Volleyball practice starts Monday across the state. Here are five storylines to watch for the upcoming season:
Prairie Ridge became the fifth area team since 2015 to advance to the state tournament last year, finishing fourth in Class 4A. In fact, since 2009, there has been one year (2014) in which a local team was not represented on the final weekend at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in Normal.
Will that streak continue?
Marian Central and Cary-Grove have the most state appearances over that time with four apiece, and the Hurricanes are the last local team to win a state title in 2015 (Class 3A). That year also was the last time two area teams made it to state, with C-G placing third in Class 4A.
That feat also was accomplished in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In total, the past 10 seasons have produced a combined 13 trips to state for area teams, which included appearances by Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South and Richmond-Burton.
It’s a good bet that another local team will be playing on the final weekend again.
Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Prairie Ridge and Hampshire all are moving down to Class 3A, and Marian Central, Richmond-Burton and Marengo will play in Class 2A. That should only help each team’s postseason chances.
After winning four straight Class 4A regional titles, Crystal Lake Central will look to continue that streak in Class 3A. The Tigers have made two state appearances in Class 3A, claiming the program’s first state title in 2007 and taking fourth in 2009.
Central is only two years removed from a third-place finish at the Class 4A state tournament.
Prairie Ridge also has won four consecutive Class 4A titles and will play in Class 3A for the first time since 2009. Marian Central won 12 straight regional titles from 2005 to 2016 and will look to earn its first in Class 2A.
THE FVC RACE
Since going from a two-division league to one in 2016, the Fox Valley Conference has seen a different champion each year. Huntley won its first outright conference title three years ago, Crystal Lake Central won the FVC title in 2017, and Prairie Ridge won its first outright FVC championship since 2015 last fall.
Prairie Ridge lost six to graduation – including 2018 Northwest Herald Volleyball Player of the Year Jayden Otto (Eastern Michigan) and its top attackers in Sammi Lockwood (Notre Dame) and Olivia Annen – making the Wolves a difficult pick to repeat.
Crystal Lake Central, which finished 31-8 last season and lost to Prairie Ridge in the sectional finals, returns its entire starting roster and is led by seniors Camryn Hausler and Madde Blake.
Huntley returns the area’s top setter in four-year starter Taylor Jakubowski, but, like Prairie Ridge, took a pretty big hit with seven graduating, including top hitter Julia Johnson (Army).
Jakubowski, a Seton Hall commit, enters her senior year with 2,763 assists, which already puts her ninth on the state’s all-time list, according to IHSA.org.
Can C-G, led by Evynn Layshock and Jenna Splitt, earn its first FVC championship since 2015?
Jacobs, led by outside hitter Maggie Wallenberger, had a strong finish last season and took fifth in the FVC at 7-9. The Golden Eagles have won four combined conference games the past two years.
CRYSTAL LAKE CENTRAL
The Tigers are poised for a big year and should only benefit by playing down in Class 3A. No other area team returns its entire starting roster. It would be a big surprise if Central wasn’t playing deep into the postseason yet again.
In addition to Hausler and Blake, the Tigers return both size and skill with outside hitter Maddy McCormick, middle blockers Madeline Timmerman and Olivia Anderson, libero Karina Simatos and setter Grace Levin.
Head coach Lisa Brunstrum has led the Tigers to five 30-win seasons in eight years at Central, and that number is well within reach again.
THE KRC RACE
There has been a different champion every year in the seven-team Kishwaukee River Conference since Richmond-Burton won the inaugural title in 2016. Burlington Central, which is moving to the FVC this year, won the KRC in 2017, and Johnsburg captured its first conference title since 2000 last fall.
Will a new champion emerge?
Johnsburg has excelled in conference play over the past two years with a 20-4 record but lost the majority of its starting lineup, hurting the Skyhawks’ chances of becoming the KRC’s first back-to-back champion.
Woodstock North’s Brooke Amann might prove to be the difference maker in the KRC race but will need some help.
The South Dakota State commit has posted eye-popping numbers for the Thunder. Last season’s KRC Player of the Year led all area players as a junior with 483 kills and 83 aces and was named to the All-State second team by Illinois Prep Volleyball.
North won the school’s first regional championship and set the team record for wins in a season (22). The Thunder tied Woodstock for third in the KRC, both going 8-4. Both could make a jump in the standings in 2019.