Duneland Athletic Conference
Players to watch: Claire Holba, Sr., MH; Kate Nowak, Jr., S; Katie Osborn, Sr., S/DS; Riley Taubert, Sr., OH.
Outlook: Losing a group of talented seniors is nothing new for coach TR Harlan and this year is no different. Holba leads a team that will have plenty of sophomores on the floor by the end of the season.
Quote: "I've known this year was coming for three years. We're very inexperienced because even most of our seniors are going to be in new roles." -- Harlan
Players to watch: Sofjia Cucuz, Sr., OH; Zarah Cecich, Sr., S; Gabby Raspopovich, Sr., OH; Alle Geisen, Sr., L.
Outlook: Under a new coach in former Andrean head coach Alison Duncan, the Bulldogs have a different offense and defense but the same stable of athletes. There are six seniors on a team that had more than 50 arrive to tryout, including Rutgers-bound Cucuz. With that athleticism comes good ball control, but the Bulldogs are still hoping to reach the point they can shake the late-game mistakes that sent them to too many fifth-game losses in 2009.
Quote: "A great example of how athletic some of the kids at Crown Point are is how they're adjusting to everything I've asked them to do. That opens a possibility of what we can do this season and they have a really good chance of doing a lot of great things." -- Duncan.
Players to watch: Kim Trojan, Sr., OH; Taylor Lebo, So., MH; Megan Walls, Jr., MH; Erica Lang, Jr., S.
Outlook: Reloading has become common practice for the Slicers under coach Mary Beth Lebo. Despite losing a talented group of seniors, LaPorte figures to be the favorites in the DAC this season.
Quote: "We've really gone and dug deeper on the strength training and the jump training and we've seen a vast improvement in the kids. We haven't seen anything but great things coming out of them." -- Mary Beth Lebo
Players to watch: Sara Anderson, Jr., S; Lauren Marcie, Jr., OH; Kate Wagner, Sr., RS; Bailey Nosal, Sr., OH.
Outlook: The Indians lost height and a Division I libero to graduation. What they're finding now is an aggressive and creative style of play on the floor is helping to make up for size differentiation. Making more disciplined blocks will be the key to this defense, said coach Tina Tinberg.
Quote: "We're running a little more creative stuff and moving a lot more. Hopefully, that'll be confusing to block on the other side of the net." -- Tinberg
Players to watch: Ashley Jammerson, Sr., MH -- regining team MVP; Megan Dicken, Jr., MH; Mackenzie Malon, Jr., OH/DS; Mandy Banashak, Jr., S;
Outlook: Under a new coach in former assistant Luke Starkey, the Pirates return team MVP Ashley Jammerson and the competitive mindset to turn around a 3-27 season. Minor changes to the offense and defense and Merrillville hopes to be a better force in the DAC thanks to height and a new youth movement.
Quote: "They've come in completely fresh and instead of just hoping to compete, they are expecting to win. That's refreshing to see." -- Starkey
Players to watch: Sarah Puckett, So., OH; Megan Daurer, Jr., S; Megan Nilson, Sr., DS.
Outlook: The Wolves graduated six seniors from last season's squad that finished in second place in the DAC. First year coach Kylee Caudle spent three years as an assistant with Michigan City and is excited for the challenge.
Quote: "This is the hardest working group that I've seen in my time here. We have three returners who have to magnify their role." -- Caudle
Player to watch: Alicia Ciesielski, Sr., OH
Outlook: Portage coach Erin Plumley enters her second year as the head coach of the Indians. The team must adapt to life without graduated seniors Jordan Steiger and Dani Bryan.
Players to watch: Jordan Snapp, Sr., MH; Kate Workman, Jr., L; Tarrah Lasky, So., S.
Outlook: The Vikings have plenty of experience this season and not just from the senior class. Coach Katie Lenard is pushing the theme "whatever it takes" and her players have bought in during fall practices.
Quote: "Every single girl on the team has come into the fall ready to work hard and do whatever is asked of them. We have a lot of girls stepping up to be leaders." -- Lenard
Great Lakes Athletic Conference
Players to watch: Katie Kruszynski, Jr., OH; Emily Curosh, Sr., S.
