Top Storylines Heading Into 2015 High School Season
Every season of high school volleyball in Nebraska writes its own story for the history books. Every year, records are broken, some dreams are realized and others crumble and the drama and passion of the sport plays out every week in high school gyms across the state.
It’s exciting to think of what lies ahead for the 2015 season. Who the heroes will be; what teams will rise up; what records will be broken. As we look ahead to the next 11 weeks, here are the main storylines we’ll be watching.
Can Lincoln Pius X Make it 21 Straight Years at State?
Lincoln Pius X reached the state tournament in 1995 and wound up losing to Ogallala in the semifinals. Every year since then has ended in a trip to state for the Thunderbolts. That’s 20 consecutive years. During that stretch Pius X won seven Class B titles, finished runner-up twice and in third place in Class A once.
Those 20 straight trips has Pius X tied with Bellevue West (1987-2006) for the longest such volleyball streak in state history. Getting to state this year would give the Thunderbolts the record all to themselves. Things will be a little different this season for the Thunderbolts, though. Katie Wenz is in her first year as head coach for Pius X after Jake Moore retired earlier this year. And, Pius moves up to Class A this season.
Pius X will need to break in a new setter with the departure of All-Nebraska player Sara Boothe. But, as is usually the case for the Thunderbolts, there will be talent on the floor. Senior outside hitter Jenna Dolezal had more than 300 digs and 150 kills a year ago and fellow senior Kelsey Daberkow had 83 kills in limited action. In the middle Pius X has a pair of powerful attackers in Kathleen Medill and Madison Grendahl and junior Regan Taubenheim returns after 200-plus digs and 33 kills.
Lincoln Pius X starts the year at #9 in our Class A rankings, and will have its work cut out to extend its streak to 21 years in a row at state. Class A looks to have quality depth 10-13 teams deep this year, which will make securing a top-seven seed and home court for the district tournament very important – not just for Pius, but for everyone in Class A.
Can Kearney Catholic Join Rare Company By Reaching C-1 Finals/Winning Title?
Kearney Catholic is on the cusp of turning a really nice stretch of success into one of the all-time best in Nebraska high school volleyball history. The Stars have reached the state championship match in five consecutive years. This year’s freshmen were in third grade the last time Kearney Catholic wasn’t playing for a state title. Should Kearney Catholic – the #1 ranked team in Class C-1 to start this year – end up in the state finals again this year, it would tie them for the second-longest such streak of all time with five other schools. Columbus Scotus owns the all-time record at 14.
Kearney Catholic can also become only the 7th team in state history to win at least four-straight state titles if it can accomplish the feat this year. The most recent team with that kind of domination was Bellevue West from 2003-2006. It will be no easy accomplishment to be playing on the final day of the season, though, as Class C-1 is loaded again this year. But, with four players back with over 100 kills from last year and plenty of talent to draw from, Kearney Catholic has the opportunity to accomplish some special milestones.
Can Omaha Marian Go Wire-to-Wire and 3-Peat as Class A Champions?
Each of the last two years, we have ranked Omaha Marian #1 in Class A at the start of the year. Each of those years a different team (Millard West in 2013, Papillion-LaVista in 2014) was clearly the most dominant team during the regular season. Each of those years, Omaha Marian has played at its best at state and beat those teams in the state final. So, we have Omaha Marian as the preseason #1 again this year, which means……….
It’s hard to say what it means, other than the fact that Marian is the consensus #1 team in the state and should be, considering it returns all but one player from last year’s state championship team. Amy McLeay takes over as coach at Marian and it will be interesting to see what new wrinkles – if any – that adds to the Crusaders. For all of its volleyball tradition, Omaha Marian has never won three consecutive state championships. Can this senior-dominated team, with major contributors to each of the last two Class A titles, stake a claim as perhaps the best in school history? A three-peat would certainly make it a very credible claim.
Is Omaha Marian Senior Libero Brittany Witt the GOAT?
No, not a goat – we’re talking about the Greatest of All Time. Debates such as this – as to what player might be the greatest of all time at a certain position – generally are an “eye of the beholder” conversation.
