is also training as a setter, a new role in order to fill a need.” Newcomers include 6-3 lefthander Ben Koncel, 6-4 middle blocker Ryan Stopka and 6-3 junior outside hitter Cooper Hansen. “We have enough firepower offensively,” Wasik said. “The big question mark will be how well our new and inexperienced setters develop.”

Downers Grove South (17-4) – One of the top outside hitters in the state, Matt Molnar, was slowed by an ankle injury during the club season, but the 6-6 senior is healthy and ready to lead the Mustangs back to the promised land for the first time since they won it all in 2013. And he’ll have plenty of help from 6-4 junior Mason Kolar and a solid group of seniors that includes 6-3 outside hitter Ryan Blazevich, 5-10 libero Zach Mead, 5-9 libero Max Barbeau, 6-4 opposite Brannen Almarales and 6-3 middle hitter Hugo Hu. Downers South ran roughshod over the West Suburban Gold last spring (6-0) and reached the sectional semifinals before losing to Glenbard West, 25-20, 26-24. A date with Hinsdale Central and 6-4 junior Jakobi Lange, who Downers Grove South coach Kurt Steuer called “one of the top outside hitters in the state” could also be in the offing at the Mustang invite.

Fenwick (12-5) – The lost COVID season is coming back to haunt the Friars, who had a stellar 2021 campaign — winning the Chicago Catholic League White Division Conference (8-0) and reaching the regional finals — but now feature a roster loaded with juniors who have only one year of volleyball experience. “We are only returning three players from last year’s varsity roster, and with a freshman in the lineup, we have a steep learning curve to climb,” said coach Katie Whitman. Fenwick’s returnees are 5-8 junior setter Aidan Butler, an all-conference selection in 2021 who led the team in assists; 6-3 junior outside hitter Caleb Groll, another all-conference selection who may miss a few games early while rehabbing an ankle injury; and 5-7 libero and 2021 dig leader Zach Hernandez. Expected to make an immediate impact is 6-5 freshman middle hitter JT Pettigrew. “I think we have the talent to do well, and as soon as we get a few games under our belts and build up our confidence, I think we should be able to win our division and make a good run in the playoffs,” Whitman said.

Fremd (12-7) – Six starters are back from the team that finished second in the Mid-Suburban West and won a regional before losing to Glenbard North, 25-20, 25-13, in a sectional semifinal, including dangerous all-conference selections Aaron Sallade, a 6-5 opposite, and 6-1 junior outside hitter Camden Seaver. “We have a team of talented athletes,” said veteran coach Curt Pinley. “They are a great group of hard-working players who want to be successful this season. Whenever a program has those things in place, the future of the season is bright.” Other returning starters include 6-3 outside hitter Luke Polcyn, defensive specialist Jackson Wolan, 6-2 setter Marco Boscolo, 5-9 defensive specialist/libero Chris Kim and middle hitter David Nora. Rounding out the roster are junior defensive specialist Cooper O’Kelly, sophomore setter Nate Caro, defensive specialist Misho Metodiev, outside hitter Justin Chiang, junior middle hitter JR Stella and 6-3 junior outside hitter Marcin Hoffman. “We’re looking forward to getting back to our regular season, including tournaments,” Pinley said.

Geneva (22-8) – Gone is leading attacker Corey Mayotte. Gone too, are Jack Koster, Michael Cassidy and Christopher Nosewicz. ­­Graduation took a toll on the Vikings as Geneva coach Stephanie Henning returns only three players from the team that shared second place in the DuKane Conference at 8-4. Fortunately, one of those players is 6-5 sophomore outside hitter Jack Mally, who treated Geneva fans to a sensational freshman season. Also back are 6-5 senior middle hitter Colin Kelly and senior middle hitter Daniel Youman. But there is plenty of work to be done up and down the lineup. “Although we return only three starters, we will be very senior heavy,” Hennig said. “I expect us to be very competitive as all of our players have experience and played together in the offseason. As always. the DuKane Cnference will be very competitive, but I am looking forward to seeing how the boys battle throughout the season.”

Glenbard East (11-7) – Rookie coach Kelly Markworth inherits four starters from a team that went 7-1 in the Upstate Eight Conference under former boss Marci Maier, who will handle the JV boys before eventually easing into retirement. “Returning those four starters and adding in some skilled sophomores, the team will be well balanced and strong,” Markworth said. “We will be led by (6-2 outside hitter) Trevor Real, a standout outside hitter who has proven himself as a top player in the state, and will be balanced out by (6-5 junior middle blocker) Tyler Johnwick, who also brings a threat with his block. People can expect to see some good things from this team.” Real, an all-conference selection and team MVP last spring, is coming off a COVID-shortened season that saw him collect 131 kills. Five-foot-10 setter Connor Soto, another returning all-conference seleciton who dealt 236 assists in 2021, will run an offense that will also rely on contributions from 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Aidan Weltin.

Glenbard North (11-7) – Last spring, the Panters defeated the No. 3 (Bartlett) and No. 7 (Fremd) seeds to advance to the sectional championship match at Lake Park. But beating the Lancers and Player of the Year Josh Schellinger at home? An undoable task. Nevertheless, it was the first regional title for Glenbard North since 2009, and the Panthers are hungry for more. Among the veterans of last year’s run to the Sweet Sixteen are 6-2 senior rightside/opposite Josh Stembridge, 6-2 senior middle hitter Joey Szdorski, 6-2 senior setter Jack Maucieri and 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Owen Kolozy. Help is expected to come from 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Logan Alwan, 6-0 senior outside hitter Dio Tagge and 5-6 senior libero/defensive specialist Jalen Noveda. Still, the road ahead is fraught with peril. “The DuKane Conference is a strong conference and always competitive,” said coach Dedra DeBenedetti.

Glenbard South (3-13) –
The 2022 Raiders should look eerily similar to the 2021 edition, the first year a Glenbard South team took the court in boys volleyball. “Our starting lineup returns intact, which will be composed of all juniors and sophomores,” said coach Chad Grant. “Like basically every team I’ve ever coached, we don’t have a lot of club players and are very undersized. However, this group has a lot of potential. I love what we have offensively, as our kids jump well and are powerful.” South’s top four players are 5-9 junior setter Mike Hines (221 assists, 12 aces in 2021), 5-9 junior outside hitter Tristan Sounthala (86 kills), 5-9 junior rightside hitter Will Mack (25 kills in five matches played) and 6-4 junior middle blocker Owen Gibson (41 kills, 19 blocks). “We are still probably a year away from being really good, because we can’t pass yet and aren’t built to be playing from behind the 10-foot line,” Grant said. “If we can get that figured out, it’s possible that we could present some problems for good teams later this season. The strides we have made in just one year have been impressive. I’m excited to see what this group will do moving forward.”