Outlook: The Pioneers didn't lose a single player to graduation from last season's third consecutive sectional title team. What returns is a squad that has grown as a unit and added young talent to back it up. Still strong up front, the Pioneers will be working early to key on passing before preparing for another postseason run.
Quote: "Last year, this team worked hard and had great attitudes and they're coming back with all of that and more talent." -- Coach Stephanie Ihnat.
Players to watch: Abby Delgado, So., L; Lajuana Mitchell, Jr., MH; Ashley Wolf, Sr., S/OH.
Outlook: The Gladiators are young, with just two seniors and five sophomores helping to round out the team. But those sophomores already have call-up experience, having played last year. Losing four to graduation -- three starters -- means all will be counted on that much more. The taste of last season's five-game loss in the sectional has driven the returners this year.
Quote: "They came really close to winning in that sectional, and then dropped the ball on that. In that third game we started letting down and not playing as hard. Hopefully from that they've learned to play until they're done. -- Coach Amy Woynaroski.
Players to watch: Christina Brown, Jr., MH/OH; Alexandria Woods, Sr., S/L; Salena Perkins, Jr., OH.
Outlook: A new coach in 2007 Hammond High grad Danielle Lewis means that the Wildcats will have an alum in their midst. Young in age, but not in experience, reaching a sectional final last year showed Hammond it could fight. With top hitters like Brown and passers with hands like Woods back in the mix, the goals are to shoot even higher this season.
Quote: "I think the biggest thing they learned last year is that they can compete with everyone out there. At the beginning of the season it was, 'Oh, we're playing Highland, that's a loss.' By the middle of the season, they started to believe they could win any game." -- Lewis
Players to watch: Tricia Miles, Sr., OH; Lindsey Welch, Jr., MH; Guadalupe Navarro, Sr., S.
Outlook: The Governors suffered through their lean year last season with youngsters moved into new positions to prepare for this year. The chemistry that comes with familiarity has turned Morton into a team with more precise passes and a stronger defense.
Quote: "I think the experience of playing at the varsity level at such a young age is a great strength. Some of these players were out there as sophomores and they are working so much better together as a team." -- Coach Anna Boyle.
Greater South Shore Conference
Players to watch: Rose Mullaney, Sr., L; Alyce Jakubielski, Sr., MH; Stephanie Rarick, Jr., S.
Outlook: The strength of an incoming freshman class has helped propel Noll's program, adding competition for the upperclassmen and a promising future for the underclassmen. There's height in the shape of Jakubielski, who returns after an injured season. Staying healthy will be the key, again, as Noll's 2009 season was lost mostly to a flu epidemic late in the year.
Quote: "I think more than anything else, this is a group that works as a team together. I told them, I'm not going to have a set lineup every game, because I want to keep it competitive. They know how to compete against each other, push each other, then work together." -- Coach Emilio Torres.
Players to watch: Latiana Harris, Sr., OH; Alyssa Nieto, Sr., MH; Darcy Kwiatkowski, Sr., MH;
Outlook: Under a new coach in Calumet grad Brianne Cercone, the Warriors are finding a different offense and defense than what they've been used to. What hasn't changed is that the key to Calumet's success still goes through Harris, the team's top player and go-to weapon.
Quote: "I think for the most part, the whole game is going to be the same. But Latiana is changing and getting better and the other girls see that and say, 'I want to get better, too.' You're starting to see a lot of that." -- Cercone
Players to watch: Joanna Smee, Sr., MH; Nikki Frizzell, Sr., S; Stacy Pruitt, Sr., L; Kelsey Lemley, Jr., OH; Amber Dwyer, Jr., S/DS.
Outlook: What is old is new again as Linda Llewellyn returns after a 20-year hiatus to coach the Eagles. This team is loaded with seniors, who just want more experience and to give themselves a chance to win.
Quote: "They all have the same goal in mind and that's to be competitive. Lake Station has been down in the dumps for a while. Whoever we play, we're going to give them a game." -- Llewellyn
Players to watch: Katie Clancy, Sr., OH; Erin Shikany, Sr., L; Meghan Roder, Sr., S.
