Volleyball preview: College-bound seniors have Centennial thinking big
Stan Bergman has coached volleyball players who've gone on to collegiate careers, but the Centennial coach never has had a senior group like his current one.
"Not in the exact same class," Bergman said.
Before the Chargers open the season tonight at Lincoln, six athletes from the Class of 2013 know where they will play. Next year.
Six seniors — including All-Area first-teamer Rachel Jones — have given oral commitments to different universities. Jones, a middle hitter, will head to Bradley. She is within 65 blocks of surpassing Indiana player Morgan Leach for fifth on the school's all-time list.
She was the first to commit.
Outside hitter Kara Johnson, who needs 70 aces to break the school's career record, was next, committing to Illinois-Chicago. Setter Maddie Weldon, who is closing in on the No. 5 spot on the Chargers' list for career assists, will continue her career at Parkland College.
Then, Lauren Cloyd, a two-sport athlete who also excels in basketball, is a middle hitter who announced for Rutgers. Outside hitter Kelsey Olion will attend Western Missouri. The final Charger to decide was libero Lindsay Rogan, who selected Indiana Wesleyan.
Before they get to their future destinations, there is a high school season with a program seeking a sixth consecutive 30-win season.
Bergman is not surprised at how highly regarded his seniors were in the eyes of college coaches.
"The senior group is the one I won state with at Jefferson when they were eighth-graders," he said.
All six have been active in club volleyball. Jones played for the Champaign-based Prime Time program. The other five were involved with the Bloomington-based Illini Elite club.
Jones also considered Maryland and Loyola. Cloyd had Cincinnati and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on her short list. Johnson had offers from SIU-E, Truman State and Valparaiso. Olion thought about Lindenwood or walking on at Northwestern. Rogan's options included SIU-E, Wheaton College, Lake Forest and Southern Illinois-Carbondale. Weldon visited Midway (Ky.) College.
Centennial's players didn't rest on their laurels in the offseason, winning summer tournaments at Mahomet and Parkland as well as at the Wisconsin Team Camp.
There may be more than the six Centennial seniors continuing on in volleyball. From the same class, setter Paulina Nottingham and middle hitter Allie Shannon have received interest from recruiters, notably Coastal Georgia.
"Our junior class is a phenomenal class," Bergman said. "The juniors are just as good as our senior class. They are all competing hard against each other."
Bergman kept five juniors on the 15-member varsity roster. The lone sophomore is 6-foot-3 Kelly Braghini.
"We're keeping our expectations pretty simple," Bergman said. "There's enough stress on them through club (ball). We're taking it game by game and not looking too far down the road.
"The girls want to have a season where, when they reflect, they can feel they learned something."
Fifteen area programs are under the direction of first-year coaches.
Monticello's Emilie Walk had a successful debut Tuesday. After her Sages lost Set 1, they rallied to give her a three-set victory in her debut against Heyworth.
Other newcomers are Kaurie Lindenmeyer (Arcola), Erica Carter (Atwood-Hammond), Allison Pentti (Fisher), Kaylea Heideman (Buckley Christ Lutheran), Jeremy Richards (Heritage), Toni Duval (Hoopeston Area), Emily Denny (Iroquois West), Ron Hoppe (Mahomet-Seymour), Brad Dalton (St. Thomas More), Brent Bowman (Salt Fork), Casey Long (Shiloh), Courtney Beals (Sullivan), Aja Bozarth (Tuscola) and Lydia Benson (Villa Grove).
Dalton was the head coach last year at Heritage, and Benson coached at Arcola in 2011. Bozarth is a former staff assistant at her alma mater.
Duval helped at her alma mater, St. Joseph-Ogden, last year. The SJ-O head coach, Abby Kuntz McDonald, is a Hoopeston Area graduate.
Lindenmeyer graduated from Arcola in 2007. Counting middle school, she played for six years on teams coached by her mom, Michele, whose influence is still felt within the Purple Riders' program.
"She has been my savior," Kaurie Lindenmeyer said. "I have three binders with what she used to do."
Arcola opens at home Monday against Sullivan.
In 2010, 13 of 48 area programs were under the guidance of first-year coaches. Last year, there were 11 new coaches on the scene.
Not starting anew
At first glance, it might appear Unity has a new coaching staff. Last year's head coach was Sarah Juenger, and she was assisted by Maggie Woodham and Katie Garrett.
This year's head coach is Sarah Eisenmenger, and she is assisted by Allison Didier and Katie Reetz.
The turnover is less than it might seem. Since last year, Juenger and Garrett were married.
Bement has the potential valedictorians and salutatorian on its roster. Senior twins Alyssa and Anna Hendrix are tied for No. 1 in their class. In line to be the salutatorian is Sabrina Hinton, who broke the Bulldogs' season record for blocks (134) as a junior. She is now a senior.
Armstrong-Potomac also has a group of high academic achievers. Six A-P varsity members are in the National Honor Society.
Bergman is working with students who've made a commitment to school work as well.
"We have a very impressive GPA as a team," the Centennial coach said.
At Paxton-Buckley-Loda, record-setting senior setter Kayla Cowan is the potential valedictorian. She set the PBL mark for season and match assists as a junior.
Bismarck-Henning has captured top honors in the annual Vermilion County tournament eight consecutive years. If the streak continues, it could be due to hitters who can contribute in multiple positions.
"I have six players out of my eight returnees that can play any hitting position," coach Susan Kentner said. "We plan to keep our opponents off balance with our positioning."
