Pioneer Press girls volleyball preview: Central Suburban North

Must-see: Highland Park senior outside hitter Ireland Hieb. The league’s co-player of the year in 2017, Hieb has already committed to play for Eastern Illinois. She can reach 10 feet, 6 inches on her approach jump. “She’s a really explosive outside hitter and can really put the ball down,” Giants coach Beth Peterson said. Hieb is also helping to develop the future of the program by volunteering with the middle-schoolers during summer camp. Deerfield coach Blake Orlov said Hieb is not very fun to play against, but “you can appreciate her skill.” Other players to watch: Olivia Carter and Allyson Gordon, Highland Park; Madi Zuckerman, Ainsley Tobin, Erin Keating and Emma Velkme, Deerfield; Madilyn Schooley, Emma Bubelis, Grace Heywood, Erin Rosdahl and Maggie Myers, Glenbrook North; Chris Kotsifas, Gabby Quintero and Kellie Kortas, Maine East; Zoe Eitel and Allison Chase, Vernon Hills.

Save the date: Highland Park vs. Deerfield, Sept. 13 and Oct. 4. The District 113 rivalry game is always a good one, and this time the Giants have five starters returning from last year’s team that shared the Central Suburban North title. The Warriors also have five starting players back, and four of them are only juniors. Orlov said his team has showed improvement as his players gain experience. Other top games: Maine East at Glenbrook North, Sept. 11; Maine East at Highland Park, Sept. 25; Vernon Hills at Glenbrook North, Oct. 11; Glenbrook North at Deerfield, Oct. 15.

Beyond the box score: The Giants are record-breakers. Gordon, a senior setter and a perennial All-CSL North honoree, set the program assist record last season at 606. Peterson said libero Ella Weil blew away Stela Kukoc’s dig record of 192 by keeping 272 balls in play. “She’s really quick, and she’s not afraid to get on the ground and dive after the ball,” Peterson said. “She flies and gets her arm under it so her teammates can make a play. When we set goals, she said she wants to break it again this year.”

#ThrowbackThursday: Maine East tied Highland Park atop the league standings last year. The Blue Demons have a new head coach: Rintu Philip, who was on the coaching staff last year and has been with the program for the last eight seasons. He said his first job was hiring four new assistants who can relate to the Blue Demons’ relatively young team. “They are all under 30 and still playing the sport in clubs,” Philip said. “They all keep up with the sport and will be able to perform with the (players) as well as talk.” With only Kotsifas, Quintero and Kortas returning, Maine East will be looking for new contributors.

On the rise: With five returning starters, Orlov said his Warriors have the ability to beat anyone in the conference. “(The returning starters) grew up on the fly last year. Now they’re ready to step up to the competition,” Orlov said. “I think we can be in the mix in the conference if this team plays up to its potential.”

Oh Captain! My Captain!: Team manager Sarah Babikian provides a spark for Glenbrook North, coach Tiffany Kim said. In an email, Kim said Babikian has “the best personality in the world … she brings that positive energy to help bring the players together. The girls respect her and love her presence in the gym.” Babikian’s spark was there for a young team gaining experience last year. “By the end of the season, we grew a lot and showed a lot of potential,” Kim said.

This and that: Arian Colton is heading into her second season as head coach at Vernon Hills. She expects her team to improve this year after her starters were largely sophomores and juniors last season. However, the Cougars share plenty of laughs. “We are not shy on laughter,” Colton said in an email. … When Orlov is not coaching the Warriors, he mentors boys at the Chicago Bounce Volleyball club, which he owns. … Highland Park, Deerfield and Glenbrook North will get a look at each other Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in a tournament at New Trier. … Highland Park and Deerfield plan to participate in Dig Pink, a nationwide event supporting the Stage 4 breast cancer community.

Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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