Outlook: The six-time defending state champions may have lost a talented senior class, but the cupboard is not bare for the Blazers. Second team all-state selection Katie Clancy is one of the best players in Northwest Indiana.
Quote: "This team faces the same scenario as we did in 2006 when we graduated four all-state players. We were able to be successful then because we have good overall team play." -- Coach Troy Campbell
Players to watch: Jena Hook, Jr., MH; Hayley Styck, Sr., MH; Kyra Zylor, Sr., L; Morgan Lang, So., S.
Outlook: The Spartans graduated a class of five seniors from the 2009 20-win season. They're rebuilding only insomuch as moving players from a successful JV into their new varsity positions. If they can pick up early knowledge, this team can find success by October.
Quote: "We really have some athletes on this team. If they buy into the idea that stats don't matter, they can do a lot of good things." -- Coach Kristine Lang
Players to watch: Desi Swartz, Jr., S; Abby Anderson, Sr., L; Meghan Davis, Sr., MH; Katie Buehler, Sr., OH.
Outlook: The Ingots won't be towering over their opponents, but they plan to take over with their defense. This team finished with a .500 record last season and a five-game win that put it in the sectional final was a taste of success that has fueled the offseason.
Quote: "I've never seen a group of girls like this one. They work harder and meet every challenge all the time, adapting to what they have to do. If it's offensive, they'll step up there; if it's defensive, they're right to the ball." -- Coach Patty Sparks
Players to watch: Shannon Doyle, So., S.; Ashley Dobbins, Sr., MH; Haley Plothow, So., OH; Whitney Maas, Jr., OH.
Outlook: First-year coach Shyloh Karshner takes over an inexperienced yet talented team that will gain maturity throughout the season. Doyle could emerge as one of Northwest Indiana's best young players after playing on varsity as a freshman.
Quote: "We're young, but we're scrappy and we're working towards becoming more technically sound." -- Karshner
Outlook: After finishing in the sectional semifinal last season, the Oilers are under the new direction of coach Jennifer Smith, who was hired in June to take over the program.
Northwest Crossroads Conference
Players to watch: Ana Nicksic, Jr., S.
Outlook: Still young with a crop of juniors, Andrean graduated three and were looking to fill roles at defensive specialist. What they found instead was that after an extensive tryout, the 59ers had too much depth this year to cut, fielding a roster of 15 players. The rotation in and out, even through the back row, will keep Andrean fresh and confident.
Quote: "This team is very balanced this year. We have a lot of good talent at every position, but what's great about this year is that we have a lot of depth and can move kids into every role." -- Coach Naveed Nizam
Players to watch: Kelsey Bonewits, Jr., MH; Regina Hope, Sr., S; Sam Marker, OH, Sr.; Lindsey Sopetti, Sr., OH.
Outlook: The Panthers are tall, lean, fast and return most of the skill that propelled them to a few upsets in last season's conference play. With that kind of talent back, there is an easier move for Griffith to start making even more noise in the NCC. Focusing early on serve-receive will keep the Panthers on track in time for conference play.
Quote: "We've always been in the middle of the pack in the conference. I have so many seniors that are learning that if they want to be in the top two in volleyball, they can, if they just live up to it." -- Coach Cathy Dilbeck
Players to watch: Brooke Fowler, Sr., OH; Alexis Jordan, Sr., OH; Liz Quinn, L, Sr.; Mackenzie Matlon, Sr., S.
Outlook: For another -- and final -- year, the Trojans have the outside tandem of Brooke Fowler and Alexis Jordan. As young as the Class of 2011 struggled gaining experience as sophomores and juniors, this is the year they'll expect to reap the rewards. There are seven seniors on this team with aggressive serving and a mentality to key on serve-receive.
Quote: "The quick turnaround from tryouts to the beginning of the season, it's nice to see them giving 100 percent. We've talked about quality vs. quantity in practices and they're making sure to take advantage of all the time they have." -- Coach Rachel Paplomatas
Players to watch: Riley Spears, Sr., OH; Tara Pulley, Sr., L; Grayce Roach, Fr., OH; Morgan Flahtery, Fr., MH.
