Loyola, St. Patrick hope to be major players in 2018

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Although attackers get most of the glory, coaches know the value of a strong defense.

The 2018 Illinois high school boys’ volleyball season kicked off with the first day of practice Monday. Here’s a look at Loyola, St. Patrick, Stagg, Leyden, Montini and Mundelein.

Loyola Academy 

Loyola will seek its seventh regional title in the last 10 years – and possibly more – behind a veteran crew led by three-year starter Jack Howard.

Howard, a 6-foot-5 junior outside hitter and an all-Catholic League selection the past two years who plays club for Adversity 18 Purple, played with the USA boys select A1 national training team over the summer. Last spring, he led the Ramblers with 303 kills, 40 blocks and 32 aces.

Also back from last year’s team that went 21-16 (4-4 in Catholic League Blue division) is second-year starter Drake Johnson (D1 Elite 18 Green), a 6-7 rightside hitter who had 97 kills as a junior, 6-3 middle hitter Matt Wiertel (Pipeline 18 Swoosh) and 6-1 junior outside Henry Clemons (Chicago Bounce 17 Red), who had 89 kills and 37 aces last spring.

Newcomers include 6-4 middle hitter Nick Howard, who should solidify the front line with decent size and athleticism, and 6-3 sophomore setter/outside hitter John Hitt (D1 Elite 16 Green), who was named an All-American for his club team over the summer.

Loyola will have to contend with Brother Rice in the Catholic League and neighborhood rivals New Trier and Glenbrook North on the North Shore.

“We look to get back to the top of the Catholic League and contend for a sectional championship,” said coach Lionel Ebeling. “Early season tournaments at Vernon Hills and Wheaton Warrenville South and a conference matchup with Brother Rice will test us in the first two weeks of the season.”

St. Patrick

Joel Anderson’s Shamrocks finished 19-12 overall and third in the East Suburban Catholic Conference in 2017. Six starters return from a year ago hoping to bolster St. Patrick’s bid to return to the state quarterfinals for the second time in three years.

Among the veterans is 6-1 outside hitter Brett Rosenbusch (Chicago Elite B18 Elite), a four-year starter and two-time all-East Suburban Catholic Conference selection who led St. Patrick with 381 kills last season.

Also back are 6-5 outside hitter Frank Mott, a 2017 all-ESCC choice; 6-8 middle hitter and three-year starter Eric Lis; 6-5 junior middle hitter Liam White; 6-1 outside hitter Chris Lara; 5-7 libero and three-year starter Rich Hernandez; and 5-8 defensive specialist Josh Reider.

Mott, Reider and White also play club for Chicago Elite B18 Elite.

Expected to join the rotation are 5-9 setter Sean McGing (Chicago Elite B18 Black), 6-foot junior setter John Euler (Chicago Elite B18 Black) and 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Jonathan Rodriguez.

“I love these kids,” Anderson said.

Anderson also loves the future of the program.

“Rosenbusch and Lis each played on and had senior brothers (setter Blake Rosenbusch and middle hitter Pat Lis) on the team that went to Hoffman Estates in 2016,” he said. “Each have baby brothers, too, so the future is bright for the Shamrocks.”

Stagg

Stagg went 15-18 overall and 1-7 in the Southwest Suburban Conference with a senior-laden team that graduated five starters.

“We will be young and inexperienced on the varsity level this year,” coach Tim Kaczmarek said. “We have only two seniors on the team, and neither of them saw much time last year due to a heavy load of seniors.”

Six-foot-2 junior outside hitter Mike Kazanecki, who plays club for Chicago Volleyball Club 17 Adidas, is the only returning starter for Kaczmarek, who will count on 5-10 outside hitter Matt Dudzinski, 6-2 middle hitter Mike Miller, 6-foot junior setter Jeff Oblazny and 5-10 sophomore middle hitter Owen Erickson.

Leyden

Leyden won its first regional championship since 2012 last spring, defeating Fenwick 27-25, 21-25, 25-19. With three returning players and some talented newcomers, the Eagles hope to build upon last year’s success (18-15 overall, 3-2 in the West Suburban Gold).

“We have a lot of player returning with experience and a talented group of newcomers,” coach Shelly Mueller said. “I expect to see great leadership out of our returning players, setting a competitive tone every day in practice that will make us a very competitive team this year.”

Back from last year’s group are 5-9 outside hitter Robert Elem, 6-2 middle hitter Tom Radziszewski and 5-11 junior outside hitter Jason Kemp.

Expected to join those three in the starting rotation are 5-6 junior libero Axel Castillo and 6-1 sophomore rightside hitter Tyler Morgan.

Montini   

Four starters are back from the 12-16 team that went 6-0 and won the Chicago Catholic League White Division.

Head coach Brian Opoka welcomes back 5-7 junior setter Drew Vogrin, 6-4 rightside hitter Charlie Woods (SPVB 18 Echo), 6-2 outside/middle hitter Christian Navas and 5-4 sophomore libero Miles Marciniak.

Expected to join the rotation are 6-3 junior outside/middle hitter Mark Zheng, 5-10 defensive specialist Nate Lukasic and 6-1 sophomore outside/middle hitter Connor Lindemann.

“We should compete for a conference championship,” Opoka said. “Our goal is to stay competitive with every team we play.”

Mundelein

George Dressen begins his 17th season as boys volleyball coach and his 29th year coaching volleyball at Mundelein seeking to lead his team back to the 20-win plateau and a strong showing in the state tournament.

Six veterans return from the team that went 14-18 last spring and lost to Rolling Meadows 25-23, 25-23 in the regional quarterfinals, including 5-8 libero Ben Arebalo, 5-11 setter Steven Miritello, 5-11 outside hitter Abram Nazario, 6-2 junior middle blocker Marc Rey,  6-foot junior outside/rightside hitter Martin Carrillo and 5-10 junior outside hitter Eric Morales.

Miritello plays for Lake County VBC 18 Thunder while Carrillo competes with Lake County VBC 16 Yang during the club season.

Top newcomers for the Mustangs are 6-1 junior middle blocker Tyler Vander Ploeg, 5-9 junior outside Moises Huerta, 5-6 junior defensive specialist Joshua No, 5-10 sophomore rightside/outside hitter Samuel Jeon,  6-foot sophomore outside hitter Andrei Varanic and 5-7 junior setter Uvaldo Guzman.

Vander Ploeg plays with Lake County VBC 17 during the club season while Varanic toils for Lake County VBC 16 Storm.

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