Glenbard West (37-3)
– After winning three consecutive IHSA championships from 2015-2017, the Hilltoppers have made three consecutive finals appearances without taking home the big prize. With a boatload of talent back from last spring’s third-place finisher, this could be the year the championship “drought” ends. “We’relooking forward to a strong season with a lot of depth,” said coach Christine Giunta-Mayer. “Our sophomore class is very strong, and we might see a few on this roster and in the lineup. This team has a lot of potential after two years of shut down and total grind.” Among the players ready to bump and grind this spring are 6-4 outside hitter Gavin Swartz – the last of three brothers (Ryan, Parker) to play for Glenbard West – 6-7 setter Trevor Powell, 6-0 libero Kenny Gibson, 6-4 middle/outside hitter Danny Dorsey, 6-2 defensive specialist Sam Alles and 6-4 junior outside hitter Parker Moorhead. Also on board are 6-4 junior outside Liam O’Neil and 5-11 setter Dean Carroll. Glenbard West and Marist are pondering a meeting under the starry skies later this spring. Stay tuned. 

Glenbrook North (25-0) – Graduation sent most of last year’s IHSA champions packing off to college. Gone are setter Louie Batang and the team’s six leading attackers, including Mason Durst, Abhiram Lakkamsani and Klaud Rydzy. The only familiar face from last year’s unbeaten state championship team is 5-8 libero and four-year starter Paul Wyszynski (183 digs, 33 assists, 134 aces), a George Mason recruit. That doesn’t mean North fans are in for a huge letdown, however. “We will be starting a lot of new faces, but there is still some talent on the team,” said coach Chris Cooper. “I think we will be competitive in our conference (Central Suburban South), and if we stay healthy, we can have a deep playoff run.” Players who watched most of last season unfold from the bench are 6-4 middle hitter Grant Kosla, 5-10 outside hitter/setter Eli Joselit and 5-9 defensive specialist/libero Matt Liaukevicius. Newcomers will some big sneakers to fill are 5-11 junior setter Paul Cho, 6-2 junior outside hitter Connor Durst, 6-1 junior middle hitter Lance Lai, 6-1 setter/rightside Evan Uhlig and 5-10 setter Colin Schaefer.

Grant (12-20) – With a number of players back from last year’s team, head coach Martin Grum likes the Bulldogs’ chances of fending off perennial contender Antioch and defending conference runner-up Grayslake North for Northern Lake County Conference honors. “We have a lot of returning varsity and senior players who played together last year,” Grum said. “With the connection and chemistry these players having going into the season, we feel we have a strong chance at winning conference.” The list of veterans includes setter Ryan Rossini, rightside hitter Cody Cornell, outside hitter Ethan Yang, middle blocker Jason Lackhouse, middle blocker Richie Siebeck and junior outside hitter Dylan Mathis. Expected to fit into the mix are libero/defensive specialist Martin Trujillo, Libero/defensive specialist Dylan Sjong and sophomore outside hitter Sebastian Gonzalez.

Grayslake North (12-14) – Four starters return from the team that finished second in the Northern Lake County Conference for coach Nikki Kirchway, who begins her seventh season at the reins – outside hitter Nathan Atwell, setter Michael Myszka, middle hitter Kyle Hironimus and junior libero Ryan Rhodes. “We’re looking to be competitive in every match,” Kirchway said. “We have four returning players who are a great core of our team. We added several players who we know will help add to our competitiveness and consistency.” Atwell, who holds every hitting record at Grayslake North, led the team with 191 kills in 2021. Myszka added 225 assists and Rhodes dug 202 balls and had a serve-receive ratio of 2.37. “Michael is a great setter and knows how to run our team successfully,” Kirchway said. “He also has a great attack which we will use as an additional weapon.” Newcomers expected to make a splash include junior outside hitter Luke Conover, junior rightside hitter Evan McMahon, sophomore defensive specialist Kevin Meyer and freshman middle hitter Elijah Ayivi. “We plan to break records again this year and vie for a top finish in conference while having some of the best players in the area,” Kirchway said. “We cannot wait to show others how competitive we are on the court.” 

Hinsdale Central (20-6) – New coach Tom Gilbert must feel like he won the lottery. Gilbert inherits a ton of talent from the team that stunned No. 1-ranked St. Francis, 22-25, 27-25, 25-22, in a memorable sectional semifinal before falling to eventual semifinalist Glenbard West, 25-21, 25-18, in a sectional championship match. Among the returnees are the high-scoring due of 6-4 junior outside hitter Jakobi Lange and 6-7 junior middle hitter Ethan Du. Lange collected 229 kills during his sophomore season, including 15 in the victory over St. Francis, to earn all-state honors. Nick Kujalowicz returns to roam the back row, while 6-7 Matt Hughes will be charged with distributing the ball to Lange, Du, 6-6 middle hitter Emmanuel Jurineack, 6-6 opposite Carter Lyons and 6-0 junior opposite Jack Ruth

Hinsdale South (7-9) – Pegged by several opposing coaches as one of the better teams in the western suburbs, Joe Lencioni’s Hornets went 6-1 in the West Suburban Gold in 2021 and return three starters from the team that defeated Downers Grove North, 25-23, 25-18, in a regular-season finale before suffering a heartbreaking 25-23, 24-26, 25-22 loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in a regional championship match — 6-2 outside hitter Cole Korfist (630 Volleyball 18-2), 6-1 opposite Ryan Hashim and 6-1 sophomore setter Quinn Marron (630 Volleyball 16-1).  Marron has been a regular invitee to USA Volleyball Team Development Programs and is ranked No. 8 among The Volleyball Institute/ top players in the Class of 2024.  

Hoffman Estates (7-8) — Caution: team under construction. Hoffman Estates was a senior-dominated team in 2021, graduating 11 players off a 14-man roster that went 5-5 and finished third in a Mid-Suburban West conference that featured heavyweights Barrington and Fremd.  Coach Delaina Heracklis is charged with overseeing the rebuild.

Homewood-Flossmoor (14-12) – After going more than 20 years between regional championships, the Vikings won their second in five years last spring by defeating Andrew, 18-25, 25-15, 25-22, and Hinsdale South, 25-23, 24-26, 25-22. Marist put an end to Homewood-Floosmoor’s season in a sectional semifinal, however, and the loss ended the high school careers of nine seniors. So coach Mark Ciesielski and his players have some work in front of them. But … “They have some athleticism, and will look to build teamwork to compete in a tough conference,” said Ciesielski, who will start the rebuilding project with 6-3 senior middle hitter Charlie Van Etten (56 kills, 15 aces and a school-record 44 blocks in 2021), 5-11 senior libero Trip Shonkwiler and 6-0 senior opposite Bolden Jones. Homewood-Flossmoor, 4-4 in the Southwest Suburban Conference last spring, will be chasing favorites Sandburg and Lincoln-Way East, Ciesielski predicted.   

Joliet Central (0-16) – Wanted: a few good hitters. Joliet Central’s top returnees from last year’s team are 5-10 senior setter Auyden Tibble and 5-6 senior libero Bryan Silva. Coach Kevin O’Connell said it’s time to emphasize the basics. “We have to continue to build our skills and knowledge of the game,” O’Connell said. “Our goal is to become more competitive in our conference (Southwest Prairie) and do well in tournament play.”

