After another solid season a year ago, the Belleville West Maroons will have several new faces in the lineup when they open their 2015 volleyball campaign on Friday at the Joliet West Tournament.
But the Maroon will do it without Austin Betz, their head coach.
Diagnosed earlier this year with testicular cancer, Betz is currently taking a leave from the day-to-day coaching duties of the Maroons while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Betz is still handling adminstrative duties for the Maroons’ volleyball program. He said he hopes to be back on the court coaching his team after completing the treatments in late April.
“They (the doctors) caught it early and when I had the tumor removed, they said it looked good and that it (the cancer) had not spread,” Betz said. “My doctors felt it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to be out there (on the court) hitting volleyballs so right now I’m just working on getting well. I feel pretty good. The doctors have me on a steroid to offset some of the effects of the chemotherapy and I’m not able to sleep much so mostly I’m just very tired. I’m about halfway through with my treatments. I’m hoping to be back sometime in late April.”
In Betz’s absence, Maroons assistant coach Lauren DeGirolamo will serve as interim head coach. West volleyball coaching legend Charlie Rodman as well as Pete Kowalski and Lisa Kowalski are the assistant coaches.
On the court, West will be young and inexperienced as graduation a year ago took all but one player from the starting lineup. Fortunatly, that one starter may be most versatile and is one of the premier players in the Southwestern Conference in junior Nicholas Stevenson.
A starter from the time he hit his first serve as a Maroons player two years ago as a young freshman, Stevenson has the knowledge and ability to play anywhere on the court. On a Maroons squad with several unaswered questions, Stevenson will be the go-to player.
“Nicholas has great knowledge of the game and also great court awareness. That comes from playing at very high level with his club volleyball team,” Betz said. “He led our team in hitting a year ago and he’s bigger (6-foot-2) and stronger this season. We’re expecting big things from him this season.”
Stevenson is listed as an outside hitter, but expect him to play all over the court this season. Senior Justin Buettner (6-1) will also play on the outside.
Senior Nick Givens is the Maroons tallest player at 6-5 and played a key role as a reserve for West last year. Givens, who could also be moved around a lot, is listed as a middle hitter along with senior Kwa-Malik Moffett (6-0) and sophomore Timothy Neff (6-1).
On the right side will be seniors Ben Harsin (6-1) and Mitchell Mayville (6-0). Both will also split time at the setter spot. A thrd right side hitters is senior Llya Antipin. A foreign exchange student from Russia, Antipin is a good athlete, according to Betz.
“I’m not sure how much volleyball he’s played. But he’s 6-4, can jump and is a good athlete,” Betz said. “Most of these kids played at the junior-varsity level a year ago so they know our system and how we like to play. Now we’ll see if they can raise their levels and com pete at the varisty level. It’s a good group of kids.”
Senior Nicholas Horton (5-8) and senior Daniel Neff (5-9) will be defensive specialists.