Coach: Kyle Milborn (first season)
Last season: 30-7, lost to Huntley in Class 4A Rockford Jefferson Regional final
Key returners: Heather Bemis, jr., hitter; Kate Hickey, sr., outside hitter, defensive specialist; Nicole Schladt, sr., libero; Kayla Schafer, jr., outside hitter
Ready for impact: J.C. Longeville, so., setter/hitter; Camryn Cordes, so., hitter; Haley Tadd, sr., hitter
The lowdown: The Barbs lose eight seniors from last year, including 2013 Daily Chronicle Player of the Year Madison Lord. Milborn expects the defense, led by Schladt, to be a strength. Schladt will be a three-year starter, and was a first-team all-conference pick last year. Milborn comes to DeKalb after spending the past three seasons at Rockford Lutheran. He also has been a coach at Club Fusion since 2006.
Milborn’s take: “Our biggest goal is to really establish our team identity and work toward November. This team really has the potential to be a team that can make a run into the postseason if they get it, and we have a very difficult nonconference schedule to really push us to play at the highest level possible.”
Coach: Keith Foster (fifth season)
Last season: 19-18, lost to Burlington Central in Class 3A Genoa-Kingston Regional final
Key returners: Breea Rogalla, sr., setter; Erika Hansel, jr., middle blocker; Torri Bennett, jr., outside hitter; Lexi Howie, so., hitter
Ready for impact: Karli Smith, jr., libero; Abbey Rasmussen, jr., hitter; Amanda Anderson, so., hitter; Rachel Hughes, so., middle blocker
The lowdown: The Cogs have continued to improve under Foster, and this year he thinks his team is a top three squad in the Big Northern East. Rogalla is the lone senior on the roster, and her experience will be key in the setter role. Although the Cogs are young, they have plenty of varsity experience.
Foster’s take: “All the teams are pretty strong in our conference; it’s never a cakewalk by any stretch. [The Cogs] would like to come out on top in regionals and sectionals as well. That always comes down to grouping and opportunity and injuries and ineligibilities, but if everything goes our way, those are realistic goals for our program.”
Coach: Stephanie Kolakowski (first season)
Last season: N/A, lost to Faith Lutheran in Class 1A Harvest Christian Academy Regional quarterfinals
Key returners: Alanna Sterling, sr., hitter; Lexie Leffelman, sr., utility; Michelle Percudani, so., utility
Ready for impact: Lauren Watson, jr., defensive specialist; Jessica Znamenski, so., setter
The lowdown: Kolakowski is a Hiawatha alumna. She was a three-sport athlete at the school and graduated in 2008. The Hawks will be running a new 5-1 rotation this season.
Kolakowski’s take: “This year we’re implementing a new offense and defense, so this is definitely going to be a building year for us. I expect us to really come together as a team and play together.”
Coach: Joanne Weirich (third season)
Last season: 16-14-1, lost to Newark in Class 1A Hinckley-Big Rock Regional final
Key returners: Jacqueline Madden, sr., outside hitter; Anne Klein, sr., setter; Carrigan Kowan, sr., outside hitter; Alexis Gonzalez, sr., libero; Courtney Carls, jr., middle blocker
Ready for impact: Megan Menzel, so., middle blocker
The lowdown: The Royals have a senior-laden team, and Weirich expects to have a solid season. H-BR lost only two seniors, Lauren Paver and Caitlin Flanigan.
Weirich’s take: “I’ve never had a team with four senior starters. That’s just fantastic to have that. They’ve been with me since freshman year and they’re just a tight group. They’re all three- or four-sport girls, all (have) been together forever. They read each other’s minds and they’re just a tight-knit group of kids.”
Coach: Stephanie Crutcher (13th season)
Last season: 13-21, lost to Sterling Newman in Paw Paw Regional semifinals
Key returners: Emma Goodrich, sr., outside hitter; Rebekah Goodrich, sr., middle hitter; Josie Diehl, jr., hitter; Bailey Martenson, sr., libero; Rebekka Boehne, sr., setter; Hannah Mathews, sr., setter
Ready for impact: Madison Russell, jr., outside hitter; Holly Rood, jr., outside hitter; Alexis Van Wyhe, jr., hitter; Alex Turner, jr., setter; Jacklyn Bouma, jr., defensive specialist
The lowdown: The Timberwolves lost only one senior from last year’s team, and it’s rare for a small school, such as Indian Creek, to have this much senior experience. Height will be one of the Timberwolves’ main strengths.
Crutcher’s take: “The one thing that we’ve worked on in the offseason is becoming one team, not two different class levels. That’s one thing that we worked on. We have come a long way with that.”
Coach: Cyndi Violett (first season)
Last season: 14-16, lost to Sycamore in Class 3A Sandwich Regional final
Key returners: Ellie Dunn, sr., outside hitter; Riley Hannula, sr., hitter; Anna Senese, sr., outside hitter; Kathy Nguyen, jr., libero
Ready for impact: Sami Burgin, jr., outside hitter; McKenzie McMullan, jr., hitter; Hannah Nauert, so., setter; Hollie Fedderly, jr., setter; Brittany Grider, sr., defensive specialist
The lowdown: The Knights will rely heavily on Dunn, who has committed to Ball State. Violett returns to coaching after leading Kaneland from 1997-98 until 2001-02. She said she’ll be leaning on Kaneland’s senior leadership.
Violett’s take: “We talked as a team, we all set goals. We want to make it down state this year. We are focused and working hard to do what we need to do. Obviously, along the way we want a conference title. DeKalb and Sycamore are going to be tough matches.”
Coach: Eric Nore (second season)
Last season: 19-21, lost to LaSalle-Peru in Class 3A Princeton Sectional final
Key returners: Mattie Hayes, sr., outside hitter; Kendra Larson, sr., setter; Shae McCoy, sr., middle blocker; Mallory Wolf, sr., outside hitter; Jenae Carlson, sr., defensive specialist
Ready for impact: Alyssa Feuerbach, jr., middle blocker, Val Hunt, jr., setter
The lowdown: The Spartans finished fifth in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East in 2013, but got hot at the end of the season, making a run to a sectional final in Nore’s first season with the program. Hayes was a Daily Chronicle second-team all-area pick in 2013.
Nore’s take: “It’s definitely going to be a battle, there’s no doubt about it, but we’re pretty well primed to compete with just about everybody we go up against. We’re definitely hoping to improve on that fifth-place finish (in conference).”
– By Steve Nitz, email@example.com