Watch out for Waubonsie Valley; WW South, Orangeville improved

Waubonsie Valley, led by AAU All-American setter Melissa Walden, figures to be one of the top teams in the state this fall.

School: Downers Grove North
Conference: West Suburban Silver
Head coach: Mark Wasik      
Last season’s highlights: 27-13 overall, 6-0 in conference (conference champions), won Warrior Blast invite, won regional and sectional titles, lost 17-25, 25-16, 25-15 in Class 4A supersectional.
Top returnees: 6-0 senior four-year outside hitter and St. Louis recruit Margaret Mahlke, 5-11 senior outside hitter Jade Casper, 6-0 senior opposite hitter and three-year starter Maddie Degiorgio, 5-10 junior setter and three-year starter Beth Dunlap.
Top newcomers: sophomore defensive specialists Madison Cuchran and Mikayla Sweeney, 5-11 freshman outside hitter Gwen Wolkow.
Coach’s quote: “We are missing 6-1 fourth-year middle blocker Payton Wendt as she recovers from a torn ACL. But we have a lot of options to run a variety of offenses with a variety of personnel. We look forward to a competitive season given our schedule is consistently one of the toughest in the state.” 
Outlook: Downers North graduated all-state selection outside hitter Clare Delaplane (Villanova), who was the Trojans’ go-to hitter and most consistent outside threat. However, the Trojans do return nine seniors and a lot of experience at the net from last year’s Elite Eight team. How quickly the youngsters adapt to varsity ball will determine how well Downers North does early in the season.

School: Glenbard East
Conference: Upstate Eight
Head coachMarci Maier
Last season’s highlights:  18-20 overall, lost 25-22, 25-14 to Wheaton North in a Class 4A regional final.
Top returnees and their statistics: 6-0 senior opposite hitter Allison Hamaker (39 aces, 187 kills, 156 digs, 69 assists, 25 blocks), 6-0 senior outside hitter Sarah Elliott (36 aces, 216 kills, 182 digs, 16 blocks), 5-9 senior setter Emily Sarles (380 assists, 13 aces, 86 digs, 35 kills, 21 blocks).
Top newcomers: 5-8 sophomore outside hitter Cassie Schweikle, 5-4 junior defensive specialist Libby Hurlburt, 5-9 sophomore middle hitter Emily Ryan, 6-0 junior middle hitter Hannah Simek, 5-11 junior middle hitter Alex Walton.
Coach’s quote: “We are excited for this season. We battled a lot of adversity last year. We are looking forward to a much-improved team from last year. We hope to continue to play great defense and our offense should be improved from last year. We have a great group of girls and are very optimistic about the upcoming season. “
Outlook:
Glenbard East is a favorite in a revamped Upstate Eight Conference that lost Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North to the new DuKane Conference. However, Glenbard South, which moves over from the Metro Suburban, could give Glenbard East a run for its money.

School: Lincoln Way Central
Conference: Southwest Suburban Red  
Head coach: Mary Brown  
Last season’s highlights: 28-8 overall, won conference, lost 25-14, 25-19 to Sandburg in a Class 4A regional final.
Top returnees: 5-11 junior middle hitter Layne Stevens.  
Top newcomers: 5-10 sophomore middle hitter Rachel Kolodziej, senior libero Dani Lauer, 5-9 junior outside hitter Katie Barry, 5-5 junior setter Nicole Ramirez.
Coach’s quote: “We should be very competitive. We have lots of weapons and some good defense. We’ll be very scrappy. We do not have any standouts but a lot of good all-around players. We are a new team though, and need to create the chemistry before we reach our potential.”

School: Mt. Olive
Conferences: MSM, Prairie State
Head coach: Amanda Osmoe
Last season’s highlights: 5-26 overall, 1-12 in conference, lost 25-17, 25-22 to Brussels in a Class 1A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-8 senior middle hitter Lillian Gretak, 5-6 senior setter Kaleigh Ziglar, 5-5 sophomore outside hitter Miranda Matta.
Top newcomers: 5-5 sophomore middle hitter Hailey Odorizzi.
Outlook: Mt. Olive lost just three players to graduation but will need Gretak (85 kills, 30 blocks in 2017) to carry the offense early.

