By Phil Brozynski
Its time to analyze the eight quarterfinalists in the Illinois High School Associations 17th Boys State Volleyball Tourmament.
Strengths: Celtics have best big man in the tournament in 6-foot-7 Eric Daliege. Great team chemistry with players having spent several years playing together. Great floor leadership in setter Jonathan Gustafson. Good balance on attack with Daliege, Hayden Grove and Dan Ruzich each with more than 200 kills.
Weaknesses: Weak regular-season schedule. Needed three games twice to win against Lincoln-Way Central and was extended to three games by Addison Trail and St. Charles North. Very little depth behind starting six. Second middle is inexperienced 6-5 sophomore Denny Falls.
The skinny: Loss to St. Francis on May 12 took a lot of pressure off Providence to finish unbeaten season. Played solidly in sectional and appear to be on a roll heading into quarterfinals. Daliege has to be the difference against a smaller Glenbrook North team.
Strengths: Senior-dominated team led by outstanding outside hitter Billy Vydra (242 kills). Did not miss a beat when Tim Bedford was out for seven games midway through the season. Chris Curry and Sajid Bhimani are nice complements to Vydra. Chris Cooper is one of the best coaches in the state and always has his team prepared.
Weaknesses: Spartans have not proven they can win big game, losing in the finals of the Bison Battle against Naperville North and at the Tiger Classic against Wheaton Warrenville South. Have shown some tendency to relax with big lead and play down to competition. Have not played a ranked team since March. Very little height.
The skinny: The Spartans can be very, very good or wildy inconsistent (see Tiger Classic and 31-29, 28-26 road win at Brother Rice). They need to be on top of their game against Providence.
Strengths: Kevin Padden (289 kills) can attack from anywhere. Padden, Steve and Mike Mattes and Kevin Donahue were all part of last years No. 1-ranked and unbeaten (heading into the quarterfinals) team. Played a very strong nonconference schedule including Sandburg, Marist, Lake Forest and Glenbrook North.
Weaknesses: This is not your average Brother Rice team. The Crusaders have very few quality wins and bad losses to Oak Park, Joliet and Lincoln-Way East. The Crusaders have been unable to develop much balance behind Padden.
The skinny: Brother Rice took advantage of a weak regional and sectional to reach the quarterfinals. It will be difficult for the Crusaders to get by a taller, more talented WW South.
Wheaton Warrenville South
Strengths: Tall, taller, tallest. The Tigers can throw up a formidable front wall featuring 6-10 Neill Nystrom, 6-9 Rob Samp, 6-7 Neal Whittington and 6-4 Eric Hardek. Five players have more than 100 kills. WW South also has tradition on its side. They expect to win at this level. Always play one of the toughest schedules around. Wins over Glenbrook North, Buffalo Grove and Glenbard East. Bill Schreier can X and O with the best of them.
Weaknesses: Service errors galore and inconsistency from the underclassmen. In a pivotal DuPage Valley Conference match against Glenbard East on their home floor, the Tigers literally handed the second game to the Rams by hitting all over the court.
The skinny: You cannot discount history and the drive to finish strong of senior Hardek, who still remembers the painful quarterfinal loss to Buffalo Grove in 2006.
Strengths: Dan Mader. The best player in the area leads the team in kills (203) and assists (388). Great offensive balance with Tim Lovik (194 kills), Mark Jones (179) and Peter Dabrowski (153 kills, 122 blocks). Have won 15 in a row since loss to WW South at Downers Grove South. Tough schedule. Wins over Neuqua Valley and WW South (twice). Decent height. Great team chemistry. The Rams love to have fun.
Weaknesses: Occasionally, their defense is suspect. Balls will hit the floor with maddening regularity. Can be extended.
The skinny: There isnt a better offensive team in the field. The Rams can come at you from any direction. Mader and Jones play off each other well, especially in transition. A Glenbard East vs. Providence final is not out of the question.
Strengths: Five players with more than 100 kills led by all-area selection Jake Blackman (294) and Rob Bauer (208). Adequate if not great size. Brian Clark and Derek Menendez can hold their own at the net. Experience from finishing third last year, although got a break by facing (Chicago) Whitney Young in 2007 quarterfinals.
Weaknesses: Schedule. The Upstate Eight is not the DuPage Valley. Too many wins against inferior competition. The Wildcats lost twice at Benet to St. Francis and Naperville Central. Needed to fight off match point in game two to get past Central in the sectional final and just got by Joliet Catholic in the regional final.
The skinny: Neuqua took a game off Glenbard East at the Springfest tournament in early April, so there should be no surprises in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats showed they can deal with adversity, but upsetting Glenbard East will be a tall order.
Strengths: Sophomore setter Tim Schmidt will be a good one by the time his high school career is over. Junior Mark Brady is solid on the outside (219 kills), and Charlie Kahn and Blake Austin can plug the middle. Don August has done a good job rebuilding the program. A strong pre-tournament schedule (Naperville Central, St. Francis, Glenbrook North) helped Oak Park win the traditionally-weakest sectional in the state
Weaknesses: Oak Park has not shown it can beat good teams on a consistent basis, going 0-5 at the Tiger Classic in March and 2-3 at the Glenbrook North invite (beating Nazareth and York) in early May. Huskies lost five of their last six regular-season games. Youth.
The skinny: This is an experience-building year for the Huskies, who have only four seniors on the roster.
Strengths: Six-foot-6 Joe Ascher (356 kills) and junior outside Chris Falknor are a solid 1-2 punch and setter Tom Angerame (830 assists) is experienced and savvy. Middle Jim Wizniak (213 kills) has to be respected. Matt Bronson (561 digs) is one of the better liberos around. Coach Matt Aiello never lets his team get down emotionally.
Weaknesses: A fourth quality tournament would have helped prepare the Bison for what should be a difficult semifinal. By getting the No. 1 seed at sectional, they avoided having to play Lake Forest a third time. The Bison rely heavily on Ascher, and if he is off they could struggle.
The skinny: The Bison should advance to the semifinals and walk away with a trophy. Anything more is a bonus.