Marist surprised many in the Illinois volleyball community by ending Maine South’s 40-match unbeaten streak 26-24, 22-25, 25-22 in the 2010 state semifinals, then dismissing three-time defending state champion Wheaton Warrenville South 25-23, 25-22 in the finals.
A similar run in 2011 would be an even bigger surprise.
Marist lost 800 kills, 500 blocks, Casey Gray and all-area middle hitter Dave Nelson from last year’s 38-4 team. The RedHawks return just 3.5 starters (according to coach Bob St. Leger’s arithmetic) from the team that won its fourth consecutive conference title.
But there is some silver lining in the cloud hovering over 4200 West 115th Street. Three-year letterwinner and setter extraordinare Garrett Dempsey is back for another year at the helm of Marist’s offense.
Dempsey accumulated 967 assists last season and was named East Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year. He could surpass 2,000 assists for his career. Marist just needs to find somebody for Dempsey to get the ball to.
The only two players with any hitting experience are 6-foot-1 opposite Kevin Morrison, who had 176 kills and 106 blocks in 2010, and part-time player Jim Mead, who had 78 kills and 65 blocks in 15 starts for the injured Tommy Clark.
“I believe Jim to be a ‘diamond in the rough’ because not many teams know much about him and is by far the best athlete on our team,” St. Leger said.
Also back is all-conference lilbero Kevin Murphy, who had 532 digs in 2010.
But that’s the extent of Marist’ varsity experience. So where is the help coming from? Maybe from the graduates of a 30-1 sophomore team. Certainly from left-handed Sean Connelly at opposite.
“We will be strongest in setting, passing and defense, which can win a lot of games,” St. Leger said. “We have questions marks at one of the outside positions and one of the middle positions.”
Three area players were named to the Molten Improved Volleyball Team announced earlier this week by Prepvolleyball.com.
Allison Whimpey, a 6-0 senior rightside from Cary-Grove, who had 137 kills, 50 blocks and 42 aces for a team that ranked No. 1 nationally until falling to Lyons in the Class 4A final, was a first-team selection.
Named to the third team were Jenna Jendryk, a 6-foot junior rightside from Benet Academy who was her team’s most dominant player the latter half of the 2010 season, and Taylor Pippen, a 5-11 junior middle blocker from Carmel.
Pippen, the daughter of NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, barely made the school’s freshman “B” team three years ago. Yet she had 121 kills, 39 aces and nearly 100 blocks for the Corsairs in 2010.
The rich get richer?
Wheaton Warrenville South, which has won six state titles in the last 10 years, will likely emerge as the team to beat in 2011 with the addition of 6-6 outside hitter Michal Stefanski, a foreign exchange student.
Stefanski, who has a 8-foot, 4-inch reach and touches 10 feet, 10 inches, played for Sports Performance’s 18 Mizuno team during the club season with future WW South teammate Matt Nussbaum.