One of the best high school volleyball teams in the United States will play this year in Champaign-Urbana.
The dates to mark on the calendar are Sept. 20 and Oct. 18. Both Thursdays are nights when Bloomington High School will play locally, the first time at Urbana and the second, in the regular season finale, at Champaign Central.
According to prepvolleyball.com, Bloomington enters the season ranked 25th nationally.
With a lineup that features Georgia Tech recruit Ashley Beyer and Illinois State University recruit Kristin Stauter, the Purple Raiders are favored to unseat Normal Community, which has won seven straight Big 12 titles and nine of the last 10 in volleyball.
"Bloomington's always a difficult match every year," said Centennial coach Stan Bergman, whose Chargers play Sept. 27 at Bloomington.
EIU recruit makes comeback
Monticello senior Hannah Deterding, who has given an oral commitment to Eastern Illinois University, did not need surgery after sustaining a partial tear in her medial meniscus ligament in a non-sports-related accident in July.
"It was a matter of letting it heal by itself," said her father, Mike Deterding, who coached the Twin City club team Hannah played on the past six seasons.
A setter and outside hitter, Hannah Deterding was cleared this week to resume practicing. She is a third-year varsity starter.
The Sages will run a 6-2 attack this season with Deterding and junior Eryn Finet sharing the setting duties. Deterding and Chelsea Barr are the team captains.
"Hannah is a great player with a wonderful work ethic," Monticello coach Annie Camacho said. "She is very quick with tremendous accuracy."
Teammate Lucy Coleman enters the season with 224 career blocks and needs 27 more to surpass the school record held by Laura Mills. Coleman already holds the career mark for digs (274).
At a UI camp this summer, she received an Outstanding Blocker award.
The Sages open the season with three matches in four days next week, starting Monday at Cerro Gordo.
There are certain to be new faces on the annual News-Gazette All-Area team. Eight of last year's 10-member squad were seniors.
The top holdovers are Bismarck-Henning middle hitter Matti Nesbitt, who could climb to No. 3 on her school's career kills list, and St. Joseph-Ogden's Tenneal Frerichs.
Frerichs, who will miss the Spartans' first 10 matches for disciplinary reasons, was selected by Sangamon Valley coaches as the top returning offensive and defensive player.
Nesbitt is being recruited by several schools, including the University of Indianapolis. She is one of six area athletes who are seeking an all-conference first-team designation for the third successive year.
The others are Schlarman's Brittani Brandon, Buckley Christ Lutheran's Nikki Kaufman, Georgetown-Ridge Farm's Dani Land, Bement's Lindsey Pruitt and Urbana Uni High's Ruth Welch.
St. Thomas More coach Heather Wilson Horn could field a power-packed lineup this season. The Sabers return everyone from last year's 21-win season including senior setter Kailey Buenting, who holds season (592) and career (1,552) records for assists.
Buenting, who has given an oral commitment to Wisconsin Lutheran College, a Division III university in Milwaukee, ranks 35th all time on the IHSA charts for career assists.
St. Thomas More was the choice of Sangamon Valley Conference coaches as the team to beat.
"There will be some pressure, but I hope that will push them to the next level," Wilson Horn said. "I'm not sure St. Thomas More is used to being at the top. I hope it will set in that others are expecting something."
With so much experience back, the Sabers coach has the luxury of substituting multiple players.
"We're not stuck with six starters," she said. "The nice thing is the depth."
Besides Buenting, six other squad members have been contacted by colleges, including sophomore Maggie Fitzgerald, who was chosen the top blocker during the week she attended a camp at the University of Illinois this summer.
Brianna Jacobs, Emilee Kunas, Theresa Laumann, Kaela McCabe and Erin Wachtel are others being courted by colleges.
Family affair at Shiloh
The high school that features a husband- and-wife coaching duo in girls' basketball (Dave and Missy Tingley) now has a similar setup in volleyball.
First-year head coach Niki Mazur is assisted by her husband, Trevor.
"I was running open gyms (in the summer) and he came to a few and said it would be neat to coach together," Niki Mazur said.
So far, the arrangement has gone smoothly.
"He was worried we might argue," Niki Mazur said, "but it has been fun. We see a different side to each other."
As for which coach is the toughest at practice, Niki said, "Trevor is more strict on them. He makes them run, but he runs with them."
The coaches are working without the top hitter from last year. Senior Brandi Thomason has transferred to Paris.
The Raiders retain a strong nucleus, featuring junior hitters Jacilyn Campbell and Erin Downey and senior setter Logan Lauritzen.
Westville coach Allen Greenlee submitted his resignation last year after 13 years as the Tigers' head coach and it was accepted by the school board.
However, when the school opens the season Tuesday at home against North Vermillion (Ind.), Greenlee again will be on the bench.
"They didn't have anyone apply," he said.
A year from now, Greenlee expects to be retired. Before then, there's a milestone to reach. The Tigers' next victory will be his 200th at the school where he is the winningest volleyball coach in history.
Greenlee's career record at Westville is 199-147.
With 14 freshmen out for volleyball this season, Greenlee said the next coach will "have a good nucleus coming back."
Centennial's lineup will feature three athletes whose Illini Elite summer club teams fared well in national competition.
Middle hitter Alexis Braghini was on the 16-1 team that placed fifth nationally in the open division. On the 15-1 team for the Bloomington-based club were Chargers Melanie Moore and Cori Harris. Their squad tied for 10th in the national division.
Centennial coach Stan Bergman will start the season with a 6-2 offense to utilize the setting talents of both Moore (a sophomore) and Cassie Leisner (a senior).
State qualifier reloads
Last year, Schlarman – led by seven seniors – was the lone area representative at state. This year, coach Jamison Kuemmerle's Hilltoppers could feature four sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.
Senior Brittani Brandon, who has pounded at least 200 kills each of the past two years, will remain the team's go-to player. Another senior who'll be a key contributor is defensive specialist Johnna Johnston.
Kuemmerle said his 10-player sophomore class "reminds me of last year's senior class," but added, "it will take time for them to mature and get to that point."
Out of necessity, sophomores will play. The Schlarman roster lists four seniors and no juniors.
No happy return
Arcola setter Beth Thomas will sit out her entire senior season in volleyball. She underwent surgery in July after sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus.
She is not expected to be cleared for competition until early December.
There still will be a Thomas setting up the Purple Rider hitters. Beth's sister Katie and Kylee Clark (both juniors) will share the duties in coach Kim East's 6-2 offense.
As for Beth, who had 252 assists last year for a 27-win team, East said, "she's still part of the team and will help with stats."
Bismarck-Henning juniors Allison Baker, Cassie McCorkle, Hannah Ohl and Kristen Tuggle were members of the school's state-qualifying eighth-grade volleyball team three years ago in Class AA. All four will play significant roles this year for the top-ranked team in the Vermilion Valley Conference. ... CPCI has the area's longest streak for consecutive 20-win seasons (11), followed by Centennial (eight) and St. Joseph-Ogden (seven). ... Former Sullivan standout Jamie Florey is the new head coach at Maroa-Forsyth. ... Among area schools this year, there are eight first-year head coaches. ... Arcola's first-year head coach Kim East coached all of the current juniors and sophomores when she worked with the junior high program. ... The Salt Fork team, a co-op between Catlin and Jamaica, has three seniors. The three – Erica Boyer, Chasidy Cheuvront and Sarah Rife – are all from Jamaica.