Outlook: The Brickies have found strength in their defense and a strong back row. With returners up front, they've also found height in the middle. What they'll lack is experience all the way around, so the fast-paced early games could prove problematic. As in last years upsets against some of the Region's better programs, Hobart expects to ride that wave of beating the teams that see only a 2009 .500 record.
Quote: "I can see us winning some of those games that maybe right now, no one expects. ... I think this will be one of those years that the conference goes back and forth with who beats who." -- Coach Kristi Hoese
Players to watch: Carissa Thiel, Sr., MH: Anna Sacco, Jr., MH; Sarah Jonas, Jr., S; Jamie Schiessle, DS, Sr.; Jessica Sharkey, Jr., OH; Chloe White, Jr., L.
Outlook: The Red Devils lost an all-area libero to graduation, but return both tall and skilled middles, a talented setter and the memory of last season's five-game loss in the sectional semifinal. Lowell was able to fly under the radar through the first round of conference play last season, but after a second-place finish in the NCC, the target has returned to the Red Devils' backs.
Quote: "We are constantly going through fundamental skills and goal-setting. This group is not going to stp until they make that happen. They're looking to steal a conference championship and move into the sectional title game again." -- Coach Kim Kilmer
Players to watch: Heather Boyan, Sr., MH; Kayla Macadlo, Sr., OH; Tiffany Mazura, Sr., MH.
Outlook: The Mustangs already have three commitments to college programs with returning Times Player of the Year Boyan headed to Western Kentucky and Mazura and Macadlo going to Vincennes. Both setters -- Jenna Cecil and Christine Lissy -- also return, keeping the offense a well-oiled machine. The loss of Illinois-bound Anna Dorn means there's a space to fill in the middle.
Quote: "We're so deep, but that's a good problem to have. Our JV was really strong last year and we have a lot of girls coming from that team that are ready to play." -- Coach Tracy Afman
Porter County Conference
Players to watch: Nicole Bender, Sr., MH; Jackie Nowicki, Sr., OH; Morgan Marshall, So., DS.
Outlook: The Wolves return just three players with varsity experience, but that hasn't kept coach Linda Eleftheri from having a positive attitude towards the upcoming season.
Quote: "Our goals are to improve every single match and by the time we get to sectionals, we can be very competitive." -- Eleftheri
Players to watch: Kim McKeague, Sr., MH; Gaby Roggero, Sr., OH/DS; Alex Plazsa, So., MH; Emilee Gricus, Sr., S/MH.
Outlook: While the Wildcats continue to work on their consistency, what they're finding a lot of at Hanover Central are players with heart and flexibility to change positions. The defense is going to be speeding, making up for the loss of three senior starters.
Quote: "Our main goal is consistency. We want to win games and we want to do that doing what we do the right way. That's really going to be big for our team." -- Coach Shelley Evers
Players to watch: Rachelle Cook, Sr., L; Alix Shircliff, Sr., OH; Lynn Tokarski, Sr., MH.
Outlook: Injuries have already taken their toll on the Hawks as coach Kelly Dickensheets is down to just seven healthy varsity players. A brutal schedule in the first week of the season will be an early test.
Quote: "I'm pretty happy with my seven, but I told them that they have to be very careful. We can't afford any more injuries right now." -- Dickensheets
Players to watch: Sarah Clemens, Jr., MH; Jenna Jessen, Jr., OH; Taylor Bennett, Sr., S.
Outlook: Entering her second year in charge of the Fillies, coach Karyl Van Dyke is excited to put her own stamp on the program. With an experienced team filled with juniors and seniors, Van Dyke hopes the team can shake things up in the PCC.
Quote: "I think the juniors are putting a bit of pressure on the seniors, which is a good thing. This brings out a little bit more competitiveness. I like that." -- Van Dyke
Players to watch: Stephanie Evert, Sr., OH; Whitney Goodpaster, Sr., L.
Outlook: Coach Nancy Allen returns to the bench after going on maternity leave last season. Waiting for Allen is a group of 15 freshmen and sophomores who are eager to put their stamp on the LaCrosse volleyball program.
Quote: "I see a lot of growth for us in the next couple years. Once the younger players get used to the varsity level and going harder, I think they'll develop." -- Allen
Players to watch: Shelbi Westerhouse, Sr., MH; Taylor Rhew, Sr., S; Logan Rassel, Sr., OH.