However, speaking from purely a statistical point of view, yes, Witt almost certainly will go down as the greatest high school players in Nebraska history when it comes to career digs. The Creighton recruit set the Class A single-season record for most digs last year with 738 and, barring anything unforeseen, will absolutely shatter the state’s all-time record for digs in a career.
Witt begins this season with 1,860 career digs, having started since her freshman year at Marian. That leaves her only 81 digs shy of the Class A and all-time state record for digs in a career, which is currently held by 2009 Marian grad Julianne Mandolfo, who finished her career with 1,941. In fact, with Marian playing six matches to start the year at the Bellevue Invitational this weekend, chances are good Witt will break the record at some point on Saturday.
Will Someone Outside of the Metro Conference Win the Class A Title?
Lincoln Northeast defeated Papillion-LaVista in the 1998 Class A state championship, and every year since a Metro Conference team has won the Class A title. Is this the year that the streak ends? Maybe.
The team with the best shot to wrestle the title away from Omaha is likely North Platte. No other team in Class A can match or – frankly – even come close to matching the combination of middles the Bulldogs have in 6-foot-1 Colorado State recruit Olivia Nicholson, who was International playing experience through Team USA, and 6-foot-2 University of Nebraska-Kearney recruit Josie Cox. Add to that, another UNK recruit in 5-foot-10 outside hitter Allison Kuenle, a senior setter who had nearly 1,000 assists a year ago in Alex Neff, a senior libero who had nearly 300 digs a year ago in Hayley Schanou, and you’ve got yourself a very legit title contender.
North Platte won back-to-back Class A titles in 1979 and 1980, but has won just three matches at state in 12 trips since then. Last year North Platte lost in straight sets to Millard West in the Class A quarterfinals, despite the fact the Bulldogs had more kills in the match (41-35). It’s safe to assume that showing has fueled a fire for North Platte to come back and do more this year, which only makes it that more of a threat come postseason. How serious is North Platte as a threat to take the Class A title out west? We will get our first idea at 8 p.m. Friday when the Bulldogs face Omaha Marian in the Bellevue Invitational.
Could the Best Team in the State Actually Be in Class B?
It would be hard to adequately describe how dominant Omaha Skutt was last the final 8-9 weeks of the season in 2014. So, I will le the numbers speak for themselves. After a 7-5 start, the Skyhawks absolutely tore through the rest of its schedule winning 29 straight matches. During that 29-match stretch, Omaha Skutt dropped just two – TWO – sets. Of course, that all came to a halt on the final day of the season when Norris upset Skutt in the Class B state championship.
So, we fast-forward to 2015. Of the 12 players on the Skutt roster last year, only two graduated. While the loss of setter Monica Hruby and middle hitter Claire Knust are certainly significant, the Skyhawks very easily may be deeper and more talented this year.
Alli Schomers, a junior University of Missouri-Kansas City recruit, is one of the state’s top setters and Omaha Skutt returns top outside hitters Brooke Heyne, a junior who just committed to Kansas State, and Alyssa Woodman, a senior Rockhurst commit. In the middle, Skutt returns McKenna Kirkpatrick, who had 264 kills and more than 100 blocks a year ago and welcomes in freshman Lily Heyne to replace Knust. Add to that a defense with standouts such as Brooke Swain, Jess Schlautman and Nikki White and you have one of the state’s top teams regardless of class.
We have Skutt ranked #1 in Class B and #4 overall to start the year. But, with the Skyhawks taking part in the Bellevue Invitational this weekend with #1 Omaha Marian, #2 Papillion-LaVista South and #3 North Platte, Skutt can grasp the overall #1 spot this weekend and potentially never let it go.
How Long Can O’Neill St. Mary’s Keep its Winning Streak Going?
Two-time defending Class D-1 state champion O’Neill St. Mary’s drops down to Class D-2 this year and owns that state’s longest winning streak at 55 matches. If we have to guess, we’d say the streak ends at 61 in a row and Class C-1 Wayne is the team that ends it.