School: Naperville North
Conference:
DuPage Valley
Head Coach:  Jennifer Urban (15th season, 403-122 overall)              
Last season’s highlights: 30-8 overall, 6-2 in conference, lost 25-13, 25-18 to eventual state runner-up Minooka in a Class 4A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-1 junior middle blocker Linnea Dale, 5-11 rightside hitter Kayla Griesbach,5-9 senior outside hitter Sarah Kushner, 5-7 senior libero Molly Russell, 5-10 senior setter Grace Selman.
Top newcomer: 5-11 sophomore middle blocker Ellie Hall. 
Coach’s quote: “We return a strong nucleus of players in Sarah Kushner, Grace Selman, Kayla Griesbach, Molly Russell and Linnea Dale. This is a hardworking and coachable team that will continue to improve as the season progresses.”
Outlook: The senior-dominated Huskies and conference favorites are poised for another strong season and a potential long run in the state tournament. But Naperville North is likely to be sentenced to a loaded sectional that features Benet, Plainfield Central and possible St. Francis.

School: Orangeville
Conference: Northwest Upstate Illini
Head coach: Abbi Rilliee
Last year’s highlights: 5-17-1 overall, lost in regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-10 senior middle hitter Raegan Bass, 5-8 junior outside hitter Cali Diddens, 5-9 senior rightside hitter Crystal Anderson, 5-6 junior defensive specialist Hanna Diffenderfer, 5-6 senior rightside hitter setter Maddie Cahoon, 5-7 senior outside hitter Hannah Hazzard.
Top newcomers: 5-6 junior defensive specialist/outside hitter Alyssa Ostendorf, 5-7 sophomore setter McKayla Riemer, 5-7 junior outside hitter Emily George.
Coach’s quote: “Last year was a building year for Orangeville. Although the overall record was 5-17-1, the girls improved on their skills, work ethic and teamwork. Even when the scoreboard didn’t reflect a win, the team was happy when making improvements. The team is versatile with numerous players capable of playing multiple positions. This versatility will allow us to realign our positions to take advantage of opponent weaknesses or to better compete with an opponent’s strengths. Our biggest weakness tends to be when we let ourselves be our biggest competitor. But we have a talented young group of athletes that have the capability of having a winning season. Team work and hard work will take this group far.
Outlook: Orangeville lost four of six starters to graduation and will have numerous players with little to no varsity experience stepping into major roles this year. However, the Broncos displayed plenty of improvement throughout the summer. Confidence and leadership with this young group will be the key at it battle Durand and Dakota in conference.

School: Rosary
Conference: Metro Suburban Blue
Head coachBill Allen
Last season’s highlights: 18-19 overall, competed as an independent last season, lost 21-25, 25-12, 25-14 to St. Viator in a Class 3A sectional final.
Top returnees: 5-10 senior outside hitter Annika Pickard (125 kills, 128 digs), 5-6 junior libero Sarah Konovodoff (419 digs), 5-8 junior setter Paige Gardella (406 assists, 129 digs).
Top newcomer: 5-10 senior outside hitter Alyssa Nesterowicz.
Outlook: Konovodoff is one of the best in the business and should keep Rosary in long rallies with her ability to get to balls all over the court. The Royals will need her to be a stalwart in the backrow until it develops a consistent offense.
Did you know? Setters Paige and Jessica Gardella are twins.

