At least one thing will be new in the Metro Conference this volleyball season as Elkhorn South joins the league after leaving the Eastern Midlands Conference. When it comes to the teams that are the favorites to win the Metro crown in 2017, not much has changed from past years.
No team outside of the Metro Conference has won a Class A state championship since Lincoln Northeast in 1998. So, if you’re one of the best in the Metro Conference there’s also a good chance you’ll be in the mix for a state title. Here is a quick look at how the conference shakes out.
It’s impossible to say, but chances are good that if Omaha Marian MH and Iowa recruit Sarah Wing doesn’t miss the state tournament last year because of a foot injury, the Crusaders probably enter this year as four-time defending state champions.
So, when you consider that along with the fact that Marian loses just one player from last year’s squad – albeit one of the most important all-around players in MK Wolfe – the Crusaders have to be looked at as the team to beat coming into 2017.
Marian, which won the Metro title last year, has a pair of Division I recruits in the middle with Wing and Maddie Wiedenfeld and a DI setter running the show in Lily Heim. Marian also returns an insane amount of talent on the outside with Emily Bressman and Ashtynne Alberts while last year’s #3 & #4 OHs are each D1 recruits in Hailey Zuroske and Kate Bilyeu. Maggie Mullen returns as a libero recruit for Louisville, although she spent all of last year as a defensive specialist to Marian libero Sophie Moes.
So, when you add it all up, Marian has six Division I recruits on its team and even a couple of them have a hard time finding the court. When that’s the case, you’re the team to beat.
Millard North is the defending Class A state champion and brings back a lot of talent, but that doesn’t mean the Mustangs are without voids to fill.
Gone is Class A Player of the Year Elise Baumann and starting RS Madison Johnson. Back, however, is a massive front row led by the likes of sophomore McKenna Ruch and juniors Emma Grunkemeyer and Emmy Grant. Setter Izzy Lukens returns as a sophomore this year and Madison Evans and Megan Hansen are back to anchor the defense.
Look for sophomore Eve Fountain to emerge as a standout OH for the Mustangs as well as junior Paige Holdsworth. Molly Plahn, a tall athletic sophomore, also has looked good this summer, meaning Millard North will have plenty of weapons heading into 2017.
First-year coach Joe Wessel takes over a Millard West program, which might have its best team since it reached the state finals in 2013.
Opponents will likely have nightmares about getting the ball to the court against a Wildcat defense that looks like it will be one of the best in the state. Junior Iowa State libero recruit Jaiden Centeno returns after missing last year with a hip injury. All Maggie Sempeck did last year was have an all-state caliber year herself filling in for Centeno and how gives the Wildcats a dynamic 1-2 punch defensively as a defensive specialist.
Wayne State recruit Jordan McCormick and Ashley Bush return as OH for the Wildcats. Hailey Peterson, Bailey Wilson, Jada Key and Gabby Nordaker give the Wildcats four six-footers at the net while chances are good Millard West will start with a two-setter offense with Sydney Daniels and Breanna Green.
You can always count on Papillion-LaVista being in the mix for the Metro title and this year is no exception. The Monarchs lost 6-foot-5 Creighton recruit Steph Gaston as well as starting setter Dani Prusha and libero Maddie Krajewski by do return a very solid combination of middles in Mary Martincik and Sydney Fitzgibbons.
Brooklyn Schram, one of the top setters in the state last year as a freshman at Bellevue West, moved into the Papillion-LaVista school district and will likely lead the Monarch attack. Omaha recruit Kenzie Michalek seems poised to take the libero position, and Papillion-LaVista returns a host of other players such as Carly Lindemeyer, Megan Helmberger, Ally Glaser and Chloe Paschal who all saw significant court time last year. The one area Papillion-LaVista doesn’t quite match up with the other contenders is in height as the Monarchs have just one player listed at 6-foot or taller, that being Martincik.
The Titans came up on the wrong side of the exciting finish to the five-set Class A final a year ago against Millard North, but Papillion-LaVista South has all the pieces in place to make another deep run this year.
Perhaps the best all-around player in the state returns for the Titans in Taliyah Flores, as does Army recruit Peyton Schendt and one of the top setters in the state in Mara LeGrand.
Leah Palensky, Moe Bianchi, Jessica Hendrix, Payton Moore, Sidney Pecha and Sophie Hendrix all return after playing significant roles last year for the Titans.
Could the New Kids on the Block be “Hangin’ Tough” in their first year competing in the Metro Conference? Sure, but it’s more likely that the Storm is still a couple years away from being legit contenders.
Elkhorn South graduated 64% of its kill total from a year ago, but look for big things from 6-foot junior Logan Connealy, who is the top returning attacker from last year. Taylor Heinin & Mackenzie Saitta also return after each logging more than 100 kills a year ago and libero Riley Newton also returns.
Emily Champion and Emily Bay return after sharing setting duties last season and look for freshmen Rylee Gray, a 6-foot-3 MH with DI offers already, and Brilee Wiesler to be impact players.
Much like Elkhorn South, the Patriots might not quite have what it takes to be with the contenders this season, but the way Millard South is playing this summer it’s hard to rule them out as their top eight returning players were all key contributors in 2016.
Millard South’s strength will be its balance and junior setter Jaisee Stinson. Although they will be undersized at the net compared to the top teams in the conference, Millard South has a nice array of attackers with Claire Larson and Lauren Walenz on the outside and Paige Fixemer and Maddie Madej in the middle. Kelsey Olson and Chloe Nickolisen have split time at RS this summer.
Libero Jordan Harre returns and has Sam Steele with her to anchor the defense although Steele has the ability to be a full-rotation OH despite being roughly 5-foot-6 because of her athleticism.
Bellevue East – Nicole Binder and Ellie Foral return for the Chieftains.
Bellevue West – Morgan James and Makena Sobczyk are hack after each having more than 200 kills a year ago.
Omaha Benson – Experienced coach Mark Kirlin takes over a program that went 1-26 last year.
Omaha Bryan – The Bears look to rebound fro, a 2-29 season.
Omaha Burke – Bulldogs return several nice players from last year’s 14-18 team, including Payton Witkowski, Megan Wiggins, Lily O’Mara and Rylee Reggio.
Omaha Central – Expect the Eagles to be led by Emma Hoiberg, Tyra Blue and Becky Johnson.
Omaha North – Kamryn Pullen is a 6-foot-2 do-it-all player for the Vikings and 6-footer Dariauna Lewis also returns.
Omaha Northwest – Jadai Burns is back after 153 kills last season.
Omaha South – The Packers will be led by returning OH Alicia Hogan.
Omaha Westside – Illinois-Chicago recruit Clara Lamb, Jordan Bowen and Makenna Freeman return for the Warriors.