Pick to win it all: Millard West. For all the talk this season about Class A being wide open, Millard West sure has the look of a team that can go wire-to-wire this season. The Wildcats’ depth and strong play at the net has put them a half step ahead of everyone else in the field. That having been said, Millard West was pushed to the maximum three sets against Lincoln North Star and five sets by Omaha Marian during its 15-match winning streak. The title is there for the taking for Millard West, but the Wildcats have no room for error.
Darkhorse: Lincoln Southwest. The Silver Hawks are as dangerous of a #7 seed as you will find. They have a monster match with Omaha Marian in the first round, but should the Silver Hawks get past the Crusaders, they would be difficult to stop. No other Class A team in Lincoln has beaten Lincoln Southwest, which bodes well for the Silver Hawks should they pull an upset and get to the semifinals.
Best first-round match: Omaha Marian vs. Lincoln Southwest. These two teams have squared off three times this season, with Marian taking the first two and Southwest winning the last match. When Marian setter Sydney O’Shaughnessy and middle Kelsey O’Connell are clicking, they are tough to stop. Southwest counters with perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the state in Maryssa Wilkinson and Allie Davis, who combined for an insane 814 kills this year.
Five to watch: Sydney O’Shaughnessy, setter, Omaha Marian. Not only the best setter in the state, O’Shaughnessy is offensive-minded and can take over a match from the setter position. At 5-foot-9, she led Marian with 51 ace blocks and also had 121 kills. The emotional UNO recruit has a motor that won’t quit. Alexis Anderson, middle blocker, Millard West. At 5-foot-11, Anderson will not wow you with her height or with a huge vertical or with a thunderous swing. All she does is beat you. A tremendous athlete, Anderson led the Wildcats in blocks and kills. When she is on, the Wildcats are almost impossible to beat. Maryssa Wilkinson, outside hitter, Lincoln Southwest. Wilkinson is one of those rare players that makes “that noise” when she strikes a volleyball. The Creighton recruit put down 485 kills to go with her 40 blocks. An incredible leaper, Wilkinson is just as dangerous attacking from the backcourt as the front. Maegan Roth, outside hitter, Lincoln Southeast. One of the top all-around underclassmen in the state, the 6-foot Roth led the Knights with 415 kills this year while also finishing second on the team with 386 digs. Morgan Thompson, DS/libero, Millard North. Defense has played a huge roll in the Mustangs’ success this season and there is none better at it than the senior Thompson. Millard North has just one rotational player above 5-foot-9, meaning Thompson sees a lot of shots her way. She plays with reckless abandon and is one of the top passers in the state.
Pick to win it all: Grand Island Northwest. The Vikings are the defending state champions. They’ve won 64 straight matches. They’ve only dropped four sets all year. It would be hard to imagine anyone going into the state tournament not thinking Northwest is clearly the team to beat.
Darkhorse: Norris. The Titans are a team that has not faced Northwest this year, and they have a huge hurdle to clear in Waverly in the first round, but if there is a low-seeded team with a chance to win the whole thing, it’s Norris. The Titans have won 10 of their last 11 and got a breath of fresh air at the end of the season with the return of potential Division I recruit Maddy Bruder from shoulder surgery. With Norris now at full strength, the Titans will be a tough team to knock out of the tourney.
Best first-round match: Waverly vs. Norris. There will be Division I talent all over the court in this match. The Vikings boast 6-foot-2 Nebraska recruit Olivia Boender and 6-1 West Virginia recruit Dani Root while Norris counters with 6-1 Furman recruit Kasey Hohlen. Add in juniors Maddy Bruder and Kylie Hohlen for Norris and sophomore Brianna Boender for Waverly and you’ve got six outstanding players on the court. The teams have met four times already this season with Waverly holding a 3-1 advantage.
Five to watch: Erin Sorahan, outside hitter, Northwest. At just 5-foot-6, Sorahan looks the part of a libero, until you see her jump. A devastating hitter, Sorahan attacks from all over the court with a deadly combination of accuracy and speed. She is looking at playing volleyball at UNO or Wayne State, among others. Olivia Boender, outside hitter, Waverly. Boender is the only player in Class B that hits harder than Sorahan. Boender has a huge advantage of another Division I player in the line-up with her to help keep opposing teams honest, but realistically it doesn’t matter much. She combines the hardest hitting in Class B with great vision and the ability to find open spaces. Sydney Townsend, libero/outside hitter, Lincoln Pius X. Townsend is a Husker recruit for her defensive abilities, but Pius has also used her as an outside hitter as well this year. She led the team in digs and was third on the team in kills. Whatever she’s doing on the court for the Thunderbolts, she’s their igniter. Taylor Thiele, outside hitter, Aurora. The 5-foot-11 senior is a Bradley recruit and is one of the top full-rotation players in the state. She led the Huskies in kills with 349, digs with 411, serve receptions with 365 and was second on the team with 48 ace blocks. Allison Penner, setter, Aurora. Penner, a 5-foot-11 junior, will be playing major college volleyball in a couple years and she is one of the premier setters in the state as an underclassman. She is another offensive-minded setter that is difficult to defend.
