Pioneer Press girls volleyball preview: North Suburban Conference

Must-see: Lake Zurich senior outside hitter Claudia Kieda. She was a key reason the Bears won the North Suburban championship last season. She finished with 267 kills to go with 267 digs. Kieda is set to play a bigger role on the court following the graduation of Katie Guy, who had 233 kills, and four-year starter Kylie Dykgraaf.

Beyond the box score: Libertyville is attempting to turn the corner following a 17-22 season. The Wildcats have to replace libero Morgan DeGregor but return sophomores Peyton O’Brien and Kellie Hopper, as well as juniors Hope Moody and Cassidy Jones. Middle hitter Amanda Reinhart, an All-NSC selection last season, is also back. She paced the Wildcats with 95 blocks while also contributing 79 kills last season. “We’re strong in the middle and outside and hope that will create an offensive scheme that is difficult to defend,” Libertyville coach Greg Loika said. “If we win the battle of the ball control on defense, we like what this team will be doing with it.”

#ThrowbackThursday: Two seasons after earning third place at the Class 4A state tournament, Stevenson enters the year with high hopes for another run. Despite losing foundational players Chloe Robinson, Hope Havenhill and Alex Cuc, the Patriots have an abundance of talent, coach Tim Crow said. “This will be one of the most athletic teams we have had,” Crow said. “We will have a mix of young and old. I would expect some of the younger girls to make an immediate impact.” Part of Crow’s optimism stems from returning three starters from last season’s 23-14 team. Outside hitters Sophie Sorenson and Lily Cozzi both are coming off strong seasons. Sorenson finished with 202 kills, 159 digs and 68 aces despite missing the first 13 matches with an injury. Cozzi had 204 kills.

On the rise: Lake Forest is looking to reverse course this season. The Scouts won only seven matches last season but return a solid mix of players with potential, coach Molly Grzesik said. Outside hitters Alyssa Thrash and Caroline Graham join Kelly McCaskey in forming the core of the team. “This year’s mix will be very different from last year’s team,” Grzesik said. “For the most part, we will be a young team with some strong leaders from last year joining the mix. We are definitely a tall team of hitters, so hopefully we can do something with our height.”

Oh Captain! My Captain!: On paper, Mundelein is one of the most experienced teams in the conference. The Mustangs, who finished with a 12-20 record last season, return 14 players with varsity experience. Senior outside hitter Isabella Cartland is one of the key returning players after tallying 112 kills and 248 digs as a junior. “We have a senior-strong team,” Mundelein coach George Dressen said. “They are fast, full of energy and have experience. There’s no telling what we may be able to accomplish this season.”

This and that: After a one-year hiatus, Libertyville is set to return to the prestigious Crossroads Classic in Effingham. …Stevenson is scheduled to play in the Niles West Invitational while also adding Crystal Lake Central to its nonconference schedule. … Dressen added a varsity assistant coach and two volunteer coaches to the Mundelein program. The Mustangs also have a new event this season that includes a middle school night.

Bob Narang is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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