School: Stevenson   
Conference: North Suburban
Head coach: Tim Crow
Last season’s highlights: 23-14 overall, lost 25-22, 25-21 to Lakes in a Class 4A regional final.
Top returnees and their statistics: 5-9 senior outside hitter Sophie Sorenson (202 kills), 5-11 junior outside hitter Lily Cozzi (204 kills), 6-0 senior middle hitter Anne Armgardt (97 kills), 5-9 junior setter Grace Tully (173 assists).
Top newcomers: sophomore libero/defensive specialist Emerson Kouri, junior libero defensive specialist Abby Keevins, 5-9 sophomore rightside hitter Mckayla Uremovich, 5-11 senior middle hitter Calli Grass, 5-10 freshman outside hitter Amanda Holson.
Coach’s quote: “We return three starters from last season. We have several younger kids who will be expected to make an immediate impact. I like the athleticism of our team and am excited to watch them grow together as the season progresses. This team has a high ceiling and we hope to stay healthy this season.”
Did you know, Part I? Sophie Sorenson has committed to play lacrosse at the University of Connecticut.
Did you know, Part II? Amanda Holson is only the third freshman to make the Stevenson varsity roster in the past 17 years, joining Rachel Baader (University of Pennsylvania) and Jori Radtke (Northern Illinois).

School: Waubonsie Valley
Conference: DuPage Valley
Head coach: Kari Galen
Last season’s highlights: 24-14 overall, 4-4 in conference, third at Glenbard East Autumnfest tournament, won first regional since 2013, lost 25-23, 25-21 to Benet in a Class 4A sectional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-0 junior setter and AAU All-American Melissa Walden, 5-11 junior rightside hitter Elenzie France, 6-1 junior outside hitter Gabi Croll, 5-10 senior outside hitter Cassie Chinn, junior middle hitter Rianna DeMyers.
Top newcomers: senior defensive specialist Katie Krueger, senior defensive specialist/libero  Daniela Molina, junior outside hitter Trinity Evans, sophomore setter Jessica Molina, senior setter Lily Setter, senior defensive specialist/libero Sydney Vuksinic, senior defensive specialist/libero Anna Smith, junior middle hitter Aryanna Ruffin.
Coach’s quote: “We return five players from the 2017 season in which we won a regional championship for the first time since 2013. We have a lot of talent on this year’s team though we have few returners. We went 11-1 in summer league, and I have been very impressed with what I have seen from this team. Now that we are back in the gym and practicing, there’s a lot of things I’d like to work on and try with this group.” 
Outlook: The DuPage Valley is a strong conference with Neuqua Valley (which handed Waubonsie Valley its only summer league loss), Naperville North, Naperville Central and Metea Valley. Teams will play each other twice and those games will be tough. But Waubonsie Valley rose to the occasion last year (beating Joliet Catholic twice) and should emerge as one of the top 4A teams in the state.

School: Wheaton Warrenville South
Conference: DuKane Conference
Head coach: Bill Schreier
Last season’s highlights: 14-18 overall, 1-7 in the DuPage Valley Conference, won bronze flight at Glenbard East Autumnfest tournament, lost 25-21, 25-20 to Glenbard West in a Class 4A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-0 junior setter Sarah Burau (387 assists, 114 kills, 52, aces, 42 blocks, 104 digs), 6-0 senior outside hitter Sara Field (129 kills, 32 aces, 25 blocks, 102 digs), 6-1 junior middle hitter Kaileigh Ammons (82 kills, 64 blocks), 6-0 junior middle hitter Annika Barron (74 kills, 49 blocks), 5-9 senior outside hitter Mackenzie Stebbins (131 kills, 120 digs, 22 aces), 6-1 sophomore setter Zayna Meyer (286 assists, 183 kills, 36 aces, 28 solo blocks, 103 digs).
Top newcomers: 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Kyla Farrell, 5-6 freshman defensive specialist/libero Darby Harris.
Coach’s quote: “Even though we were .500 last season, that was done playing an incredibly tough schedule with very young players. We are now a more seasoned and veteran group with nine players back from last year, led by six returning starters who have all improved exponentially throughout the offseason playing at their various clubs. The climate and intensity have changed considerably as the whole team continues to mature. Starting the inaugural season of the DuKane Conference should prepare us immensely for an extended postseason run.“
Outlook: Wheaton Warrenville South figures to be one of the most improved teams in the talent-rich western suburbs.

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