Pick to win it all: Ogallala. While Columbus Scotus is ranked #1 and has been all season, Ogallala is the pick to win the title in what should be a very interesting Class C-1 tournament. Ogallala has been impressive all season long and is riding a 14-match win streak that includes wins over several ranked Class C-1 schools and Class A #8 North Platte. Scotus, meanwhile, has shown a tendency for the occasional lapse, which can’t be afforded this weekend.
Darkhorse: Kearney Catholic. Sometimes it just takes a while to get things figured out, and that appears to be the case with the defending Class C-1 champs. A brutal schedule at the start of the year combined with getting several new players experience as varsity starters took its toll on the Stars as they started the year 4-4. Since a pair of losses in the LouPlatte Conference tournament, the Stars have been on fire, though, winning 10 straight coming into state, including sweeps of Minden and St. Paul in district play. A potential match between Kearney Catholic and Ogallala in the semifinals could produce some amazing volleyball.
Best first-round match: Minden vs. Wahoo. Wahoo is a team that has kind of flown under the radar all season in making its first trip to state for volleyball. It’s not for a lack of talent or quality victories, however. The Warriors avenged two of their three losses on the season in postseason play by beating DC West and Omaha Concordia. Minden, meanwhile, has lost only to Ogallala and Kearney Catholic on the season and is very strong at the net. Both setters – Laura Barry of Wahoo and Alison Rowse of Minden – are two of the very best at their craft.
Five to watch: Kendall Schroer, middle hitter, Ogallala. Just a junior, the 6-foot Schroer can be the most dominant middle in the state. She leads her team in kills with 360 and ace blocks with 66. She also has dialed up 41 ace serves on the season. Morgan Stute, libero, Kearney Catholic. The 5-foot-6 junior is a do-it-all for the Stars, registering team highs in digs (363), serve receptions (451), and ace serves (51). She’s also recorded 110 kills on the season. Payton Chohon, middle hitter, Columbus Scotus. Whenever the Shamrocks need a play, the 5-foot-10 senior is likely the one to deliver it. Chohon led the team with 317 kills and when the Shamrocks faced two match points against Columbus Lakeview in subdistrict play, it was Chohon who had an ace block and a kill on those two points to keep the Scotus season alive. Carlie Bauer, outside hitter, Minden. Whoever measures the height of the Minden players must be fairly stingy given that Bauer is listed at just 5-foot-10. She anchors a formidable frontline for the Whippets and tallied 341 kills and 241 digs on the season – both team highs. Alison Rowse, setter, Minden. One of the top underclassmen setters in the state, Rowse is a master distributor for Minden. She has 731 assists on the season and she will frequently keep opponents off balance with well-placed tips and dumps.
Pick to win it all: Hastings St. Cecilia. The Hawkettes haven’t lost a match to a Class C-2 team all year and there is no reason to think that will change this weekend. Although, St Cecilia gets a tough first-round draw in 2012 C-2 runner-up Lutheran High Northeast. St. Cecilia will play some of the toughest defense at the tournament and it has the top setter in C-2 in Clare Hamburger. Those two things will lead it to the title.
Darkhorse: Guardian Angels CC. There aren’t many teams bigger than Guardian Angels at the net and the Bluejays have been on a roll lately. The fact that Guardian Angels was able to come to Omaha and not just with the Omaha South Invitational, but take all five matches in straight sets was impressive.
Best first-round match: Lutheran High Northeast vs. Hastings St. Cecilia. Lutheran High Northeast has been a very streaky team all year. After starting the year 9-2, the Eagles stumbled through a 4-5 stretch before finishing the regular season on a 10-1 run. Lutheran High Northeast then stumbled out of the postseason gates with a loss to Stanton in the opening round of subdistrict play but was able to snag a wildcard. Depending on which Lutheran High Northeast team shows up, Hastings St. Cecilia could have a lot of trouble on its hands bright and early at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
Five to watch: Morgan Nikkila, outside hitter, Hastings St. Cecilia. Nikkila, a 5-foot-10 senior, is one of the most devastating hitters in Class C-2 for the Hawkettes. She has registered 382 kills on the season and is the go-to hitter for St. Cecilia. Clare Hamburger, setter, Hastings St. Cecilia. Already the school’s all-time assist leader, the junior setter has as high of a motor as any setter in the state and she flies around the court making plays. She’s not afraid to get offensive, either, with more than 100 kills on the season. Carley Remmers, outside hitter, Freeman. Remmers has drawn interest from Division I schools and it’s easy to see why. At 6-foot, she is as athletic as any outside hitter in the state and she tallied a team-high 317 kills this season despite missing part of the year with an appendectomy. Kaylee Jensen, middle hitter, Humphrey-Lindsay Holy Family. At 6-foot-4, the senior is the tallest participant in the state tournament and she is a dominant presence at the net. On the season, she has 413 kills and 117 ace blocks. Maria Wortmann, middle hitter, Crofton. Wortmann, a 5-foot-11 senior, may be the most complete middle in C-2. She led the Warriors with 317 kills and 131 blocks and also finished third on the team with 333 digs.
