Boys Volleyball: Lincoln-Way East has aiming for the top
By Logan Malloy For Sun-Times Media March 18, 2013 9:46PM
Lincoln-Way East volleyball players Austin Royer, (from left) Tommy Piet, Josh Phalen, Nate Vandellen and Ryan Vorderer Friday, March 15, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Boys Volleyball 2013
TEAMS TO WATCH (in alphabetical order)
Lincoln-Way Central: The cupboard isn’t bare for first-year coach Brian Danielson. The Knights bring back four starters from a team that finished 23-14 a year ago, led by Ball State recruit Austin Overby (268 kills last season), Lakeland College recruit Matt Nawa and setter Matt Clark.
Lincoln-Way East: The Griffins return three starters from a sectional finalist team that finished 35-4 in 2012. Austin Royer is one of the premier setters in the area. He’s poised to break the school’s career assist record (1,718, set by John Boroli) as a junior. Royer sits at 1,334 assists. Watch out for middle hitter Aaron Reidwick, who has a 40-inch vertical leap.
Minooka: After finishing fourth in the state last season, the Indians return All-Area setter Phil Hanson for his senior campaign. Hanson dished 835 assists in 2012, but he’ll need to build chemistry with Minooka attackers after the graduation of All-Area hitters Rick Bishop and Nick Vertin.
Providence: The Celtics return four starters from 2012, led by 6-foot-6 Ball State recruit Brendan Surane (145 kills, 125 blocks last season). Junior setter Dan Niemec (300 assists) is back to pilot the attack, and he’ll look for his hitters — Surane, Matt Martensen and Jordan Houston — on the outside. Watch out for middle hitter Tim Doughney and libero Michael Tucker.
FOUR ALL-AREA RETURNEES TO SEE
(in alphabetical order)
Mike Krueger, Sr., Lemont: The outside hitter was team MVP last season while racking up 210 kills and 120 digs. A team captain, Krueger is in his third year on the varsity.
Mike O’Neill, Sr., Joliet Catholic: The versatile O’Neill returns off a 2012 campaign in which he had 228 kills, 343 digs and 40 aces. With more attack options on the outside his hitting numbers might go down, but his impact on games shouldn’t.
Mike Pikuza, Sr., Plainfield South: One of the top servers in the area already owns the school record for career aces with 92. He had 42 as a junior and hopes to break the school single-season record of 62.
Tom Poznanski, Jr., Plainfield Central: Led team in kills (144) as a sophomore outside hitter. He notched 73 digs and 37 aces last season.
Updated: April 20, 2013 6:29AM
With only one senior on its roster, one might think Lincoln-Way East is in rebuilding mode.
Coach Kris Fiore said the Griffins “aren’t looking at next year.”
“I think our ceiling is very high,” Fiore said. “We might not get there the first month of the season, but we’ll reach that ceiling by the end. We have the talent. We just have to get more familiar working with each other.”
The Griffins finished 35-4 last season, went undefeated in the SouthWest Suburban Conference and lost to Brother Rice in the sectional finals. They’ll look to contend around setter Austin Royer, a varsity starter since his freshman year who already is closing in on the school’s career assist record.
“He’s shattering all the records,” said Tommy Piet, a fellow setter, serving specialist and the lone senior on the squad. “I’m not even kidding ... they’re all going to be gone by the time he’s done.”
“Austin is so consistent,” Fiore said. “He makes it so hard on other teams, because he’s so strong — he’s a big, strong kid — that he can put the ball anywhere regardless of where the pass is.”
Royer sits at 1,334 assists after dishing 762 as a sophomore. The school record of 1,718 belongs to John Boroli. Royer is on a pace that would put him at 3,000 assists, which only four setters in Illinois boys volleyball history have reached.
“None of (the records) are important to me,” Royer said. “I just want to go to state.”
The Griffins will have a chance with him quarterbacking the team, but Fiore was quick to point out Piet and Mike Rossetto as capable replacements.
“We’ve got three really good setters and all of them could start on some really good programs in the area,” Fiore said. “It’s unfortunate they all play the same position, but it’s a great luxury to have.”
Other returning starters include junior outside hitters Nate Van Dellan and Ryan Vorderer. They played key roles last season and will have to pick up some of the hitting slack left by the graduation of Royer’s brother Nathan, the Herald News 2012 Player of the Year. Junior Josh Phalen also returns to the varsity as a libero.
“All of our hitters are strong,” Royer said. “And I think our serve-receive and our defense is really good. It will all fall through. A good pass leads to a good set to a good hit.”
The biggest in-house competition will be for the middle hitter spot, with juniors Evan Heathcock, Aaron Reidwick and Carson Slager competing.
The 6-foot-2 Reidwick might be the Griffins’ best kept secret, but with a 40-inch vertical, he won’t go unknown for long.
“He was on the sophomore team last year but hurt his ankle and missed almost the entire year,” Fiore said. “He’s an athletic freak. He’s going to shock some people this year, so if there’s a guy who nobody knows about in our league who will be an impact player, it’s him.”