The preseason practices are by and large wrapping up and boys volleyball teams will get set to play for real starting next week. Here's what to expect from the teams at Benet, Bolingbrook, Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South.
Coach: Andrea Bercot
Top returners: Christian Ales jr. OH Joseff Glass jr. OH Ryo Shibata sr. OPP
Key newcomers: Enrique Barajas so. S Caleb Munson sr. MB
What to watch: The 2012 squad set the bar pretty high for subsequent squads, making it to the regional championship match for the first time in the program's history. Key seniors Tevin Teamer, Matt Peloquin, Jeffrey Lofton-Cooper and Shawn Sanghera have moved on, and only two starters return. The lack of experience is a negative for the young Raiders, but there is also a positive.
"They all have an eagerness to learn the game, and they work very hard to develop their skills to the varsity game," coach Andrea Bercot said.
The Raiders will get thrown into the fire right from the start when they open at the Plainfield North invite March 22-23. A match against 2012 sectional finalist Lincoln-Way East as well as the LWE invite should also test the Raiders.
Bercot hopes to see her team develop over the course of the season, especially in the all-important areas of passing, ball control and confidence on the floor.
"I want them to approach every competition with the confidence that they are talented enough and have worked hard enough to be successful," Bercot said.
Downers Grove South
Coach: Kurt Steuer
2012 record: 25-11 (5-1 West Suburban Gold)
Top returners: David DeMarco sr. DS/L Nick Timreck sr. MH Tyler Zowaski jr. DS/L
Key newcomers: Jeremy Hroma so. MH Will Tishler sr. OH
What to watch: The Mustangs tied for the West Suburban Gold conference title last spring and have the building blocks in place to do so again this year as seven players with varsity experience return.
Leading that group are defensive stalwarts David DeMarco and Tyler Zowaski. DeMarco is entering his fourth varsity season. With that pair in the back row, the defense should be set, and Nick Timreck, an all-conference middle hitter last year, should provide a solid presence at the net.
"Nick brings back a lot of experience in that middle position for us, and I believe one of his strongest talents is the ability to hit angles," South coach Kurt Steuer said. "We are looking for him to be a leader on the court with his presence in the middle."
Austin Adank, another senior middle, is also back, as are a slew of outside and opposite side hitters. The attack should be multi-faceted, and the defense will be constructed with the idea of teams hitting to DeMarco and Zowaski.
After opening the season at Downers Grove North on Tuesday, the Mustangs will head to the Wheaton Warrenville South invite, part of a tough tournament schedule that includes their own invite (April 19-20) and the Lincoln-Way East invite (May 3-4). All of that is preparation for what they hope will be a long postseason run.
"With the experience this team has and the leadership from our seniors, their ultimate goal is to make a deep playoff push in our very tough sectional and play for a chance at state," Steuer said.
Downers Grove North
Nickname: TrojansCoach: Mark Wasik2012 record: 30-8 (4-2 WSS)
Top returners: Gilius Blinstrubas sr. OH Brooks Nevrly sr. L Tyler Saieg sr. S
Key newcomers: Tom Sarver jr. OH
What to watch: Coach Mark Wasik and the Trojans are skewing young this season and have just two players returning to their customary positions.
"We had so many returners the last two or three years, we knew what to expect based on previous seasons and our opponents," Wasik said. "We're young, but I like the skill everyone brings to the table."
The two players returning to their positions are Brooke Neverly, a three-year varsity starter, at libero and Gilius Blinstrubas, a two-year starter, at outside hitter. Senior Tyler Saieg is transitioning from hitter to setter.
"Tyler's being recruited to play at Carthage College, so he's versatile enough to set and hit, but I think it's better to give up his swings to run a more consistent offense," Wasik said.
The coach said all his players participated in club volleyball in the offseason so the talent is there to compete. They will be tested right off the bat against Naperville Central (Monday at North) and against crosstown-rival Downers Grove South (Tuesday at North).
"It's just a matter of coming together as a Downers Grove North team," Wasik said. "We might not be as successful initially as other DGN teams before, but this is the kind of team that will evolve. I'm not worried about where we are at the start, I'm more concerned with how we finish and I think we have the potential to finish strong."
Nickname: RedwingsCoach: Amy Van Eekeren2012 record: 28-9 (6-2 East Suburban Catholic Conference)
Top returners: Mike Jurkash sr. MB Garrett Metzger jr. MB Mike Robinson sr. L Sawyer Yeazel sr. OH
Key newcomers: Ricky Gevis jr. OH Scott Kleiser so. OH Ben Mazza fr. S
What to watch: Plenty of talent returns for the Redwings, who finished third in the East Suburban Catholic Conference and went on to win a regional title with a 22-25, 25-21, 25-22 victory over West Suburban Silver champion Glenbard West.
Middles Mike Jurkash and Garrett Metzger and outside hitter Sawyer Yeazel will guide the offense while Mike Robinson figures to be the linchpin in the back row.