Lake Park (25-2) –
Lake Park’s possible 2022 motto? “Build back … we’d better.” Lake Park said goodbye to eight players and all six starters, including Sports Performance VBC/ Player of the Year Josh Schellinger, from the team that reached the 2021 IHSA championship match before falling to Glenbrook North, 25-22, 18-25, 25-19. “Massive shoes to fill is the name of the game for us,” said coach Brian Fischer. “There is young talent in the gym, and we are excited to see what we can accomplish coming off a very successful season as we try to rebuild back to that.” Talented, but needing to learn fast on the fly, are four players who saw a little playing time in 2021 — 6-4 middle hitter Andrew Carzoli (10 kills), 5-9 libero Jay McClellan (35 digs), 5-11 outside hitter Conor Gobetz (3 kills) and 6-1 junior libero Evan DeValk (15 digs). Six-foot-3 junior setter AJ Lally toiled on the lower levels for the Lancers last spring.

Lake Zurich (9-18) – The young and the still not aging. Lake Zurich coach Brett Stuart’s young team took No. 3 seed Bartlett to three sets in a regional semifinal in 2021, falling 18-25, 25-9, 25-23. “That third set shows how close we were to making a postseason run,” he said. This spring, Stuart expects to be young again, starting two sophomores and three juniors. “We graduated our kills leader and our starting setter, so although we are returning three starters, we will have several new pieces,” he said. Not-so-new pieces include 6-4 outside hitter Ethan Pratt (second on team with 150 kills last spring), 6-4 middle hitter Matt Conway (third on team with 66 kills, second on team with 30 blocks), 5-8 sophomore libero Anthony Kim (175 digs. 45 aces) and 6-2 junior defensive specialist Josh Diblik (85 digs). Expected to join the starting rotation are 6-2 junior outside hitter Ethan Shon, 6-4 sophomore opposite hitter Ethan Blakeslee and 6-2 junior setter Miko Malawko.

Lemont (17-10) — Chris Zogata believes her defending South Suburban Conference Blue Division champions can be even better than last year. “I am very excited about this team,” the Lemont coach said. “I have five returning starters who have played club and gained vast amounts of experience this past season. In addition, I have two very good sophomores rounding out my lineup. My bench is strong, so practices are very competitive which is only making our team better.” Lemont’s five returning starters are 6-2 setter and 2021 SSC Blue Player of the Year Jacob TerMaat, 5-11 outside hitter Colin Treanor, 6-0 outside Van Gaetto, 6-1 middle blocker Martin Kowalczyk and 6-2 middle blocker Logan Kearns. The two sophomores expected to make an immediate impact are 6-0 setter Cael Whitchurch and 5-6 libero/defensive specialist Nathan Tilly. “We will be better than last year and I am looking forward to see how we fare against the top teams in the state,” Zogata said. “The guys are very driven and excited to do well.”

Leyden (3-10) –
Eagles come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. At least these Eagles do.  “Our team is made up of many backgrounds, so it’s fun to see their communication styles in their home languages when they play together and how they use it to help each other out on the court,” said coach Amanda Jarosz. The plan this spring is to put those disparate toward a common goal – putting a few more “W’s” on the board. “Our goal is to earn wins and compete to win (West Suburban Gold),” Jarosz added. Leyden veterans include 5-11 outside hitter Alec Bunag, 5-9 rightside hitter Angel Herrera, 5-10 setter Angel Linares, 6-6 junior outside hitter Jakub Ochal and5-9 libero/ defensive specialist Patrick Truchan.  Waiting in the wings are junior middle hitter Alexander Odjakov, Junior defensive specialist Sam Fallorin and middle hitter Kajetan Kopera. “We are working on being connected more as a team to see success on the court,” Jarosz said.

Lincoln-Way Central (8-8) –
You have to wonder how well Mary Brown’s Knights would do outside the rugged Southwest Suburban Conference. But going up against teams like Sandburg, Lincoln-Way East and Lincoln-Way West, state qualifier Lockport, Homewood-Flossmoor and the rest of the conference would make anybody think about greener pastures elsewhere. Nevertheless, The Knights always seem to hold their own against those perennial state contenders. Last year was no different, and this year should be more of the same with three starters and an impressive newcomer in the fold. Back from last year’s middle-of-the-pack SWC finisher and regional finalist are 6-4 middle hitter Michael Greco (69 kills, 44 blocks in 2021), 6-1 rightside hitter Will Hinchliffe (20 aces, 62 kills, 17 blocks) and 6-1 libero Luke Mostello (111 digs). A player to watch for Lincoln-Way Central is 6-2 outside hitter Cody Teske.

Lincoln-Way East (20-7) – Lincoln-Way East coach Kris Fiore may have his team practice in bubble wrap after the Knights were plagued by injuries last season.Our team had more injuries last season than anything I have experienced during my 20-year career,” Fiore said. Despite the injuries and the revolving door on the court, the Griffins reached the IHSA semifinals before losing to eventual champion Glenbrook North. Two-year starter and team MVP Jared Byas, a 5-9 outside hitter and the team’s leading attacker who never played in the 2021 postseason, is back healthy this spring. Six-foot-2 junior outside hitter Tyler Walenga was also hit with the injury bug last season, but played in the IHSA finals. Jon Guch, a 6-3 opposite, was one of East’s top football players but got through the fall season unscathed. New to the lineup but not to the varsity who should make an impact are a pair of seniors — 6-2 middle hitter Jordan Hicks and 6-1 setter Jerry Moylan. All the injuries last spring gave others more opportunity to get on the court. “That should pay off for us this season,” Fiore said. “We return eight players who played ‘starters’ minutes’ at some point last season.” 

Lincoln-Way West (19-5) –
The Warriors feasted on home-cooking last season, winning all 12 matches on its home court, while finishing second at the Brother Rice and Marist quads. After winning its third regional in four years, however, it all fell apart in the sectional semifinals where the Southwest Suburban co-champs were beaten by Lockport, 25-21, 23-25, 25-13.That was then. This is now. We should have another successful season just as long as we can keep our composure,” said coach Jodi Frigo. “These guys love competition and the game of volleyball. They have a lot of passion for the game and want to succeed.” Succeeding is squarely in the minds of 6-4 outside hitter and Mount Mercy recruit Brian Lynch (111 kills in 2021), 6-4 middle hitter and Trinity Christian College-bound Conner Dargan, 5-10 junior outside Connor Studer (138 kills), 5-10 setter Andrew Tomaszewski (246 assists), 5-11 junior setter Garrett Konopack (201 assists, 51 digs) and 6-2 junior libero Jack Ladd. Help will come from 6-3 sophomore outside Connor Jaral, 6-1 junior outside/rightside Benen Flores and 5-4 freshman defender Andrew Flores. “We just have to keep making small improvements every day and make sure we peak at the end of the season,” Frigo said.    

Lockport (22-4) – The Southwest Suburban Conference co-champions made their first-ever appearance at the IHSA finals last spring. Alas, their visit was a brief one – losing to Lincoln-Way East, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19 in the quarterfinals — and the Porters’ top three attackers were all lost to graduation. But … “The guys that are returning along with the new additions from the JV team will most certainly give us a reason to have high expectations yet again,” said ninth-year coach Nick Mraz (176-65). The Porters do welcome back 6-0 sophomore setter Evan Dziadkowiec, who furnished 410 assists, 22 aces and 107 digs as a freshman. Expected to join Dziadkowiec in the lineup are on the court are 6-7 middle blocker Braeden Goebbert, 6-5 middle blocker/outside hitter Matt Krzos, 5-8 sophomore libero Kevin Rodriguez and 6-6 sophomore opposite Joshua Bluhm. “Ultimately, our success and postseason potential will depend on whether the guys in this group can prove to be consistent, terminal hitters,” Mraz said. “If so, Lockport can make another strong push at state.”