Outlook: Although Matt Bien took over the team towards the end of last season, this year is his first opportunity to prepare the team for the entire season. With 24 girls in the program, Morgan Twp. is looking at the highest numbers the school has had in recent years.
Quote: "This is a real opportunity for us to build a program here." -- Bien
Players to watch: Aimee Hanna, Sr., OH; Stephanie Balon, Sr., OH; Stephanie Campbell, Sr., S; Shelby Worthen, Sr. L.
Outlook: The Satellites are driven by a strong core of seniors and are expected to make some noise in the PCC this season. Hanna and Balon make for a strong combination on the outside and both players are effective anywhere on the floor.
Quote: "Our experience will help us. Instead of having to start over with new girls, these girls already know what to expect and they know what is going on." -- Coach Ashley Rinker
Players to watch: Sarah Lawson, Sr., L; Vickie Flanders, Jr., MH; Lauren Chambers, Jr., MH.
Outlook: The road to a state championship is long and coach Scott Campbell doesn't want to get caught looking too far ahead despite the overwhelming talent the Senators return this season. Lawson is one of the best liberos in the area and is the only senior on a hungry team.
Quote: "The girls have high expectations and there is a bit of a 'state or bust' mentality. At the same time, we're keeping them humble. We still have a long way to go." --- Campbell
Players to watch: Faith Rohn, Jr., OH; Rachel Eizenga, Sr., S/RS; Ally Rohn, 8th, S; Taylor Lindbloom, Jr., OH.
Outlook: The little school that could is adding more and more IHSAA teams to its schedule, gaining Region attention for the home-schooled squad. Faith Rohn, a second-team all-area player last year, returns for her junior year with sister Ally, just an eighth-grader, setting her up. Calvary showed what it could do with an unbeaten record last season against the public schools, upping the ante by adding the Kankakee Valley tournament to its schedule this season.
Quote: "Our strength is still our hitting, especially with Faith up front. We're a little weak in the middle on defense (after losing a libero to a broken finger), so we're still trying to find someone to fill that role." -- Coach Melinda Carr
Players to watch: Kristen Vander Meer Sr., MH; Kira Tolkamp, Jr., RS.
Outlook: The Knights are playing under their third coach in as many years, this season with Lori Leo. While young, and not tall, Covenant has found that it has players who can jump high enough to erase any height discrepencies. A team that was two games above .500 a year ago has made goals that will improve that record and their game throughout the season.
Quote: "We said that we need to improve every year and right now, just being a great passing team is going to help us get there. That's one of my goals for them." -- Leo
Players to watch: Deauntra Pryor, Jr., OH/MH; Zhanaja Harris, Jr., MH/OH; Ziana Gibbons, Sr., S; Corina Sullivan, Jr., L.
Outlook: The Cardinals have nine juniors, the core of whom have played together since middel school. While not tall, E.C.C. can still be counted on for speed, making up for the lack of height. With more club players in the system, the expectations are high for the Class of 2012.
Quote: "They push each other and since they been playing together for a while now, especially this group of juniors, now that they're all on varsity, they're working together again for the same goal." -- Coach Cynthia Wilson
Players to watch: Allie Mattocks, Sr., OH; Lesly Park, Sr., OH; Tricia Gilbert, Sr., RS; Paige Kiger, So., S.
Outlook: The Bombers have shown a dominating killer serve-receive in practice, with Mattocks and Park taking the load of the blocks and kills. Juniors Ashley Kleinkort and Tori Robertson will be called upon to roam the middle and pick up the extras.
Quote: "We've got the ability to be one of the top teams in our conference. All of these seniors have played varsity since they were sophomores, so they should know what they need to do now to win." -- Coach Linda Kaufman
Players to watch: Caitlyn Sennell, Sr., MH; Emily Henrich, So., S/OH; Shaina Jacks, So., OH.
Outlook: Entering her fourth year as coach, Alissa Schnick is thrilled that a majority of her players competed in offseason camps and she expects that the extra work will pay off this year.
Quote: "All of the girls really took advantage of the camps, especially our two sophomores. Open gym doesn't always make you better and our girls put in the work this summer." -- Schnick