With two pairs of brothers (Pat and Jack Kenny, Nick and Conner Lillig) and a tight-knit group of players overall, chemistry will be a central focus of the Fenwick High School boys volleyball team this season.
“This year might be my most fun season since I get to share it with my brother,” said Jack Kenny, a freshman setter. “I have been able to bond with all my teammates in such little time. We could end this season with a very good record if we keep our focus in practice and always play to the best of our ability.”
Some patience will be required, however, as the promising Friars work several new starters into the lineup.
Gone are Pat Donahue, Mark Casagranda, Will Planek, and all-conference player Jimmy Finan, who graduated last year.
Returning starters Pat Kenny (194 kills, 209 digs last season), Nick Lillig (239 digs) and Graham Rodgers (45 kills) will provide leadership and experience as Fenwick finds its way this spring.
Kenny, an outside hitter, was an all-conference player in the Chicago Catholic League White Division in 2015.
“Pat has been on varsity all four years, so being a leader comes naturally to him,” Fenwick coach Katie Whitman said. “He played libero as a freshman but has made a smooth transition to being our starting outside hitter the last two years.”
Lillig, another key player for the Friars, relishes his role as the team’s starting libero.
“I’ve been playing libero my entire high school career,” he said. “I’ve come to love passing the ball. From serve receive to rotations, it all begins with one pass.
“My personal expectations include passing at a near perfect level. Last season, I had a 2.42 passer rating. I’ll strive to be better this year so we have every opportunity to score points on the court.”
Other contributors for the Friars include setters Will Sophie and Jack Kenny (Pat’s younger brother), outside hitters Conner Lillig (Nick’s younger brother) and Pat Day, along with rapidly developing middles Jack Lulich, Joe Giralamo and Avyn Alairys.
“Will Sophie is so strong and smart and a really great setter,” Whitman said. “As a freshman on varsity, Jack Kenny is a very promising player. He’s already 6 feet tall and plays for Sports Performance Volleyball Club, one of the top club teams in the area. Jack has a lot of natural ability and is already very well trained.”
Whitman’s job this spring is to congeal the Friars’ array of talented players into a smooth-functioning unit.
“Coach Whitman recognizes our weaknesses during games and explains how to quickly deal with them,” Nick Lillig said. “As a team, we have nothing but great words for coach. She expects only the best of us and we do our best to meet those expectations. Honestly, playing for her makes the sport even better for me.”
Although Whitman was named CCL White Division Lawless Coach of the Year in 2015, it was a frustrating season for the Friars. Fenwick finished 9-13 including an early exit (regional semifinals loss) in the playoffs.
The Friars should contend for at least conference and regional titles this spring, if not more.
“We had a very experienced team last season so it was unfortunate that the season ended early,” Whitman said. “This year’s team has a nice mix of returning players and new talent.
“We’ve had a bit of a tough time getting the team together for assorted reasons [sickness, spring break] early this season. As we get everybody back and playing together, I really like our potential.”
Off to a 2-1 start this season, Fenwick defeated conference opponents DePaul Prep 25-15, 26-24 and Montini 23-25, 25-19, 25-13. Pat Kenny had six kills and Nick Lillig 13 digs against DePaul Prep. Rodgers and Conner Lillig (9 kills each), Nick Lillig (18 digs) and Sophie (15 assists) sparked the Friars’ comeback victory over Montini.
The Friars host defending conference champion De La Salle on Thursday, April 14 at 6 p.m. The Meteors swept Fenwick last season, but the Friars won three straight CCL White championships from 2011-2013. In short, the rivalry is alive and well.
“In past years, De La Salle has been our biggest competition in the CCL White,” Whitman said. “I think they graduated a lot of players so they kind of have a new team like us. The teams in our division play each other twice and I think there is parity in the league.”