Loyola Academy (29-8) – The defending Chicago Catholic League champions won their ninth regional title in the last 12 years in 2021 before they were upset by seventh-seeded Glenbrook South, 25-19, 26-24, in a sectional semifinal. Four starters return from that team — 5-11 setter and Vassar commit Casey McMenamin, 6-4 middle hitter Mark Gonzalez, 6-2 libero Andrew Sheedy and 5-8 setter/libero Stef Kins. Six newcomers are expected to play significant roles for the Ramblers, including 6-2 middle hitter Niko Zlatkovic, 6-1 outside hitter Colin Murray, 6-1 junior outside hitter Charlie Gervasio, 6-4 sophomore outside hitter Ben Trapp, 6-4 sophomore opposite Jack Lopez and 6-3 sophomore middle hitter Ethan Hogg. “The Ramblers are excited to return to action this week,” said coach Lionel Ebeling. “Defense and ball control will remain the keys to success as this is one of the smaller teams we have fielded over the last several seasons. We expect to contend for a Chicago Catholic League championship and make a deep run in the IHSA state playoffs.”

Lyons Township (11-14) – Big, deep and ready to get back to Hoffman Estates for the first time since 2016 when the Lions were taken down in the quarterfinals by Sandburg. “We are excited to have a strong group of seniors and underclassmen to be competitive against any team,” said coach Brad Skendzel, who begins his third full season at the halm following the retirement of Hall of Fame coach Joann Pyritz. Lyons advanced to the sectional semifinals last season before losing to Brother Rice, and should be well-armed to  advance deeper into the state tournamwent in 2022 with the likes of 6-7 middle hitter George Taylor, 6-5 outside hitter Joe Watkins, 6-3 middle hitter/opposite Sam Levinson and 6-1 outside hitter Markas Venclovas back in the fold. Throw in talented 6-5 sophomore Luka Kostic, 6-2 junior setter Connor Kachmarik and 6-7 junior middle hitter Leo Wiemelt into the mix and you have a team that has set its sights on challenging Glenbard West in  the West Suburban Silver.     

Maine West (10-17) – Maine West has been playing boys volleyball since 1990. It has won only two regionals in its history, none since 1993, and has never won a Central Suburban Conference title. Is this the year all that changes? Mike O’Brill may have the best team to ever don the Columbia blue and gold with 12 players back from last year’s surprise regional finalist. “With our height, experience and work ethic, we are hoping to achieve those goals,” he said. Back are 6-3 setter/outside hitter Kacper Pogorzelski (410 assists, 65 kills, 22 aces, 25 blocks), 6-2 outside Osiel Cruz (100 kills, 20 aces), 6-6 rightside Marcin Siergiej (80 kills), 6-5 middle Larelle Potts, 6-3 middle Mohammed Belhmidya, 6-3 outside Marek Czerlonko, 6-3 rightside Mohammed Kamil, 6-3 rightside Daniel Sankiewicz and 5-11 defensive specialist Marc Rizkalla. Newcomes include 6-7 junior middle Clarence Patrick, 5-10 junior setter Andrew Carter, 5-10 junior libero/defensive specialist Andrew Cedeno and 5-9 junior libero/defenisve specialist London Lim. “After making a nice run in the playoffs and playing some great volleyball towards the end of last season, we are hoping to keep that momentum rolling into this season,” O’Brill said.

Marmion Academy (7-9) – The Cadets welcome back three of their top players from the squad that went 5-4 in the Chicago Catholic League’s Red Division in 2021 – 6-6 rightside hitter and Concordia University-Chicago recruit Vlad Erickson, 6-7 junior middle hitter Kyle Wydra and 6-3 junior outside hitter Tommy Canavan. Now all coach Barb Ebert has to do is surround them with a few good men and they’ll be ready to bring it no matter who’s on the other side of the net. “We are looking forward to a strong showing this year,” she said.

Metea Valley (6-8) – No sooner had the Mustangs overcome an 0-6 start and beaten DuPage Valley Conference foe Naperville Central to end the regular season than the RedHawks bushwhacked Metea Valley in a regional quarterfinal. A stable of grizzled veterans and enthusiastic newcomers plan to make certain that does not happen again. “We have a solid group of returning starters and are adding some new players with club experience,” said first-year coach Darren Honda, who succeeds program founder John Aister. “We have built a challenging schedule to help us better prepare us for close matches and push us to the next level. We are looking to compete again in the conference and make a better push in the IHSA tournament.” Among the veteran cowhands are 6-1 outside hitter Chad Luckinbill, 6-0 outside hitter Bartosz Chmielewski, 6-2 setter Aidan Murphy, 6-0 outside hitter Dhananjay Parthiban and 6-4 middle hitter Laurynas Kanopka. New to the rigors of the DVC trail are 6-3 middle hitter Chandrahaas Duggirala, 6-0 outside hitter Ashwin Achanta and 5-8 libero Zolboo Amgaabaatar.

Montini (11-6) – Will new additions from the now-defunct St. Joseph High School put a charge into the Broncos? That’s the question facing Montini coach Brian Opoka. “This season will be the biggest question mark in my seven-year career at Montini,” he said. “We return our entire starting lineup minus all-area Dan Cyze and rightside Casey Kearney, and we add all the starters from St. Joseph. I am excited that we will have a really nice team, but our biggest challenge is bringing the two programs together.” Back from the team that won the Catholic League Red Division (9-0) are 5-9 libero-turned-setter Andrew Briones, 6-2 outside hitter Miguel Jaojoco, 6-3 outside hitter Cillian O’Flaherty and 5-8 libero Chase Lichtor. Six-foot-1 rightside hitter Joe Calabrese is among the more highly-prized additions from St. Joseph. “So far, practices have been spirited and enthusiastic,” Opoka said. “I think we will be really fun to watch. I am really excited to get started with this senior-dominated team.” 

Mt. Carmel (3-12) – Coach Dominic Villa promises one thing: “We will be more competitive this year.”  The Caravan, who have not advanced to the state tournament since 2001 and have won only seven regionals in the interim, are looking to put last season and a 1-8 finish in the Chicago Catholic League’s Red Division in the rearview mirror. Players hoping to get the Caravan back on the right track are 5-11 outside hitter Matt Kenzinger, 5-10 setter Michael O’Keefe and 5-11 setter/rightside Jack Walsh. “Most of our athletes pick up volleyball as their second sport, so it is always interesting to get to teach volleyball to student-athletes who do not necessarily play year round,” Villa said.

