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Striving to be above average : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Striving to be above average
Oswego looks to reclaim powerhouse status under Splitt

by Kristin Sharp


Five seasons ago, the Oswego boys' volleyball team seemed to hit its stride.

The Panthers enjoyed three consecutive seasons above the 20-win mark, and won back-to-back regional championships in 2007 and 2008. But since that time, Oswego has watched three head coaches leave the program while the Panthers hovered near the .500 mark.

This spring, that is about to change with the addition of elite volleyball coach Zach Splitt, who takes over the program for the 2014 season. Although Splitt is not on staff in Oswego District 308, he brings a wealth of volleyball knowledge to the Oswego program.

"He brings a lot more intensity, and since he doesn't know anyone, no one is guaranteed anything so we have to work to where we want to be," Oswego senior libero Zack Donati said.

Splitt was a senior captain on the 2003 Naperville North squad that placed third in state. He went on to play collegiate men's volleyball at Quincy University. He has spent the past three years at Sports Performance Volleyball Club in Aurora where he is a boys' club coach and was the Lemont boys' volleyball head coach in 2012 and 2013.

Lemont defeated Oswego in the opening round of the regional tournament last year before falling to Plainfield East in the regional title game.

"One of the coaches in the girls' program knew the boys' director at Sports Performance Volleyball Club, and I coach there," Splitt explained. "The opportunity fell into my lap. I've been in volleyball - either playing or coaching - since seventh grade. This is a little bit bigger monster than Lemont. Lemont is a small school and a very young program. This program is more established and more about me shaping into what I want it to be."

Splitt knew of a few players on his current Oswego roster through Sports Performance, but did not personally coach them on his club team. That did, however, ease the transition into the spring season. Splitt has five seniors on his 13-player roster.

"With this squad, I have a lot of wiggle room. I can do a lot of different things with this team, whether it's a traditional 5-1 offense, a 6-2 offense, I can run a non-traditional 6-2 offense with the setter hitting," Splitt said. "It's also going to be tough on them because they have to make sure they're that flexible throughout the season. The last thing I want is to have six or seven guys be 'the guys' and the others just get (limited) playing time."

Senior 6-foot-1 outside hitter Charles Morrell and Donati were key contributors last season, which netted 11 wins, and those two players return to lead the Panthers this spring along with 6-2 senior setter Hunter Bowman, senior hitter Alex Federau and senior hitter John Stark.

"The beginning of the year, especially for a new coach, is difficult to figure out what you need to do at practice to help your team. I don't know these kids and I don't know what their strengths and weaknesses are as volleyball players," Splitt said. "For the past week or so and the next week, I'll be evaluating them. We have a lot of offensive weapons; the trick will be using them. Our serve-receive, defense, those elements of our game will be key in order to facilitate the use of our offensive weapons. My expectations are sky high."

The junior class includes outside hitter Shane Bara, setter Blake Kearby, middle hitters David Clausen, Nick Richard and Dennis Kunzman and hitter Zach Aceret, as well as libero Brandon Ismiel. Sophomore Ethan Kilpatrick rounds out the squad as a libero.

"All of our middles are juniors and show a great deal of potential," Splitt said. "Outside of the fact that we'll be out-sized, we're fast, quick and hopefully we can get our opponents off-balanced so that our height will not be an issue."

The junior class boasts seven players this year, and players like Bara are excited to work with the experienced seniors and a new head coach.

"We're definitely looking to get Oswego back on the map," Bara said. "We've been mediocre in conference recently, but with (Splitt's) game, we're hoping to elevate our performance. We're definitely looking to take conference this year."

Splitt will rely heavily on the first game of the season to make lineup adjustments and find the right positions for his diverse group of players. The season opens Monday with a home game against Lockport at 6 p.m. before Oswego enters the West Aurora Invite on April 5.

"Based on the evaluations I've already made, our first touch game is going to be vitally important," Splitt said. "Based on that lack of height in our front row, our defense needs to be scrappy. We need to adopt the idea that the ball never hits the ground, ever. I am a defensive coach and I played libero in club and in college and I pride myself on bringing that scrappy never-die defensive mentality with all the teams I have. We have to make sure we're able to use the offensive weapons we have in any situation based on how good that defensive serve-receive is."

Oswego will also enter the St. Charles East Invite on April 12 and the Benet Invite May 2-3. The Southwest Prairie Conference season begins April 8 at Plainfield South.

"I'm excited for this year," Morrell said. "We have the skill and we have the players out there. I feel like our coach can get us to that next level of being a top team."

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