Pick to win it all: St. Mary’s. It has been St. Mary’s at the top of the D-1 rankings pretty much since the start of the season. The Cardinals swept 27 of its 31 opponents this season, losing only one match. St Mary’s biggest strength is its depth and when you can count on four or five hitters at this level, that gives you a huge advantage.
Darkhorse: Brady. Probably the biggest thing Brady has on its side is that it isn’t on the same side of the bracket as St. Mary’s. Among the lower seeded teams, Brady has shown that it can beat tough competition with quality wins against the likes of North Platte St. Patrick’s and Wallace. Plus, the Eagles are a fairly senior-heavy team, which adds an extra incentive of urgency.
Best first-round match: Friend vs. CWC. The teams haven’t played this season, which always makes for a better match. CWC will have just one rotational player above 5-foot-9 while Friend features four at 5-foot-10 or taller. It’s never a difficult choice to pick a #4 vs. #5 as the best first-round match, but this is definitely the best match-up in D-1 in the first round.
Five to watch: Taylor Menke, middle hitter, Friend. At 5-foot-11, Menke leads Friend with 339 kills and 82 ace serves. She is also second on the team in digs with 214. Tara Callahan, middle hitter, Brady. Just a freshman, the 6-foot-1 Callahan possess a ton of potential. She finished second on the team with 177 kills and 26 ace blocks and she also delivered 56 service aces on the season. Brooke Bauer, middle hitter, St. Mary’s. St. Mary’s strength is in its depth, but Bauer leads the Cardinals with 211 kills and is second on the team with 125 ace blocks. Hannah Kring, middle hitter, Axtell. One of just two players taller than 5-foot-6 on the Axtell roster, Kring has played big this season. The 5-foot-10 junior leads the team with 368 kills and 68 ace blocks. Christina Swartzendruber, outside hitter, BDS. Swartzendruber’s 539 digs ranks her 9th best among all players in the state tournament this season, plus the 5-foot-8 senior led the team with 330 kills and 54 ace serves.
Pick to win it all: Bertrand. There is a lot to like about Bertrand. The Vikings have six options offensively that all finished with over 100 kills on the year. Bertrand finished the year perfect – one of just two teams in Nebraska to escape without a loss this year. In going 31-0, the Vikings dropped just six sets. The only knock on Bertrand was its pedestrian schedule, playing just five matches against teams that finished the year with 20+ wins. But, the Vikings squashed those concerns with a sweep of #2 seed Giltner in the district finals.
Darkhorse: Sterling. The Jets have that one thing a team needs to make a run in the postseason – a player who can simply take over a match. With Jordan Lempka, a Midland University recruit, Sterling has the most dominant player in the lower-level classes and she has the ability to put the team on her back. It’s more than a one-woman show in Sterling, however, with fellow seniors Tara Hestermann, a middle hitter, and setter Stasia Nielsen the Jets are more than capable of running the table as a #6 seed.
Best first-round match: Falls City Sacred Heart vs. Stuart. Falls City Sacred Heart is a young and tall team at the net that earned the #4 seed as a wildcard because of its difficult schedule. The Irish proved more than capable of handling that schedule, however, and own several quality wins, including one over Class D-1 #4 seed Friend. Stuart isn’t nearly as big as the Irish, but the Broncos have proven to be giant killers before. With just one player taller than 5-foot-8, Stuart is the only team to knock off Class D-1 power St. Mary’s and the Broncos were also the ones that eliminated the very talented Ewing squad from postseason play.
Five to watch: Jordan Lempka, middle hitter, Sterling. There is not a player left playing in the state that had more than Lempka’s 558 kills this season. At 6-foot-2, the Midland recruit easily hits over most blocks and she is equally as devastating from the service line with a jump serve that produced 72 aces this season. Mattison Peterson, outside hitter, Bertrand. Her kill total of 219 on the season may not be the most impressive number a hitter can put up, but it was the highest total for a very balanced Vikings team that went 31-0. She also tied for second on the team with 214 digs. Haylee Heits, outside hitter, Falls City Sacred Heart. When you talk about the best freshmen in the state of Nebraska, Heits has to be in the conversation. At 5-foot-10 she is a complete player for the Irish and was second on the team with 244 kills while also mixing in a team-high 47 service aces and 378 digs. Dani Most, middle hitter, Giltner. Most is another full-rotation player that does a little bit of everything in leading her team. The 5-foot-10 senior tallied a team-high 436 kill for the Hornets while also leading the team in ace blocks with 47 and serve receptions with 307. Maddison Nygren, outside hitter, Mead. Much like Grand Island Northwest’s Erin Sorahan, Nygren packs a huge punch in a little frame. At just 5-foot-6, Nygren leads the Raiders with 231 kills and she’s second on the team in digs with 276.