Mundelein (9-8)
 – Six-foot-5 setter/rightside hitter Ryan McElligott, a Loyola-Chicago recruit, and 5-9 Dominican University-bound libero Tyler Vrska anchor what could be veteran coach George Dressen, Jr.’s best team during his 21-year tenure as head coach since the 2007 group that went 36-2 and reach the IHSA quarterfinals. “We have a split of young talent and veterans on this year’s team,” Dressen said. “We are returning seven players who are fast, talented and full of energy.” McElligott is a mainstay on Adversity’s top-ranked 18s club team, and Dressen describes Vrska as a “hard worker who gives direction on the court and whose teammates all teammates look up to him.” In addition to McElligott and Vrska, Mundelein welcomes back 6-3 outside hitter Jordan Schneckloth, 5-10 defensive specialist Palo Escobar, 6-2 middle blocker August Holsman, 6-2 junior outside hitter Matthew Kawa and 5-9 junior outside hitter Carlos Eloiza. Newcomers include 6-2 outside hitter Martin Sahagun, 6-1 outside hitter Quentin Wright, 6-2 freshman outside hitter Kevin Mann, 6-0 junior middle blocker Samay Prajapati and 5-10 sophomore setter/rightside hitter Shane Clausen. “Our goal is to return to a 20-win season and play well in that state series,” Dressen said. “There’s no telling what we may be able to accomplish this season.”

Naperville Central (3-19) – There wasn’t a whole lot to cheer about on Aurora Avenue last season. When asked to provide the Redhawks’ season highlights, first-year coach Eric Kaisling was frank. “There were not many,” he said. “We only had three wins during the weird COVID season. We started three players who had never played volleyball. So it was a growth year for a lot of the players.” Kaisling, who succeeds Roger Strausberger in his second go-round on the Naperville high coaching circuit, will benefit from some of the offseason work put in by his players. “We were raw last year with a lot of inexperience,” Kaisling said. “We had a lot of guys go and play club volleyball to get more practice.” Back from the club wars are 6-1 outside hitter Max Grumbles, 5-8 junior setter Wyatt Yager and 6-4 middle hitter Jackson Deer. New faces expected to contribute are 6-2 junior middle/opposite hitter Lucas Johnson and 6-0 junior outside hitter Colin Brown. “I am excited for what these kids can do and how they gel as a team,” Kaisling said.

Naperville North (6-14) – After starting two sophomores and three juniors last spring, Naperville North is ready to reap some of the benefits of that experience. “We will look to our seniors a lot for their leadership, which is a role they have taken on wonderfully already,” said coach Nate Bornancin, who enters his 13th season at Naperville North. “We have a number of guys that can play multiple positions, which we have not had in a while. It will be a lot of fun to move these guys around and see what they can do this season.” One guy who has proven to be “im-movable” is 6-5 middle blocker Britten Beallis, a William Penn University recruit who had 88 kills and 49 blocks as a junior in 2021. Also back from last year’s team are 6-2 junior outside hitter Manny Matel-Sanchez (93 kills as a sophomore), 6-2 middle blocker and Aquinas College recruit Tristan Lindquist and 6-3 junior outside hitter Noah Hrubesky. A fresh face who should make an immediate spash in 6-1 freshman setter Ermuun Batchulun. “This team feels like they have a lot to prove against some of the better teams in the area,” Bornancin said.  

New Trier (9-10) – Six-foot-2 setter Stefan Gjaja has one more chance to gain a little leverage against his brother, Niko, who was the starting setter on two state qualifying teams (2016, 2017). And the Trevians just might have the team to get him there. “We have 11 experienced seniors and we are ready to go,” said New Trier coach Sue Ellen Haak. “Five of our seven starters from a year ago return for this season, and we have a great group of new sophomores and juniors on varsity. Three of our seniors play on top local club teams, are well known for their high level of play and are also returning starters for us.” In addition to Gjaja, New Trier also welcomes back highly-touted 6-4 rightside Max Mazur and 6-4 middle blocker Nathan Zoloto from the team that was upset by Hersey in a regional semifinal. Also back are 6-2 outside hitter Kevin Li, 6-2 outside Andrew Chamberlain, and defensive specialists and twin brothers Will and Scott Hopkins. Joining that veteran group is a 6-8 sophomore outside hitter David Wolff, who will give Gjaja another solid option at the net.

Niles West (14-10) – The Sean Carey era is over at Niles West. So where will coach Drew Roche turn to replace his 2021 all-state selection and his 294 kills? Even Roche would like to know. “We will have to find ways to make up for his absence,” said Roche, whose team finished 5-5 in the Central Suburban League and lost to league foe Glenbrook North, 25-22, 25-20, in a regional championship match. “Overall, we should be a solid team. We will be strong defensively with some offensive fire power here and there. We are hoping for a few guys to take some big steps this year so that we can compete with anyone.” Niles West will be solid in at least one position – setter – where 6-1 senior Charlie Podgorny and 5-8 sophomore Nathan Chi will hold court. One answer for both will be 5-8 outside hitter Aidan Flowers. One question mark is 6-7 Elim Athur, a transfer student from Barbados. “He’s a really nice kid and we hope that he can be a part of our program,” Roche said.

Oak Forest (5-8) – Coach Kayla Spornberger begins her second season at the reins facing a major rebuild at Oak Forest, where the Bengals graduated seven seniors from the team that defeated (Chicago) Washington, 25-17, 23-25, 25-18, in a regional quarterfinal before falling to Hinsdale South in the next round. Sophomore libero Mitchell Carrera, who also plays for Ultimate B16 Gold, is the lone veteran off last year’s varsity team that finished 3-8 and in eighth place in the South Suburban Conference. Virtually everyone else on the roster is a newcomer to the program, save senior Eddie Wright, Jr., and sophomore Declan McMahon, so patience will be the order of the day. One player Spornberger is anxious to see on the court 6-0 senior Jack Ivancicts, who is playing any sport at Oak Forest for the first time during his high school career. “He loves the game of volleyball, is eager to learn every day and is ready for a great season, Spornberger said.

Oak Lawn (9-8) – Oak Lawn finished 7-3 in the South Suburban Conference last spring, good for fourth place in the 13-team league, and Matthew Hunt’s team hopes to be in contention again this spring even as the league’s competitive balance continues to improve. Leading the way for the Spartans will be 5-10 setter Caden Figus, who had 280 assists and earned all-conference honors as a freshman in 2019, but has not set since. “He had injuries last year and will be our starting setter this year,” Hunt said. Among Figus’s favorite targets will be 5-10 outside hitter Ehaab Samra, who was an all-conference libero (130 digs,, 16 aces) as a junior but will move outside after a impressive club season. “Ehaab played club this past year as an outside hitter for Chicago Volleyball Club and has progressed into a front row threat,” Hunt said. The Spartans will also feature another offensive threat in 6-0 sophomore middle blocker Connor Lewis.

Oak Park-River Forest (11-6) – Six-foot-6 junior setter Peter Zurawski and 6-8 senior middle/outside hitter AJ Robateau return from the team that reached the IHSA quarterfinals last spring before losing to eventual runner-up Lake Park. “Our goal is to be as competitive as possible and finish at the top of our conference (West Suburban Silver),” said coach Justin Cousin. Cousin must replace his three of his top attackers from 2021 –Owen Sarenecki, Tim Pecenka and Camari Bolger — and hopes that some of those kills will come from 6-3 junior outside hitter Ryan Montroy. Also on board is Danny Slovin, who came on strong toward the end of last season and led the Huskies in kills during the state series, and 6-7 junior Ebube Nwafor, an exchange student from Nigeria who just picked up a volleyball this year. “He shows promise in his quick learning skills,” Cousin said. “He will be ready to play by the end of the season.”  

