Fenwick senior setter Will Sophie, one of the best players in the Chicago Catholic League, is also a definite leader for the Friars. (Photo by Marie Lillig)

The Fenwick High School boys volleyball team reached new heights in 2016 when it beat Leyden to win the first regional championship in school history.

The Friars’ postseason run ended with a blowout loss to eventual state quarterfinalist St. Patrick in the sectional semifinals, but they expect to continue their climb this spring.

With five returning starters, including All-Catholic League setter Will Sophie leading the way, Fenwick figures to be formidable.

“With so many returners, I really expect to go at least as far as we did last year,” Fenwick coach Kate Whitman said. “Obviously, we always want to improve, so making it past the sectional semifinals this year is definitely the goal. I think we have the experience to pull that off.”

Indeed, Sophie is a solid quarterback and one of five seniors who have starting experience. The Friars will rely heavily on his leadership.

“He’s a really great setter,” Whitman said. “He’s a really strong leader on the court and he’s smart and really fast, great hands and good setting decisions.

“As any setter is, he’s the cornerstone of what we’re doing.”

But the Friars have several other foundation pieces in right side Graham Rodgers, outside hitter Conner Lillig and middle hitters Jack Lulich and Joe Giralamo. All four seniors are returning starters.

“We’re trying to build on that experience,” Sophie said. “We won regionals, we got to sectionals.

“At sectionals we were a little nervous. The first game that showed.

“We lost two of our really good seniors but we still have a great squad this year and we’re looking to go back to sectionals.”

With nine seniors on a 14-player roster, the Friars do feel some urgency. But the key player could be the squad’s youngest. Outside hitter Jack Kenny is one of only two sophomores but he got some playing time last year backing up Sophie at setter last year.

“He was a little raw but he’s very well-trained at an elite club,” Whitman said. “This year he’s transitioned into an outside hitter.

“As of right now he’s leading the team in kills, so we’re kind of counting on him to have a breakout year this year.”

The Friars won the Chicago Catholic League White Division for the fourth time in six seasons, going 10-0. The league has expanded from two divisions to three and the Friars have been promoted to the Green Division, which is the middle of the three divisions and consists of De La Salle, St. Ignatius, Mount Carmel and St. Laurence.

Whitman said St. Ignatius and Mount Carmel will be the Friars’ stiffest competition in the conference. Fenwick is off to a 2-2 start overall and has a 1-1 record in the CCL.

They have beaten Lane Tech and De La Salle and have lost to Brother Rice and St. Ignatius, which beat the Friars in straight sets despite eight kills from Kenny and 12 assists from Sophie.

Fenwick’s recent success has generated an uptick in interest at the school. Rodgers, who has been on the varsity for four years along with libero/outside hitter James Brosnan, is excited to see the program’s evolution.

“It’s just really fun to see the team growing and us getting new people who hadn’t really played a ton before to come out here and give it their all,” Rodgers said. “We’re making progress, which is awesome. I think a lot more people are joining it now.”