At least by Lyons Township's lofty standards, last year's boys volleyball team had an "average" season.
The Lions managed to make it all the way to a sectional semifinal before their run was ended by St. Rita. LT finished with a 19-17 record, but after four state tournament appearances in the last seven years?"most recently in 2003?"the Lions always expect more.
"We certainly had a good season," LT coach Joann Pyritz said. "It just wasn't one of our best. We just never really broke into a tremendous winning streak.
"We always talk about what it is we're striving for, and we have to improve on last year's record and last year's production. We've been to state a number of times and want to be back again. Because of that, it makes it easier for everyone to buy into what we're doing."
Feng Cao, the only holdover from the Lions' last trip to state, is back at setter this season. The 6-foot-5 senior was a seldom-used reserve on the state tournament 2003 squad. He's returning to the starting lineup with senior outside hitter Dan Elwood, senior middle hitter Scott Liska and junior defensive specialist Mike Konrad.
Seniors Tim Duquette, Ryan Miller and Kyle Rocco all saw time last year and will step into bigger roles for the Lions this year.
Senior Brian Burns; juniors Ken Srebro, Dan Corte, Mike Siamis, Tom Kulawiak and Frank Tranchida; sophomore Patrick Kilrea; and freshman Justas Pagojus will round out LT's roster.
"We have some positions to fill, but we have players that can take those spots," Pyritz said. "You put that together and you have enough experience on the floor to make a difference. And with this group, you have a lot of leadership. Everyone is doing something for the team, and that's important."
Pyritz isn't concerned about the expectations that come with the Lions' past success. In fact, she welcomes the expectations because it means everyone that hopes to take the court for LT is well aware of what they need to do, and is usually prepared for it.
"Tradition is so critical," Pyritz said. "It takes a while to build it, but once you have it, you have to monitor it to make sure everyone that comes in understands the goal.
"When you spend time with a program that struggles, it's hard to set a lofty goal when the first goal is to string wins together. But when you've been there and the kids know that, it's easier to set the bar higher year after year."
Pyritz is quick to point out that while the ultimate goal is to excel in the state tournament, the Lions are also taking things one step at a time and beginning with smaller goals. One is to win a West Suburban Conference title. They finished third last year. Then they'll worry about a regional and sectional title.
LT has already started the season with a pre-spring break trip to Hoffman Estates for the Conant Invite. There the Lions lost in the tourney championship game after going 3-0 in pool play. It was the first of four tournaments LT will play in this year.
The Lions play again Thursday at Downers Grove South before returning home Monday for a match against Addison Trail.
"I think we'll be fairly consistent, and I think we showed that at the first tournament,"
"Our ball control was good and so are our all-around skills at this point. We certainly need to fine tune our offense this year, and work on our bench to make sure everyone can contribute, but our starters have already shown consistency."