2016-17 Season Outlook
The men’s volleyball program enters its second season of competition after the re-start of the program last year following an 11-year absence. The 2016-17 team is looking to build on the experience they gained in their positive rookie season and to continue to make strides. With the majority of the squad returning from a year ago, the Trolls will benefit from the continuity in personnel. In addition, they have added a number of new players that will increase the overall talent level.
“Last year we did the hard work of laying the foundation and starting the program and this year we will be able to build on that work,” said head coach Jim Butski. “We are excited for the gains we will make in our second season.”
Part of the optimism and excitement for this year comes in the return of 10 players that were in the program a year ago. Those players now have a year of collegiate experience, understand what is expected, and have meshed together. They have also set the ground work for developing a positive identity for the men’s volleyball program on campus.
“In this young stage of the program, we are looking to establish a culture and a volleyball family,” said Butski. “The returning players have already developed a bond and understanding of team and we look to enfold the incoming players into that concept.”
In their inaugural year the Trolls finished with a 6-15 record overall and, at 2-8, were fifth place in the conference. This year the team believes they can win more matches and be more competitive in the CCAC schedule. They are ready for the challenge of finishing out in tight matches and taking care of business on the court.
To help them be more competitive the roster has increased from 11 active players last year to 17 this season. There are ten returning players who will provide stability and leadership and seven incoming freshmen. The increased roster size brings added talent and depth and also creates more of a competitive environment and intensity which raises the level of play. It also allows players to find their natural positions and develop their game in that role.
“The larger roster size with a good blend of returning and new players will make us more competitive,” said Butski. “However, we also recognize that we are still young and may experience some growing pains as we continue to mature as a program.”
Overall the team returns players to every position. They will be solid with strong hitters from both the left and right sides of the net. The team also has number of options for the middle hitters and will see who develops to take the court time in that position. The Trolls have added more depth in the setting position and will have increased options there. With the current personnel the team will be improved in their passing skills which will aid in both their offensive and defensive efforts.
The Trolls will rely on three of the top returners from last year to provide leadership, stability, and skill. Senior Nick Costa (Oak Lawn, Illinois) is an outside hitter who led the team a year ago with a 2.72 kill average. He was the go-to man and has the experience and know-how to lead the team. He also handled a large portion of the team’s passing with his all-around play. Sophomore Ben Tocila (Palos Hills, Illinois) averaged 2.65 kills per set last year as an outside hitter. This year he may move to the right side to give the team a balanced attack. He also is a weapon from the serving line where he had 41 aces a year ago. Sophomore Mike Karl (Lockport, Illinois) played the libero position last year and averaged 3.06 digs per set. This season he will play outside hitter and use his talents in the attack.
Along with those three hitters, the team will have many other attacking options. Sophomore Eddie Binion (Woodridge, Illinois), who played middle last year, will move to an outside position where he will help in the attack and the block. Senior Kendall Toren (Shawnee, Kansas) is a right side hitter and provides height and hitting depth. Ryan Bakke (New Lenox, Illinois) is an incoming freshman who brings energy and experience and can play the front row as well as the back. Freshman Caleb Leake (Flossmoor, Illinois) is athletic and will provide hitting from the outside. Danny Kott (Elgin, Illinois) another incoming freshman provides good depth to the outside position.
At the middle of the net the Trolls return junior Zach Fitch (Chino, California), junior Zach Kirkilas (Oak Forest, Illinois), and sophomore Christian Mireles (Palos Hills, Illinois). All three of these players found time in that position last year and helped in the attack as well in the defense with the block. Strengthening that position and making a difference is freshman Jonathan Poortinga (Downers Grove, Illinois), who transferred from North Central College where he red-shirted last season.
The team has also strengthened the setting position with addition players. Junior Austin Tafoya (La Mirada, California) returns to the role where he averaged 8.11 assists per set a year ago. Able to step in as setter and find a spot in the line-up is freshman Danny Lawrence (Frankfort, Illinois), who has good hands and the height to provide an added dimension to the position. In addition freshman Adam Garcia (Bellaire, Texas), who has beach volleyball experience, can set or will help the team out as defensive specialist.
Along with some of the all-around players and others already mentioned as back row players, the digging and passing will benefit from freshman Conor Sullivan (Chicago, Illinois), who will play libero or defensive specialist. With his ability to handle the ball he will make his way into the line-up. Senior Christian Vegas (Streamwood, Illinois), who red-shirted last season, is also a defensive specialist and brings experience to the team.
The Trolls’ schedule includes a total of 24 matches as well as two exhibition contests. They begin play on January 14 at Lawrence Technological University and have their home opener on January 20 against Campbellsville University. Many of the team’s opponents, like Trinity, are relatively new programs as men’s volleyball is still making its way into collegiate competition. The Trolls toughest competition will come in their conference schedule, where they will face teams receiving nationally recognition. The Trolls will play in 10 CCAC matches as they face each conference school twice. Trinity’s CCAC schedule begins on January 31 at Cardinal Stritch University and will conclude in the conference tournament on April 7-8.