Oswego (13-6) – If you are facing a bit of a reboot after losing two of your top three attackers to graduation from a team that finished two games out of first place in the 12-team Southwest Prairie Conference, you could probably not do better than start with the Rosenow brothers – 6-0 libero/outside hitter Alex and 6-6 outside hitter Ben. Ben Rosenow was the second-leading attacker for the Panthers last spring with 108 kills, while Alex Rosenow was busy keeping the back row clean with 142 digs. But those aren’t the only returning pieces for coach Franky Martinez. Other 2021 veterans include 6-3 junior setter Jack Hawkins (331 assists as a sophomore), 6-3 middle blocker Reshawn Allen (42 blocks), 6-3 pin hitters Anthony Ramirez and Lucas Thacker, and 6-2 middle hitter Michael Pettke. “We have a nice core of guys going at it for round two,” said Martinez, who begins his second year as head coach. “Our competition is tough, but we look to make a similar push to that of last season.”

Oswego East (15-6) – The Wolves return the top two attackers from the team that finished second (tied with Oswego) to Plainfield North in the Southwest Prairie Conference and bowed out of the IHSA tournament following a 25-20, 25-16 loss to Glenbard West in a regional championship match – 6-3 outside hitter Estaban Daval (109 kills) and 6-2 outside hitter Braeden Clark (103 kills) – but coach Matt Guerrieri will have to do some fancy footwork to replace the four starters Oswego East lost to graduation. “We are optimistic that we will be competing for conference and regional championships,” Guerrieri said. “Though we lost four starters from a year ago, we return our top two scorers and are reloading at other positions.” That reload includes 6-5 sophomore middle blocker Harrison Moran, 5-11 opposite hitter Stanley Guziec, 5-6 libero Tyler Thavong, 6-2 sophomore outside/opposite Tyrus Cloat and 6-1 sophomore setter Bryson Stanley.

Palatine (9-13) – Throwback every day? Bobby Widlowski harkens to the days of yesteryear. But can he lead Palatine volleybal to a brighter future? “Bobby is a three-sport athlete who has become an incredible leader for our program” said Palatine coach Pete Gavin. “His dedication to his teammates is second to none, and I can’t wait to coach him in his final high school season.” Widlowski, a 6-1 senior outside hitter, was 11th among Illinois leaders in kills (182) last spring and fourth among all returning players. He will be surrounded by a big and improved team that includes 6-4 setter/rightside Jackson Wheat, 6-4 middle blocker Tommy Borowiec, 5-7 libero/defenisve specialist Ethan Leigh, 6-4 outside Justin Szwaya and 6-4 middle blocker Noah Casillas, and newcomers like 6-10 junior rightside Derek Nagel, 6-8 middle blocker Owen Vukelich, 6-2 outside Chris Parlier, 5-10 libero CJ Kendrick, 6-0 outside Matt Attak and 5-10 outside/defensive specialist Ian Lambert. “Our players have had tremendous energy already this year and I’m excited to have a competitive year,” Gavin said. “We are bigger than we have been in years, and are looking forward to blocking and defense being a strength for us.”

Plainfield Central (6-5) – The Wildcats, who finished fifth in the Southwest Priarie Conference at 5-4 in 2021, welcome back four players whose season was limited to just 11 games by COVID and subsequent scheduling issues, including a 25-16, 25-21 loss to league rival Plainfield South in a regional quarterfinal – 6-4 outside hitter and Quincy University recruit Logan Gieske, 5-8 libero Isaac Gallinero, 6-2 opposite hitter Donovan Sebok and defensive specialist/outside hitter Ethan Lopykinski. Gieske is a two-sport student-athlete at Plainfield Central where he also played football for the 8-2 Southwest Prairie Conference champions. Two newcomers expected to step into the starting rotation are 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Gavin Gonzalez and 6-0 sophomore setter Ethan Ricketts. “We have some good depth in most positions, so if we can make the chemistry click between the team, we could have a great season overall,” said coach Robert Richardson IV.

Plainfield North (16-6) – After a year off, Matt Slechta is back at the helm of Plainfield North boys volleyball. At least program caretaker Matt Morales did not leave the cupboard completely barren. Three key players return from the team that ran the table on the Southwest Prairie Conference and reached the regional championship match before losing to Lincoln-Way West, 25-21, 25-20  – 6-5 outside hitter/middle blocker Andrew Fedmasu (166 kills, 27 blocks in 2021), 6-5 junior outside hitter Aidan Cupps (79 kills, 62 digs last spring) and 6-0 libero Dillon Markley, who learned from one of the best at his position in Jacob Marsell last spring. Fedmasu has played all over the court – out of necessity – for his club team and could easily do the same for Plainfield North, while Cupps provides a nice alternative for whoever emerges to succeeed setter Alex Murr. “The boys are looking to build off their conference championship last season and a regional final appearance,” Slechta said. “There is a lot of height and experience coming back into the gym this spring, and we are all excited to get started.”

Plainfield South (6-6) – The Cougars – and their coach — are starting over. “Given the nature of the last two seasons during COVID and me having to step away from the program for a year, our athletes and teams have not had as much on court touches, which has made it difficult for our athletes to develop their skills at a higher level,” said coach Taryn Surbaugh-Blazek. “We are focusing on rebuilding and getting back to our systems and competitiveness.” Three players who have been around long enough to be familiar with that system are 6-1 outside hitter Daniel Mahler, 6-3 junior outside hitter Brett Johnson, and 6-0 defensive specialist/libero Devyn Mahon. Joining the varsity for the first time this season are 6-0 junior setter/rightside hitter Christian Scott and 5-11 setter/rightside hitter Jonathon Carr.  “Our goal is to build an inviolable team chemistry that allows us to earn another win the first round of regionals and strive for success beyond the first round to outperform last season’s accomplishments,” Surbaugh-Blazek said.

Rockford Guilford (11-4) – Because COVID wreaked havoc with its schedule, Guilford played only one team outside the NIC-10 – eventual IHSA quarterfinal qualifier Vernon Hills, in a sectional semifinal, losing 25-18, 25-19. Guilford’s regional championship, which came at the expense of two NIC-10 foes (Harlem and Auburn), was the third in six years for Guilford, which went 9-3 in conference play and finished second behind Hononegah (10-2). Coach Kyle McCall expects this spring’s team to compete for a conference championship again. Part of that confidence is based on the return of three keys players – 6-2 middle blocker Gavin Kent, 6-4 opposite Garren Wilming and 6-1 junior outside hitter Xavior Marufo.

