The goals never change for the Mater Dei High volleyball team.
State tournament appearances have almost become expected and seven state championships shows how high the bar is set for the Clinton County powerhouse.
"That's an expectation that you want. That's a target that you want," said Mater Dei coach Chad Rakers, whose team finished 34-5 last season and saw its season come to an abrupt end with a loss to Columbia in the Class 3A Murphysboro Sectional championship. " Every year that is our expectation and that's our goal, but making it happen is a ton of work. As difficult and stress-filled as that is, you want that. You want to be a team that people are worried about --and our job is to hold us that tradition."
In the last two decades, Mater Dei has won six state titles, finished second once and third twice. Since 1982, no Mater Dei team has ever won fewer than 25 matches.
That tradition began when Hall of Fame coach Fred Rakers, Chad's father, started the program in the mid-1970s. Fred Rakers was on the bench for all seven state titles, the last as an assistant to his son, and his recent cancer diagnosis has affected everyone and everything surrounding the program.
"He's already made a huge impact on these kids," said Chad Rakers, whose father will be honored during the "Legendary Knight for Fred" at 7 p.m. Tuesday during the Knights' home opener against Belleville East. "After I told the girls what the diagnosis was and where we were at, I told them I can't ask more of you. It's always going to be there, it's going to be there every night."
Only three starters return from a strong graduating class that included Emily Koelling (South Carolina Upstate), Bailey Kampwerth (McKendree), Ali Lampen (Maryville) and Chelsea Crocker (Kaskaskia).
Rakers is convinced this group will prove it can hang with the area's top teams.
"The youth excites me, the leadership that I'm seeing from my older girls excites me," he said. "They're really stepping up and they're ready to take charge and that's a really great thing to see."
Returning starters for the Knights are senior setter Lexi Kohnen (372 assists; 20 service aces), senior middle blocker Avoynna Kampwerth (66 kills, 73 blocks) and junior setter Madison Haake (364 assists; 36 service aces).
Other starters include senior outside hitter Tori Johnson and junior outside hitter Elle Gebke and junior right side hitters Lauren Donnewald and Cloey Beckmann.
Sophomore Kelly Voss is also in the middle, with Taylor Luebbers at libero. Rakers also plans to use junior Shannon Schuetz at defensive specialist and sophomore Erica Lampe at outside hitter.
"We've got to be quick and we've got to play great defense -- and we've got to be smart," he said when asked to assess his squad. "We'll definitely be a little more spread out this year. I don't know that there's necessarily that big (star player), we're going to have to move the ball around and keep them guessing."