Watch out for the Hitmen! Teamwork, commitment hallmarks of west suburban club

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Hitmen 16 Elite setter Andrew Gawrisch of Glenbard West

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Hitman 18 Elite middle hitter Paxton Kocher of Wheaton North

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Hitmen 16 Elite middle Bryce Walker of St. Francis


There may be no end in sight to the Glenbard West dynasty in Illinois boys’ volleyball.

Seven Hilltoppers are currently training with Hitmen 16 Elite. Hitmen VBC, founded in 2011 by Mike Liedtke, the owner and creator of Xcel Athletes, Inc., is a nationally recognized club out of Carol Stream that regularly competes at the highest levels of USAV boys’ volleyball.

“Hitmen 16 Elite is composed of some highly skilled players who have been developed in the program from the junior high level,” Liedtke said. “They have been playing together for three years now and their hard work is paying off with some great success.”

Hitmen 16 Elite went 8-1 in the 16 Open division at the recent Winter Volleyball Championship at McCormick Place. The team’s only setback was a 25-20, 25-17 loss to 949 B16 Black out of San Juan Capistrano, California.

In 2017, 949 Volleyball finished third in the 15 Open division at the USAV Boys Junior National Championships in Columbus, Ohio. Seven members of that 15s Bronze-winning team now play for 949 B16 Black.

Meanwhile, seven members of Hitman 16 Elite played for the 15s team that finished fifth at the junior national championships in 2017, although 949 and the Hitmen never met in Columbus. Hitmen 16 Elite won’t settle for second, third, fourth or fifth place in 2018.

“They have their sights set on a national title in the 16 Open division and continue to catch the eyes of top college coaches from across the nation,” he added.

Hitmen 16 Elite has certainly proven to be the team to beat in the Midwest. In addition to its runner-up finish at McCormick Place, Hitmen 16 Elite leads the Palos Point Series standings and looks to lock in the title at the final event in the first week of February.

Even before taking the court at McCormick Place, Hitmen 16 Elite had secured its bid to the USAV national championships July 2-9 in Phoenix, Arizona, finishing fifth at the Southern California Volleyball Association 2018 Junior Boy’s Invitational early last month in San Diego.

“Every player has a role on this team and has contributed to its success,” Liedtke said.

Hitman 16 Elite team members include: Mike Dziewior, a 6-foot-4 middle hitter from Glenbard North; Matthew Kenny, a 6-foot opposite hitter from St. Francis; Evan Markworth, a 6-foot outside hitter from Lyons Township; Quinn O’Hare, a 6-5 middle hitter from Downers Grove North; Sam Snyder, a 6-3 outside hitter from Hinsdale Central; and 6-6  middle hitter Bryce Walker from St. Francis.

Team members from three-time defending state champion Glenbard West are: Nicco Cavalcante, a 6-1 outside hitter; Carl Fenske, a 6-3 opposite hitter; Andrew Gawrisch, a 6-1 setter; Ben Harrington, a 6-4 outside hitter; Joey Marchetti, a 5-10 defensive specialist; Colin Malec, a 5-9 libero; and Will Schwegel, a 5-9 libero.

Those seven players from Glenbard West will join six returning juniors from last year’s state championship team, including 6-10 middle hitter Jack Ardell, to try to bring an unprecedented fourth consecutive state title to “the Hill.”

But Hitmen 16 Elite is not the only team bearing the Hitmen moniker to qualify for the USAV national championships in Phoenix. Hitmen 18 Elite earned its bid by advancing to the semifinals of the Silver division at the Winter Volleyball Championships at McCormick Place.

“Hitmen 18 Elite is the definition of development,” Liedtke said. “After losing some top talent to competitors after their 15s year, this group has worked to improve every year. Each year for the past three years they have gotten closer and closer to earning a bid to USAV Open division. 

“While these guys might not have the height or sheer power to dominate teams as other top teams might show, they continually outperform other teams by using a sophisticated offense and being committed to a system,” he added. 

Hitmen 18 Elite advanced to the top 16 in the 18 Open division at the Winter Volleyball Championship, but lost in the challenge round to Pipeline 18 Nike 25-19, 25-17. Hitmen fought back to beat Bay-to-Bay 18-1 25-20, 25-23 in the Silver bracket and earn a trip to Arizona.

“While it is true that they missed out on the Gold bracket by losing to Pipeline, they didn’t sulk in the loss, but rather rebounded by beating a tough Bay-to-Bay team and securing a bid as they finished as a top team in Silver,” Liedtke said.

Hitmen 18 Elite team members include: 6-8 outside hitter Tommy Koppang and 5-9 libero Max Dedobbelaere from St. Charles North; 6-6 middle hitter Daniel Duggan, 5-10 defensive specialist Jack Ranft and 6-5 middle hitter Paxton Kocher from Wheaton North; and 6-3 setter Nick Cookingham from Willowbrook.

Hitmen 18 Elite also features: 5-8 setter Sanchit Khaitan from Glenbard North; 6-3 outside hitter Matthew Smith and 6-5 opposite hitter Carson Brandt from Glenbard East; 5-9 libero Sean Becker from Benet; and 6-4 outside hitter Cal Snyder from Hinsdale Central.

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