LaSalle-Peru, pictured here at the Great Lakes Summer League where it went 6-6, handed Sterling one of its three losses in 2017.
School: Iroquois West
Conference: Sangamon Valley
Head coach: Dakota Bohlmann
Last season’s highlights: 1-26 overall, 0-6 in conference, lost 25-15, 25-10 to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in a Class 2A regional quarterfinal.
Top returnees: senior outside hitter Ashley Thomas, senior outside hitter Maddy Trammell, senior setter Jenny Medina, senior outside hitter Vanessa Andrade, senior middle hitter Ashley Aguilera, sophomore middle hitter Shelby Johnson, junior left back Janessa Salazar, junior outside hitter Merrek Sweeney.
Top newcomers: junior middle hitter Lindsey Songer, junior leftback Lesly Andrade, junior libero Lili Rodriguez, junior leftback Anahi Munoz, junior setter Aliyah Regan, junior outside hitter Alexis Fred.
Outlook: Iroquois West graduated five seniors from last year’s team but returns eight players with varsity experience as the Raiders seek to move up in the Sangamon Valley.
Head coach: Christy Gillett
Last season’s highlights: 9-22 overall, 3-7 in conference, lost 25-22, 25-23 to East St. Louis in a Class 3A regional quarterfinal.
Top returnees: 5-9 senior middle/outside hitter Kenzie Martin.
Top newcomers: 5-10 junior rightside hitter and three-sport standout Taylor Gillett, 5-8 sophomore setter and three-sport performer Ellie Bunnell, 5-9 sophomore middle hitter and three-sport performer Chloe Harness, 5-7 sophomore outside hitter Malia Harris.
Coach’s quote: “We are a young but spunky team this year. I don’t know that we’ll turn a lot of heads, but it will be the best team we’ve had in the last four years. We have great attitudes that will get us a few more wins this season.”
Outlook: Martin, who aspires to play college volleyball, is best suited for the outside but will spend some time in the middle to help overcome Salem’s general lack of great height. Gillett is a hard worker with a great attitude, and the athleticism that Bunnell and Harness bring should help the Wildcats improve in an area that features strong programs at Teutopolis, Newton and Breese Central.
Conference: Northern Illinois Big Twelve
Head coach: Dale Dykeman
Last season’s highlights: 35-3 overall, 7-1 in conference, won invites at Sterling, Dixon and Rock Falls, finished third at Metea Valley invite, lost 25-21, 25-15 to Limestone in Class 3A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-1 senior rightside hitter Josi Borum (269 kills, 333 assists), 6-1 sophomore outside hitter Brooklyn Borum (289 kills, 173 digs), 6-0 sophomore setter/rightside hitter Breelyn Borum (555 assists, 189 kills), 5-6 sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez (547 digs, 103 assists), 5-11 senior middle hitter Gretchen Gould (60 kills, 50 blocks).
Top newcomers: 5-9 junior outside hitter Grace Gould.
Coach’s quote: “We return all but two starters off of our 2017 team that set a school record with 35 wins. We have two Division 1 commits — Josi Borum (Chicago State) and Lexi Rodriguez (Nebraska) – returning. Brooklyn Borum is back and is being recruited heavily in the Big 10. The core four of Brook, Bree, Josi and Lexi will play a huge role for us. Gretchen Gould will need to play a larger role in the middle for us. We should have the speed and hitters on both pins to pressure defenses in all rotations. In addition, our defense anchored by Lexi should give many offenses struggles finding the floor.”
Outlook: All eyes will be on a potential early-season showdown with Joliet Catholic at the Metea Valley/Oswego East invite Saturday, August 25. Barring injuries, don’t be surprised to see Sterling at Redbird Arena in November.
Did you know? Sterling will have three Borums and two Goulds in its starting rotation. Brooklyn and Breelyn Borum and Lexi Rodriguez were AAU All-Americans last summer, and Brooklyn and Breelyn were named MVPs of their respective divisions. LaSalle- Peru, led by returnees Kam Olsen and Marisa Giusti, handed Sterling its only league loss in 2017.