Make no mistake, though, that St. Mary’s has the talent to win its third straight title and opens the year #1 in Class D-2. The Cardinals were dominant last year and they are still very good this year, but they are beatable. Give St. Mary’s credit for moving up three – yes, three – classes to travel to Wayne for a match on Sept. 17. Wayne lost quite a bit from its team that went 22-11 last year, but is traditionally a very tough squad. Stepping up that high for competition and playing on the road, we think, spells the end of the streak.
If it doesn’t happen there, there are potential hazards for the Cardinals at the Stuart Invite on Sept. 19 and then the Cardinals play a pair of triangulars in early Oct. against Elgin-Pope John, Humphrey St. Francis and Stuart – three very dangerous teams. Another state championship is very possible for St. Mary’s, we just don’t think an undefeated season in the process is.
How Long Will Omaha Bryan’s Losing Streak Continue?
Hopefully, not much longer. Omaha Bryan enters this season having lost 68 straight matches. The OPS school struggles to get enough players out for the sport to field full teams and has fallen on hard times since making its only appearance ever at the state tournament in 2008. In fact, in going 0-31 in 2014, the Bears took a set from an opponent just once – that coming in a 2-1 loss to Class C-1 Boys Town.
Bryan, which has four seniors this year, has a shot at breaking the streak right away with a match against Omaha Benson to start the season as part of a triangular with Omaha Northwest. Benson returns just two starters from last year and also struggles with numbers.
Bryan should also be optimistic about its chance to potentially score wins over Omaha North (which returns no starters from last year’s 15-18 team) and Omaha South (which went 5-26 a year ago) in a triangular against those schools on Sept. 8. If the slide continues after that, the best chance to end it this year might be Sept. 26 against Boys Town.
Who Will Be the Teams in Each Class That Surprise This Year?
It happens every year. A team that starts the year unranked gets rolling and has a great season and winds up shocking everyone with how well they did. So, let’s make our picks for the unranked teams that will surprise. We’ll give you a “sleeper” that’s not ranked and a “deep sleeper” that could come from nowhere.
Class A: Sleeper – Grand Island. Deep Sleeper – Omaha Northwest.
Class B: Sleeper – Nebraska City. Deep Sleeper – Crete.
Class C-1: Sleeper – Ogallala. Deep Sleeper – Gothenburg.
Class C-2: Sleeper – Centura. Deep Sleeper – Cross County.
Class D-1: Sleeper – Johnson-Brock. Deep Sleeper – Fremont Bergan.
Class D-2: Sleeper – Wynot. Deep Sleeper – Red Cloud.
Who Will Be the Players of the Year in Each Class?
Each year, Nebraska Prep Volleyball names its Players of the Year in each class. When we look into the future, here is what we see as the frontrunner, sleeper and deep sleeper candidates in each class right now. In each of the last two years, all of the winners have been seniors. Our predictions reflect the likelihood that trend continues.
Class A: Frontrunner – Raegan LeGrand (Papillion-LaVista South). Sleeper- Katie Stephens (Papillion-LaVista). Deep Sleeper – Cassidy Loberg (Millard West).
Class B: Frontrunner – Haile McArdle (Gretna). Sleeper – Alyssa Woodman (Omaha Skutt). Deep Sleeper – Kiley Hixson (Aurora).
Class C-1: Frontrunner – Morgan Alexander (Ord). Sleeper – Maeghan Pieper (Columbus Scotus). Deep Sleeper – Payton Rosendahl (Columbus Lakeview).
Class C-2: Frontrunner – Lauren Hinrichs (Doniphan-Trumbull). Sleeper – Tarrin Beller (Humphrey-Lindsay Holy Family). Deep Sleeper – Kathleen Steuter (Guardian Angels CC).
Class D-1: Frontrunner – Kylie Belt (Emerson-Hubbard). Sleeper – Madison Jurgens (Diller-Odell). Deep Sleeper – Macy Peregrine (Fullerton).
Class D-2: Frontrunner – Chainey Tompkin (Giltner). Sleeper – Monique Schafer (Stuart). Deep Sleeper – Maggie Goltz (Falls City Sacred Heart).