The Robert Smith-to-Jeff Jendryk connection has a chance to be one of the state's most productive setter-to-hitter duos this season.
Expect Smith to savor every assist that he accounts for, be it to the 6-foot-8 Jendryk or any of the Spartans' secondary weapons.
Unlike for Jendryk – a middle hitter who has committed to play collegiately at Loyola, one of the country's top men's volleyball programs – this is the final go-around for Smith, who does not intend to play college volleyball.
Smith, a St. Charles resident, likely would have some college volleyball options if he pursued them. But he and his twin brother, Chris – a St. Francis baseball player – are leaning toward attending Butler together, and possibly rooming together. Both fraternal twins likely will leave their competitive athletic days behind.
"I definitely think if I really did plan on playing, I'm sure I could have found somewhere I would have been able to play that would have been a good fit, but it just came down to I'd rather focus on school and have the whole college experience than participate in something that's more of a job," Smith said.
Smith and Jendryk are two of 11 seniors on the veteran Spartans. They are longtime club teammates with Sports Performance, for which Smith plays libero.
Smith said he enjoys switching to the setting role in high school play, even if it makes for a challenging transition.
"It's definitely a little bit tough at the beginning but I like being able to change up sometimes," Smith said. "I'm glad I have a chance to set. It's a little bit different but I think it's more fun. It's nice to get the chance to play a couple different positions than to be stuck always in the same position."
Of course, having Jendryk with which to work would make the setting role intriguing to just about anyone.
Spartans coach Mike Lynch said that Jendryk has the ability to finish as the most dominating hitter ever to go through St. Francis' program. With a trace of awe in his voice, he noted that Jendryk can touch 11 foot, 8 inches, meaning he can soar about 3 1/2 feet over the net when he fully explodes off the ground.
That ability to sky makes Jendryk a superb blocker. His versatility and shot-making repertoire also are on the upswing, Lynch said.
"This year he will actually play back row and serve for us also, which is unusual for a big, 6-7, 6-8 kid, but he is becoming better as a passer every day," Lynch said.
Jendryk is certainly not the only appealing option for Smith to set, with fellow seniors Greg Churney, Joe Denny and 6-4 middle hitter Daniel Zurawski – a promising newcomer who came over from the baseball program – also being counted on to inflict their share of damage.
But it's a no-brainer that all eyes will be on Jendryk when the Spartans take the floor. It's a safe bet he'll remain in Smith's field of vision, too.
"He gives us a little intimidation factor to the other team, keeps them on their toes," Smith said. "It's exciting to see what he can do this year."
BOYS VOLLEYBALL PLAYERS TO WATCHJack Bujko, St. Charles North, MH/RS
One of two returning starters from North's third-place state team last year, Bujko projects as the go-to offensive threat for the new-look North Stars.
Nic Cook, St. Charles North, Sr., S/L
North's other returning starter, Cook earns praise for his infectious passion for the game, but his skill and savvy will be equally valuable for the North Stars.
Thomas DeBruyne, St. Charles East, Sr., S
DeBruyne's serving prowess and ability to deftly set up Saints' hitters helped push East to program's first regional title last spring.
Jeff Jendryk, St. Francis, Sr., MH
The 6-foot-8 Loyola recruit gives the senior-saturated Spartans instant credibility as a state powerhouse.
Brandon Navigato, Geneva, Sr., L
Geneva coach KC Johnsen sees progress in Navigato, a returnee at libero. "I think he's definitely playing with a little more confidence and a little more skill," Johnsen said. "Those things go hand-in-hand when you're a libero."
Chris Parrilli, Geneva, Sr., OH
Better known for his basketball exploits, Parrilli's athleticism and toughness should make him one of Geneva's go-to hitters along with 6-foot-8 junior Nicholas Buseski.
Robert Smith, St. Francis, Sr., S
The St. Charles product is a smooth distributor and also highly comfortable in the back row when needed.
Luke Spicer, St. Charles East, Sr., OH
The multisport athlete brings club experience, size and leadership to the Saints' front line.