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Attitude adjustment : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Attitude adjustment
Soto brings new sense of team, raises expectations for Oswego East volleyball

by Kristin Sharp


During his first year at Oswego East, assistant boys' volleyball coach Noel Soto took notes on the do's and don'ts of running a successful varsity program.

After the resignation of former coach Christy Landschoot, Soto stepped up to fill the void, becoming the fifth head coach in the program's ninth year.

"I'm taking some of what we ran last year, but there were a lot of things I wanted to do," Soto said. "I want to get the fundamentals in early because there are only three guys who play club and the rest pick up a volleyball in March. Our main objective is to win, and I think we're going to surprise some people. Their attitudes are great. They want to be here. I really want them to focus on being competitive every match.

The Wolves lost two starters to graduation and a third opted not to return to the team this year, but Soto still returns a solid nucleus of veteran players who hope to rebound from a three-win season in 2013. Nine of the 13 players on this year's roster are seniors.

"We're really senior-laden, which is good. They already have the experience from last year," Soto said. "This is going to be a little bit different this year. I've already established my expectations for the year. I don't want any gray area with them at all with what we expect to do. We need to make better choices. Last year everyone didn't buy into the same program. This year we've had team bonding and I really want this group of guys to come together as a team."

Winning will be an uphill battle for Oswego East, which has never had a winning season. The 2010 team came close, at 13-14, but the Wolves have won a combined 14 matches in the past three seasons.

"I sat down with this group at the end of last season as soon as I got this position and I said to them that they are going to be the first step in rebuilding this program," Soto said. "Come back four years from now and see how much progress we've made and know that they've laid the foundation. They've embraced that idea. They really want to see a change."

Senior middle hitter Sam Stovall certainly hasn't forgotten last year's struggles in the win column, but he's using it as motivation to finish his high school career strong.

"I'm using it as fire behind me. Last season was one of my worst seasons of high school volleyball ever and it was rough," Stovall said. "I'm taking that into this season that I don't want that to happen again. We're all going to work and improve from that. It's our driving force to constantly do better."

Soto's 5-1 offense will run through junior setter Jonathan Bornemann, who returns to the position after making his varsity debut last year.

"He's come back a lot stronger. He played club for another year," Soto said. "Last year he was still growing into his height, but this year I'm really impressed with the way he's come back. I think the year of club has really helped, and growing and maturing, he's really comfortable in his body."

Senior 6-foot-1 outside hitter Zach Maroney is also a returning starter and Soto expect him to lead the Wolves' attack in the front row as he closes in on the school record for career kills. Maroney will have support from senior right side/outside hitter Justice McGhee, 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter Brian Densberger and 6-foot-4 junior middle Anthony Peeks.

"Last year was a little bit of a struggle, but now that (Bornemann) is returning and most of our hitters are returning too, it's a lot closer bond and we're used to each other's sets and hits. He knows where we want it, and he's going to put it there."

Junior returning libero Renick Wilson will compete for starting spot with senior Kyle Russell. Stovall was the starting defensive specialist last year, but his larger 6-foot-2 frame will allow Soto to move Stovall into the second middle position.

"This year we have a lot of maturity going into the season," Stovall said. "I'm really looking forward to it. Things we learned last year we're definitely going to be able to do better this year. Coach Soto is an awesome coach and we're looking forward to the season."

Sophomore Adam Densberger makes his debut in the volleyball program and will add depth the lineup in addition to seniors Beau Bruecher, Jason Buckner and Alex Jamie.

"The connections that we've built through offseason training and having a lot of opportunities to be together as a team is really bringing us closer," McGhee said. "This year, a lot of things are changing in the program and everybody is coming together as friends and teammates.

"Coach is great. He's a great guy all around and he's brought in some specialties that we didn't really know about the game. He's been working just as hard as we have to get ready for the season. We're just ready to get started. Everyone is buying into this program."

McGhee not only credits Soto's new coaching philosophy, but the addition of hitting/blocking coach Brian Zerfas to the program.

"Coach Zerfas is really going to improve our game," McGhee said. "Everyone wants to win badly and it's going to fuel our fire."

The volleyball season opens on Saturday at the Plainfield North Invite at 8 a.m. before hosting Larkin next Thursday, April 3 at 5:30 p.m. Oswego East will enter the West Aurora Invite on April 5 and the IMSA Invite on May 17.

The Southwest Prairie Conference season begins April 8 at home against Plainfield East. Oswego East has lost 30 straight conference matches dating back to the 2011 season.

"This year the mentality is a lot different," Maroney said. "We're not just going out there and practicing. We're hitting it hard every single day. We're going out to win. We want to get to the point where coach wants us to be. It's a lot more hard work this year, but we love it. We've all bought into it. We're not just a team; we're a family."

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