Belleville West came flying out of the gate last season, winning 20 of the first 21 matches under then first-year volleyball coach Lauren DeGirolamo.
The Maroons (30-6-1) posted a rare unbeaten run through the Southwestern Conference to win the league title and also claimed tournament championships in Quincy and Jacksonville. They didn’t slow down until being knocked off in the regional in a three-set marathon by league rival O’Fallon.
That confidence — plus a lot of returning experience — should spill over into the 2015 season, with big things expected once again out of the Maroons.
“I was super-excited about last season,” said DeGirolamo, the former Lousiana State standout who lost two top players to graduation in Toni Fields (Jefferson College) and Zoe Zeiter (Maryville University). “Last year we were so outside heavy between Tony and Zoe, but this year I think we’re going to have a more balanced attack. We’ve got people at all positions that can put the ball away.”
Juenger, a senior right-side hitter, was third behind Fields and Zeiter last season with 183 kills.
“I think she’s going to continue on how she ended the season last year,” DeGirolamo said of Juenger. “She’s a smart player and she’s got a lot of shots. It will depend on the night and who we play, but I do envision Kayla Juenger being one of the power hitters in the conference this year.”
Belleville West opens the season Sept. 3 at Triad.
West returns both of its setters in senior Sam Schell (5.9 assists per match, 40 service aces) and junior Kacie Kinnikin (4.7 assists per match, team-leading 41 service aces).
“It always helps to have experience back at setter,” DeGirolamo said. “They both played last year and set very well for us. Sam is one of those athletes that goes out and competex, she has that desire to win. It’s her fire and desire to be successful.”
Junior Nikki Gaskill moves to the middle after playing on the right side last season while senior Ali Hanger is back at libero.
“Shes’ going to give you 100 percent effort all the time,” DeGirolamo said of Hanger. “I’ve seen her now since she was a freshman and she’s just improved so much and is really going to be a strong libero for us.”
Senior Sara Caponi (82 kills, 46 blocks) will be at middle blocker along with Kylie Burke.
Among the outside hitters are senior Nicole Braner and sophomore Kaylee Hanger, the youngest of three Hanger sisters to have played for West. The oldest is now a West assistant coach, Abby Hanger.
Also at right side hitter are senior Megan Glaeser and 5-foot-10 freshman Katherine Koch, with sophomore Abby Hobbs working at both defensive specialist and outside hitter.
“We’re going to be a good ball-control team,” DeGirolamo said. “I think we’re going to serve-receive and pass well and hopefully, we’re that scrappy team that’s hard to score on.”