Strength up the middle in virtually any sport is very important to the success of a volleyball team. The Lyons Township volleyball team is certainly no exception. The Lions are looking to lean on their powerful tandem of 6-foot-6 Dan Lalonde and 6-foot-8 Kayvann Carroll this season.

“With Dan and Kayvann, one of our team strengths should be control of the net,” said LT volleyball coach Joann Pyritz. “We will have plenty of hands reaching pretty high over the net. It’s going to be hard to stop our middles.

“Lalonde and Carroll join fellow returning starters in setter Matt Corte and outside hitter Scott Corte to form an experienced, talented nucleus for the Lions. Senior setter Trevor Hough, who also saw playing time as a starter in 2009, and 6-3 outside hitter Kevin Urbain also assume prominent roles this year. Seniors Jeff Rylander, Mike Canino and Jack Gouty have performed well this season adding further depth.

“They learned a bit about the game [last year] and how intense it needs to be,” Pyritz said about her returning players. “We have started stronger this year, and that’s directly attributable to the leadership of these guys.”

Michael Niezgoda, Danny Paice, Elliot Nelson, Mark Hogan, Jack O’Malley, Dominic Dina, Adam Hass and Brian Ramm round out the Lions’ upperclassmen-laden roster, while assistant coach Katie Meyers returns as Pyritz’s aid on the bench.

The Lions, who went 18-18 last year, opened this season with a third-place showing at the Conant Invitational on March 26. Lyons went 3-1 during the tournament, beating Highland Park 26-24, 16-25, 15-10, Conant 25-17, 13-25, 15-13 and Payton 25-19, 25-16. Lake Park, which defeated York in the championship match, knocked off LT 25-19, 25-20. Matt Corte had 85 assists in the tournament.

“I would have liked for us to have been in the championship game, but Lake Park was in our pool,” Pyritz said. “If they would have been on the other side, who knows maybe we would have done better. From the standpoint it was our first tournament, I was happy with our performance.”

Lyons figures to battle York and several other West Suburban (Silver) Conference teams for the league title.

“York is always tough and Downers North, obviously, has some talent,” Pyritz said. “It’s always a toss up and really depends on which team plays well in a given match.”

Coming off last year’s 18-18 showing, the Lions are hoping for a strong finish in both conference and their sectional, which features excellent teams like Morton, Brother Rice and St. Rita.

“We still have a lot of work to do in terms of improving our defense and passing,” said Pyritz, who coached the LT girls team to a Class 4A runner-up finish in the fall.

Fresh off their spring break, the LT boys squad hosts Downers Grove South on Thursday at 6 p.m.