St. Charles East (2-12) – The Saints will try to bounce back from an un-saintly season in 2021 which saw the DuKane Conference entry finish just 2-9 in the conference and exit the IHSA tournament in a regional quarterfinal. Among the players hoping to turn things around are Veteran rightside hitter John Farrow, middle hitter Aadi Patel and 6-3 outside hitter John Matenko. Hoping to contribute to a resurrection of good fortune are outside hitter Edgar Burgos, sophomore defensive specialist Adi Nakarani, defensive specialist Ram Ganesh, outside hitter Bradley Mandik, junior setter Matthew Boecher and junior middle hitter Evan Ites.

St. Francis (29-2) – Talk about starting over. All the players involved in No. 1-seeded St. Francis’ loss to Hinsdale Central in a sectional semifinal last year have long since left the building. The Spartans will feature a lot of fresh faces in this spring.We have a young but talented team this year,” said coach Mike Lynch.Each player has a strong work ethic, and the guys have pushed themselves to play at a high level immediately. This has led to competition for starting spots, and there is a good chance we will be working with different starting lineups for many weeks as we put the pieces together.” The most experienced of the young Spartans are 6-3 sophomore setter Kyle Zediker, 6-3 middle hitter Ryan Lyngaas, 6-0 outside hitter Andrew Sommers and 6-0 outside hitter Enzo Farinha. Newcomers to the varsity ranks are 6-0 junior outside hitter Cam Engesser, 6-0 sophomore libero J.T. McCormick, 5-11 junior libero Colin Koprowski, 6-2 sophomore outside hitter Eddie Muller and 6-1 sophomore middle hitter Nick Madden. “This group is talented, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch them grow and improve throughout the season.” Lynch said.

St. Ignatius (7-9) – 2021 was not a pleasant year for the Wolfpack. “Our season, like most teams’ seasons, was seriously disrupted by COVID,” said coach Todd Strobel. “We did not play in any tournaments, and we rarely were able to practice with more than eight, nine eligible, healthy players.” When it did take the court, St. Ignatius was fairly predictable. “Last year, we were too one-dimensional (relying heavily on Chicago Catholic League White Player of the Year Lucas Mack),” Strobel said. “But this year, we have more options and more depth. We are tall and athletic, and we have outsides who can routinely put the ball away.” Mack, a 6-6 outside hitter who amassed 149 kills last spring, will still be the alpha in the pack, but there will be help from the likes of 6-5 outside hitter Evan Juarez and 6-0 junior setter Andrew Hora, the latter making his way into the starting lineup late in the season. “Andrew was a big part of our improvement over the last portion of the season,” Strobel said. “He now has a full club season under his belt now and looks ready to run a varsity offense. This should be the best team we’ve had in a while.”

St. Rita (19-8) – The Mustangs aren’t going away any time soon. Coming off a second consecutive Chicago Catholic League Blue division title, a sixth consecutive regional crown and third consecutive IHSA quarterfinal appearance, no introductions will be needed when St. Rita takes the court this spring. “We return the most experienced team I’ve had in my eight years here,” said coach Brian Hagen. “Although we said farewell to four-year varsity starter Zach Carroll, we reload with seven played who started or saw significant playing time last spring.” Among the veterans are 5-9 libero and four-year starter Jimmy Sanders (310 digs and a 2.52 serve receive percentage in 20210, 6-2 setter Danny Chambers (440 assists, 102 digs, 27 kills and 19 blocks), 6-2 rightside/outside hitter Ryne Jacobsen (96 kills, 26 blocks), 6-6 middle blocker Charlie Flynn (88 kills, 41 blocks), 6-3 middle blocker Mark Erdmann (38 kills, 42 blocks), 6-1 setter Connell Moonan and 5-10 sophomore Aidan Peloquin, a late-season call-up who produced 49 kills and 73 digs. Six-foot-1 junior rightside Shauniel Nelson and 5-10 junior setter Jake Brady hope to make their presence felt. A demanding schedule should prepare the Hagen boys for another run at state.

Sandburg (15-6) – Never go to sleep against Sandburg. Coach David Vales’ Eagles have won 16 regionals, four sectionals and three state trophies since he succeeded Joann Holverson in 2003. Another plaque or two could be in the offing this spring as Vales welcomes back 11 veterans of last year’s sectional semifinalist, which lost to IHSA semifinalist Lincoln-Way East, 25-15, 20-25, 25-23. Among those ready to take off are 6-4 outside hitter Gavin Kissane (136 kills last spring), 6-2 outside hitter Brayden Rice (65 kills), 6-5 junior middle/rightside hitter Seth Judd, 5-8 libero Kyle Wagner (200 digs), 5-8 outside hitter Josh Aquino (26 aces, 67 kills), 6-3 middle/rightside hitter Jonathan Vales and 5-8 setter Dan MacNamara (100 assists). The departure of Jeremiah Burden to graduation (Juanita College) and Zak Bowden to Brother Rice should have little impact on Sandburg’s fortunes this spring. “With a wealth of players back, we look to push for a sectional (title),” Vales said.

Shepard (1-10) – The Astros are starting from scratch after graduating all but two players off last year’s team that finished toward the bottom of the South Suburban Conference and lost in a regional quarterfinal to Tinley Park. Five-foot-6 libero Joseph Esparza and 5-11 outside hitter Pablo Guerrero are the lobe returning veterans for coachMatt Butnariu, who welcomes a host of new faces including 6-1 junior middle hitter Othman Ali, 5-11 sophomore rightside hitter Daniel Chrobak, 5-10 junior outside hitter Cesar Favela, 5-10 junior outside hitter John Vasiliades, 5-8 junior outside hitter Gannon Marin, 5-10 sophomore setter Isaac Guerrero, 6-0 sophomore middle/outside hitter CJ Lafin, 5-10 setter Alan Barrera, 5-10 sophomore rightside hitter Daniel Staszel, 6-6 middle hitter Celso Favela, 5-11 junior rightside hitter/setter William Monahan, 5-7 sophomore libero/defensive specialist Wadieh Yousef and 5-7 sophomore libero/defensive specialist Carlos Martinez.

Tinley Park (3-9) – To paraphrase a line from a classic movie of the past … “Titans and Hawks, living together … mass hysteria.” Tinley Park and Hillcrest are co-oping in boys volleyball this spring, and veteran Tinley Park coach Geri Kizior is anxious what to see her team will look like when the regular season starts, particularly because she also welcomed back just three returning players. “We have a young team, and this is our first year as a co-op with Hillcrest,” Kizior said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what this young group of gentlemen accomplish this year.”

Vernon Hills (33-2) –
As long as there are no spiders on the court or toddlers in the stands, the defending Central Suburban League North champions (10-0) should be fine. “Even though we lost most of the roster that made it to state last year, we’re pretty excited about this group,” said coach Chris Curry. “Our JV guys had a really successful spring in 2021, and much like last year, we should have 3-4 guys at every position and those battles for playing time make you a much better team.” The best of the returnees from last spring is Long Island University recruit and 6-3 setter/rightside Erik Giezycki. “Erik, who’s been on varsity since he was a freshman, brings a lot of experience,” Curry said. “He’s a very dynamic attacker and an athletic setter who can get to almost any ball we pass up there.” Also back are 5-9 libero Kavin Manivasagam and 5-5 setter Kevin Schumacher. New faces include 6-3 junior middle David Rzepa and 6-3 junior outside David Wu. “We aren’t going to be huge, but if we can control our passing, we should have dynamic hitters at four or five spots on the floor all the time,” Curry said.

