DeKalb, junior, hitter
The Barbs went 3-2 at the Geneva Invite last weekend, and Bemis was a big contributor. Bemis had 25 kills on the day, and the DeKalb junior provides leadership for a young DeKalb team.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Burlington Central at Genoa-Kingston, 5 p.m., Monday
The Cogs will have their toughest test of the young season against one of the top teams in the Big Northern Conference. A win would go a long way in the conference race.
DeKalb at Sycamore, 6 p.m., Tuesday
The Spartans will show exactly how far they’ve come in the last year against a young, but talented DeKalb squad.
1. DeKalb (9-2)
DeKalb lost its first two games of the season in the highly-competitive Geneva Invitational, but came away 3-2.
2. Kaneland (5-2)
The Knights look tough to beat heading into conference play.
3. Sycamore (5-3)
The Spartans have a strong veteran group, giving them high hopes this season.
4. Genoa-Kingston (3-0, 1-0 Big Northern Conference East)
The Cogs beat Harvard in their conference opener.
5. Hinckley-Big Rock (4-6)
The Royals learned plenty in a tough loss to Kaneland.
6. Indian Creek (2-1)
Timberwolves have a small team, but early returns are positive.
7. Hiawatha (1-4)
The Hawks registered their first win of the season against Mooseheart this week.
It wasn’t difficult for new Hinckley-Big Rock coach Joanne Weirich to figure out who would replace Daily Chronicle All-Area setter Rachel Phillips, who graduated last year.
Weirich coached the Royals’ junior varsity last season, so she knew sophomore Anne Klein was up to the task. Despite her youth, Klein is performing well at one of the most cerebral positions on the court.
“Over the summer, I knew who my setter was going to be,” Weirich said. “When you’re the quarterback of the team there can be a lot of pressure, and when you’re young, it can be a little overwhelming. She has definitely stepped up to play.”
Sycamore lineup almost set
Sycamore coach Debbie Klock didn’t have to do a whole lot of tinkering heading into this season.
In her 18 years of coaching, Klock can’t remember a year when she returned every single player, but that’s the case this season. Klock already has five of the six starting positions set.
“They’re finding their niche right now,” Klock said. “The [lineup] is pretty much set. They’re really learning to gel together, the five of them.”
The Spartans team grew closer at a team camp in Michigan over the summer, and Klock thinks they’re ready to hang with DeKalb, Kaneland, Morris and the rest of the Northern Illinois Big 12 East. Her biggest hurdle is getting her team to believe they can contend.
“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be near No. 1 and No. 2,” Klock said. “For them to believe it, that’s the biggest thing. It’s been awhile since they actually believed it.”
DeKalb dominated the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference in 2011.
Morris challenged the Barbs toward the end of the season before falling off the pace. But anything other than a DeKalb championship would have been a shocker.
This year, things aren’t anywhere near as clear in the NI Big 12.
The Barbs still look like a favorite early on, but DeKalb lost a lot of talent, including Daily Chronicle Player of the Year Emily Bemis and two other All-Area first-teamers. Coach Stephanie Gooden also stepped down after three seasons with DeKalb.
New coach Ben Fisher brings back a smaller team, which still is undefeated through six matches.
Kaneland, Sycamore and a few other teams, though, have their eyes on the conference title, and with good reason.
Like DeKalb, the Knights lost talent. But they also return several contributors from last season’s team, and will integrate sophomore hitter Ellie Dunn and former Metea Valley libero Shayna Tucek into their lineup.
Sycamore brings back its entire team from last season, including setter Ratasha Garbes and Brittany Huber, both Daily Chronicle All-Area second-team selections in 2011. The Spartans became a much better team as the season went along, and coach Debbie Klock has a reputation for building contenders. After a rebuilding season in 2011, expect the Spartans to be in the mix.
Other teams, including Morris, return strong groups.
“I’ll bet you every single coach has a goal of winning the conference,” Weimer said. “That goes from Yorkville to Sycamore to DeKalb and Morris.”
DeKalb may well win its third consecutive conference title. If they do, it probably won’t be decided until the last match or two of the season.