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Boys volleyball: Undersized Panthers not short on experience

Oswego's Jerell Rogers (14) hits a shot past Oswego East's Max Behnke (13) during Tuesday's crosstown volleyball game at Oswego East.
Oswego's Jerell Rogers (14) hits a shot past Oswego East's Max Behnke (13) during Tuesday's crosstown volleyball game at Oswego East.

The Oswego boys volleyball team is hopeful that its experience will allow it to overcome a lack of size and physicality.

“We have much more experience this season, returning three key starters from last season,” Panthers coach Zach Splitt said. “The leadership core of this unit is solid and it is our expectation to rely on their mental toughness to navigate us through a challenging season.”

Leading the way will be seniors Ben Ruggles, Jake Bentz and Jerell Rogers. At 6-foot-3, Rogers is the tallest among the trio.

Ruggles had 560 assists last year as a setter to lead the team. Bentz, an outside hitter, was second on the team last spring with 128 kills. Rogers, a middle hitter, led the Panthers with 44 blocks and with a .372 attacking percentage. He also had 127 kills.

“We are lacking in overpowering physicality,” Splitt said. “Once again, we are on the shorter side of the volleyball spectrum, so we will have to rely on thoughtful offensive execution along with top-notch first contact skills in order to facilitate our offensive opportunities.”

As hungry as the seniors are for success after a 16-18 mark in 2016, you could argue that Splitt, who is in his fourth season, is even hungrier.

It was just two years ago that the Panthers went 25-9.

“When I took over the program in 2013, we embarked on reinventing the Oswego boys volleyball program,” he said. “Over those years we have consistently set higher expectations for ourselves as a staff and as a program. Over the offseason we overhauled our coaching staff and are poised once again to take a meaningful step forward in the performance and success of this program."

While Splitt expects the Panthers to be better than they were last spring, he also anticipates the Southwest Prairie Conference teams to be better as well.

“As volleyball in the area continues to grow and improve, it is essential that our group cannot get comfortable in the former narratives of west suburban volleyball,” Splitt said. “With the expansion of the SPC along with the emergence and improvement of a number of other programs, it is important to push ourselves beyond the norm and stay ahead of the curve.”

Look for junior middle hitter Al Dunah and sophomore libero Ryne Anders to step in and contribute in their respective first seasons on varsity.

The Panthers will see a lot of action early, hosting their own Invite on March 24 before heading to the West Aurora Invite on Apr. 1. They’ll travel to Plainfield Central and Plainfield North to open the conference season before heading to the St. Charles East Invite on Apr. 8.

“Although we are returning a good deal of talent this season, we are taking nothing for granted,” Splitt said. “We are making sure to apply ourselves to the fullest in order to reach our ultimate goals.”

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