Warren (18-5) – The Blue Devils have some scores to settle this spring. After finishing 7-0 in the North Suburban Conference, Warren lost to NSC rival Zion-Benton, a team it had beaten earlier in league play in three sets, 25-12, 26-24, in a regional semifinal. The working boots are strapped on tightly and the lunch pails are in hand. “We have 14 young men who are humble and hungry to build upon the success of the last season,” said coach Yun Chen. “They have worked hard to prepare for this season.” Warren returns three of its top four attackers from last spring – 6-7 middle hitter Joshua Weyerhauser (117 kills, 58 blocks, 17 aces), one of the top middles in the state, and outside hitters Ben Conley (99 kills, 143 digs, 13 blocks, 6 aces) and Nate Everly (75 kills, 30 blocks, 87 digs, 7 aces). Setter Alex Ochoa and junior middle hitter Jacob Brouillard are expected to join those three in the starting rotation. “We are blessed to watch and work with this group of young men compete day in and day out,” Chen said.

Waubonsie Valley (19-16) –
The defending DuPage Valley Conference champions (7-1) saw much of their roster depart via graduation, but there’s still some talent in the building and the Warriors aren’t ready to surrender their crown just yet. “After graduating 11 seniors from last year’s team, we only bring back four players with varsity experience,” said coach Noel Soto. “We do have players who have been in the program for four years, and we will look for them to contribute immediately. We are defending conference champs and will look to repeat.” The four Warriors with varsity experience are 6-3 rightside hitter Michael Lu, 6-4 middle hitter Andrej Moller, 6-1 outside hitter Maksym Hubenko and 6-1 junior outside hitter Colin Bishop. Immediate help should come from 6-4 outside hitter Kyle Tukker, 6-0 setter Gavin Kerr and 5-6 sophomore libero Tyler Vasquez. “The chemistry is there, we just need to work at being consistent this year,” Soto said.

West Aurora (4-14) –
Win some, lose some. Win some you shouldn’t. Lose some you shouldn’t either. That’s the mantra at West Aurora.  “We will some matches we shouldn’t, and we will lose some that we shouldn’t, too,” said coach Tolis Koskinaris. “We do have capacity to punch above our weight class.” Looking to come out swinging are 604 junior outside hitter Owen Hendricks, 6-3 junior middle/outside hitter Justus Barbel, 5-9 junior libero Quinn Leonard and 6-3 middle hitter Dylan Fiegl. A player to watch – during the week or after sundown on Saturday – is 5-11 setter and Missouri Baptist recruit Omar Baires. “He cannot compete on Saturdays until sundown due to a religious commitment,” Koskinaris said. “He’s a super awesome kid. But he has never played a Saturday of volleyball during daylight hours.”

West Chicago (6-8) – The Wildcats are ready to climb the Upstate Eight ladder after finishing 3-4 and in fifth place during the 2021 season. “Our goal this season is to place in the top three in our conference, as well come out of the season with a winning record,” said coach Regina Pauli. “I have eight seniors and five returning starters, so we have the experience.” West Chicago’s top returnees are 6-1 middle hitter Brendis Prebis, 5-8 setter/rightside hitter Ethan Martins and 5-7 middle hitter Bo Parker. Danny Eaton, a 6-3 rightside hitter., and 5-6 sophomore outside hitter Krystian Roldan are two more players Pauli anticipates will help West Chicago reach its goals. “The boys are ready to work hard, and since day one of tryouts, they have been pushing themselves and improving each day.”

Wheaton North (22-8) –
The Falcons mean business this spring.With a strong core of returning starters from 2021, we look to use our experience and leadership to compete for a DuKane Conference title as well as make a deep run in the IHSA playoffs,” said coach John Noe IV. Back from the team that finished second in the DuKane Conference (8-4) a year ago and lost in a regional championship match to Hinsdale Central on the Red Devils’ home floor – a loss that snapped an eight-game win streak for Wheaton North – are  6-4 middle blocker Sebastian Lopez, 6-4 outside hitter Charley Marchis, 6-6 middle blocker Connor Moses, 5-10 libero Jack Rambasek, 6-1 setter Josh Schmitt, 6-5 outside hitter Will Trussell and 6-3 opposite Matas Vasiliauskas. Six-foot 3 junior middle blocker Josh Herrera and 6-2 sophomore setter Htat Naing are expected to contribute, but keep your eyes on the big prize in 6-4 sophomore outside hitter Jake Schreiner, one of Illinois’ top players in the Class of 2024.

Wheaton Warrenville South (2-21) –
Bill Schreier, who enters his 24th season as boys head coach, wants to put the 2021 season in a vault and throw away the key. “Last year was a difficult trek for us, navigating through the pandemic,” he said. “We had numerous starters decide to opt out of the season due to the uncertainty of things going on. The silver lining is that it gave a ton of experience to younger players who learned on the fly.” Three players – all seniors – who didn’t opt out and return for one more go-round are 6-0 setter and Quincy University recruit Dylan Feely (384 assists, 75 digs, 12 aces, 13 blocks), 6-7 middle hitter Ammar Brzovic and 6-2 outside hitter Daniel Vassov (54 kills). Expected to play bigger roles in 2022 are 6-2 junior middle Evan Hutchins, 6-0 outside hitter Shea Smith, 5-10 outside hitter Owen Ellison, 6-4 opposite Quinn Harty, 5-10 defensive specialist/libero Ben Berkley, 5-7 junior defensive specialist/libero Ian Boedigheimer, 5-3 sophomore defensive specialist/libero Joey Kohley and 6-0 sophomore setter Joey Kelly. “Combine the tremendous contributions from our senior class and the lessons they learned last season with some very talented newcomers and we should be on the verge of a very competitive season,” Schreier said.

Wheeling (6-15) – A name to remember when Wheeling takes the court this spring is Mark Zmodjin.  “I think that Mark will be a strong candidate for player of the year in the Mid-Suburban League,” said coach Jason Kopkowski. The 6-4 outside/middle hitter is one of three players back for the Wildcats, who lost to Glenbrook North, 25-20, 25-17, in a regional semifinal last spring. Also back are 6-2 outside hitter Joe Mitroi and 6-0 outside hitter Dan Sandler. Their supporting cast will come from a list that includes 6-0 setter Alan Saji, 5-9 defensive specialist/libero Jared Freeman, 5-9 defensive specialist/libero Keigo Quigley, 5-11 middle hitter Enrique Torres, 6-1 junior outside hitter Derek Dappert, 5-10 junior outside hitter Eric Iskhakov, 6-0 middle hitter Josh Huelsman, 5-9 defensive specialist Dan Zdaja, 6-0 junior outside hitter Elian Ortega, 5-9 junior defensive specialist Martin Carvajal and 6-1 junior middle hitter Pratyu Tata. “We look forward to having a full season for the first time in three years,” Kopkowski said. “We once again have a full program after not having a freshmen team last season.  Our seniors are ready to go and have been training via club over the past year.”

Thank you to all the coaches who responded to our many emails seeking information for this preview.