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Recruiting classes boosted by Illinois products

By Phil Brozynski

John Tawa of Prepvolleyball.com recently announced his list of the top recruiting classes of 2008, and to no surprise Illinoisans played a prominent role in determining who had the best off-season among the countrys top collegiate volleyball programs.

Florida came in at No. 1 in Tawas survey. The Gators snared the No. 1 high school player in the country last year in Joliet Catholics 6-foot-2 left-handed setter/right side Kelly Murphy, then added Naperville Norths 6-2 outside Colleen Murphy.

Texas landed in the No. 2 spot in no small measure thanks to 5-10 setter Michelle Kocher of Wheaton St. Francis, who teamed with Murphy and Ward to lead Sports Performance 18 Elite to an unbeaten season and the JVDA national title.

Perennial Midwest powerhouse Nebraska also got into the Illinois act, adding 6-1 outside hitter Jordan Haverly of Keith Country Day near Rockford. Haverly helped Nebraska finish at No. 6 in Tawas rankings.

Outside hitter Becca Zlabis of Wheaton Warrenville South, who at times was the most dominant player on the Sports Performance 18 Elite team, and Mother McAuleys libero Carli Weiler helped Michigan State check in at No. 7.

Big Ten members Minnesota (No. 12) and Illinois (No. 20) also cracked Tawas list thanks to some local talent.

Sandburg setter Alex Blatt, a former USA Junior National Team member, will pair with former Rosary standout Christine Hartmann to give the Gophers two of the best setters to ever grace the Chicago suburbs.

Meanwhile, Illinois coach Don Hardins biggest coup was landing 6-3 middle/outside hitter Michelle Bartsch of Collinsville, who Tawa believes can start immediately for the Illini women. She will be joined by liberos Catherine Culligan (St. Francis) and Rachel Feldman (Normal).

Georgia added 5-9 libero Carla Tietz of St. Charles North to round out Tawas list of top recruiting classes at No. 30.

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Among the Midwestern colleges and universities breaking into the list of highest honorable mention recruiting classes were Iowa (Joanna Giampoli of Hinsdale South and Paige Stevens of Neuqua Valley) and Northwestern (Kathryn Chrystal of Crystal Lake Central).

High honorable mention choices included Loyola-Chicago (Marists 6-3 Natalie Pounovich), Seton Hall (Meghan Matusiak of St. Francis and Crystal Lake Centrals Rachael Thornquist), and Toledo (Plainfield Norths Amber DeWeerdt and Waubonsie Valleys Kassie Kadera).

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Looking ahead to 2009, Ole Miss has received commitments from Paytons Courtney Cunningham and Downers Grove Souths Marielle Oestermeyer, and Illinois has commitments from Jessica Jendryk of Benet and Erin Johnson of Crystal Lake South.

Also, Glenbard Easts Amanda Peterson has committed to Ohio State, Illinois-Chicago has received commitments from Kelsey Safranek of Downers South and Aubrey Sniegowski of Lemont, and Sycamores Samantha Thrower has thrown in her lot with Indiana.