The Glenbard West High School boys volleyball program has only been in existence since 2006.
And in those 11 seasons, Glenbard West, located in the west-suburban-Chicago town of Glen Ellyn, has gone from new kid on the block to king of the hill at warp speed.
Under the direction of coach Christine Giunta-Mayer, the Hilltoppers have now won the last three Illinois boys high school state titles after placing third in 2014. They finished 41-1 this season a year after going unbeaten in 2016.
Since starting the program in 2006, Giunta-Mayer is 335-116 at Glenbard West, including a 158-4 mark over the last four seasons. Glenbard West is only the second Illinois high school to win three boys volleyball state titles in a row, joining neighbor Wheaton-Warrenville South (three titles from 2007-2009 under the direction of coach Bill Schreier who has seven Illinois titles to his credit).
For her efforts this season, that included navigating through a highly competitive Illinois boys high-school volleyball landscape, Giunta-Mayer is the 2017 VolleyballMag.com boys high school coach of the year.
“I increased our schedule this year,” she said. “I added two new teams and they were in the final four in the state. I knew their programs always were good. To be the best you have to beat the best.”
One of those teams was south-suburban Lincoln-Way East, which Glenbard West ended up defeating three times, including 25-21, 20-25, 25-16 in the state-title match.
“To beat a team like that once is great, beating them twice is really hard and beating them three times is very difficult,” said Giunta-Mayer, a physical education and swimming teacher at St. Petronille Catholic School in Glen Ellyn. “This year, it was the toughest road we’ve ever had to get to the championship.”
Glenbard West sustained its only loss early, falling to Roselle Lake Park, which would advance to the state quarterfinals.
“It was different this year,” Giunta-Mayer said. “We lost early in the second week of the season and then I’m thinking, ‘Oh, geez.’ Then we decided we weren’t going to lose again.
“This was the toughest one (state title). I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. It was a different dynamic of a team, it was a different dynamic with the competition we played with a beefed up schedule and we had players playing out of position. We also had 12 seniors this year and when it gets to the spring sometimes it’s hard to control 12 seniors with it being their last year of high school and finishing early. To their credit, they pulled it all together and won another title.”
Glenbard West senior setter Sean Farmer (a 2017 VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 selection) said a ton of credit must be given to Giunta-Mayer for what she has done with the program. Farmer was one of three Boys Fab 50 picks from Glenbard West this year, along with Ohio State-bound Robbie Murphy and Pepperdine-bound Zac Norvid.
“She’s really dedicated to the program,” said Farmer, who will play next season at UC Irvine. “She cares about each player as an individual. We owe a lot to her for building this program and a program of this caliber. She has given us the opportunity to compete for state championships. She built the program from the ground up and to see what she has done is pretty incredible.”
Farmer gave a lot of credit to Giunta-Mayer’s dedication to scouting.
“She had film on every team that we played regardless of how far away they were,” he said. “She spent a ton of time on scouting reports. She did everything she could possibly do to put us in a position to win matches. She’s unique. She made us the team we were and gave us the edge we needed to beat good teams. What she did is another level of dedication. To have her as a coach was all we could have asked for and more.”
Paul Bischoff, a standout on the 2016 team who was a freshman at Stanford in 2017, had tremendous praise for his former high school coach.
“Our match prep was crazy,” Bischoff said. “It’s crazy how much she knows about the other team and how she goes out of her way to find every little detail. We would get a detailed packet on the opponent and we would do an analysis in a classroom for 30-40 minutes. We’d watch tape and watch each rotation and each player. For a high-school team, that kind of prep is unreal.
“At state, once we won the semifinal match, we would go straight to the hotel and watch film on the other team even if we had played the other team before. Going into a match, that level of preparation makes us feel like all we need to do is worry about what we can do because we knew what the other team was going to do.”
Bischoff remembers his high-school coach as being “all business,” but in a good way.
“Christine is a wonderful coach,” said Bischoff. “During practice she would be so focused on the goal for that day and that week. She had everything scheduled out. She was so serious during practice, but that’s what makes her a great coach. She still made practice fun and integrates all levels of the program during practice.”
Bischoff later called back to add in to punctuate what he felt was Giunta-Mayer’s greatest trait as a coach.
“There always was an extreme sense of family with the program,” he said. “We would refer to her as a family member and a mother figure who looked out for all of us. She cares so deeply about every player in the program. It’s who she is. She may be all business, but she still has fun. For her it’s all about the family at Glenbard West. That is what draws kids to the program and that is why the program has been successful.”