The Blue Devils have seven seniors, and Kentner said five of them are hoping to play in college.
One of the B-H seniors is middle hitter Abby Bergman, who is one of the Bergman triplets. Caleb and Jesse Bergman are on the football team. Caleb is a quarterback.
Senior setters Lauren McKenzie and Taylor Ellis are poised for an accomplishment that has occurred once: athletes who have started on four consecutive Vermilion County championship volleyball teams. To date, only former Blue Devil Matti Nesbitt is in that club.
Second-year Champaign Central coach Evan Hook is working with a 12-player varsity roster that includes senior Kristin Hammel, a pole vault state placer (eighth) as a junior. She is a candidate at outside hitter.
The Maroons' returning All-Area first-teamer, Jaelyn Westfield, will have a familiar face nearby. The 6-foot middle hitter will be joined by her freshman sister, Dana, a 6-1 outside hitter.
Central also has another of the area's promising ninth-graders, 6-foot outside hitter Maddie LeGrande. LeGrande and the Westfields are among the seven squad members standing at least 5-10.
Among the team's veterans are senior setter Mia McDonald and senior outside hitter Kailyn Demith.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm coach Kim Fraser believes this can be the year the Buffaloes turn around their fortunes. In the past four years, the school has won two matches.
"If we're going to push over the edge, this might be the year," Fraser said. "We're a little more solid, and we only lost one starter."
The disadvantage for the program is the lack of a feeder school from middle school.
"The only freshman kids who have any kind of knowledge are kids who moved here," Fraser said.
She had one of those transfers a year ago, when Kelsey Buckman relocated from Grayville. Buckman played regularly as a freshman and earned All-Vermilion Valley Conference recognition.
Seniors Catie Brandt, a setter, and Allison Seifert, a middle hitter, are other notable returnees for the Buffaloes, who open at home Tuesday against Shiloh.
Argenta-Oreana has height with its middle hitters, 6-foot junior Alexa Jones and her 6-1 freshman sister, Gillian. ... Last year's area leader for kills, Arthur Okaw Christian's Meghan Lowry, is continuing her career at Bryan (Tenn.) College. ... Bement coaches Carissa Benner and Brooke Wright have been best friends since grade school. They graduated from Bement in 2007. ... Sophomore libero Katie Sloniger has transferred from St. Thomas More to Central. ... Clinton's Morgan Hickman set the school's single-season assists record in 2011 and could raise it again as a senior. Hickman has been a three-sport letter winner each of her first three years in high school. She is in line for salutatorian honors. ... Sophomore Kaylin Vallero, a transfer from Heyworth, has moved into the starting lineup for LeRoy as an outside hitter. ... Monticello's Kaitlyn Hunt broke the season record for digs (377) last year and is within reach of the career mark (516) held by Julie Walsh. Hunt entered the season with 395 career digs. ... Shiloh didn't gain any transfers but added two students who ran cross-country a year ago: Jessica Hunt and Lauren Moses.
NAME SCHOOL YR. POS.
Lizzy Barnard Tri-County Jr. OH
Abby Bergman Bismarck-Henning Sr. MH
Nicholle Brown St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. MH
Sherelle Coller Arthur-Lovington Jr. S
Carli Clifton Fisher Sr. S
Lauren Cloyd Centennial Sr. MH
Julia Cohan Arthur-Lovington Sr. MH
Kayla Cowan Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. S
Chaquera Cross Rantoul Sr. L
Rowan Crozier DeLand-Weldon Jr. S
Elise Dahlke Mahomet-Seymour Sr. OH
Kailyn Demith Champaign Central Sr. OH
Taylor Edwards Arcola So. MH
Hayley Gray Watseka Jr. MH
Kat Grimes Watseka Sr. S
Laura Gross Schlarman So. S/MH
Morgan Hickman Clinton Sr. S
Sabrina Hinton Bement Sr. MH
Kandace Hofer Paxton-Buckley-Loda Sr. OH
Emma Hoyer Urbana Uni High Sr. MH
Cate Hummel Urbana Sr. L
Kaitlyn Hunt Monticello Sr. L
Alayna Jackson Urbana Jr. MH
Alexis Jimson-Miller Danville Sr. OH
Kara Johnson Centennial Sr. OH
Mikayla Jones DeLand-Weldon Sr. MH
Rachel Jones Centennial Sr. MH
Peyton Jones Oakwood So. MH
McKenzie Krutsinger Unity So. S
Jordan Marganski Schlarman Jr. S/MH
Lauren McKenzie Bismarck-Henning Sr. S
Joan Maxwell Unity Sr. L
Mia McDonald Champaign Central Sr. S
Amber Meyer Tri-County Sr. S
Emily Neuhauser Sullivan So. OH
Toria Plotner Salt Fork Sr. OH
Elise Pontious Monticello Sr. S
Lindsay Rogan Centennial Sr. L
Stephanie Sanderson Heritage Sr. L
Kaitie Shaw Westville Sr. OH
Erika Sieberns Armstrong-Potomac Sr. MH
Shelby Simmons St. Joseph-Ogden Jr. OH
Sydney Stone St. Joseph-Ogden Sr. S
Ashley Tabb Arthur-Lovington Sr. L
Lexi Wallen St. Thomas More So. OH
Maddie Weldon Centennial Sr. S
Jaelyn Westfield Champaign Central Sr. MH
Taylor Wienke Heritage Jr. S
Katie Wildman Atwood-Hammond Jr. L
Emily Zelhart Blue Ridge So. S