Preseason Team Rankings: Class D-2
Hampton and its dominance on its way to a perfect season and state title was the story of 2016 in Class D-2. To say the script has changed as we enter the 2017 season would be an understatement of epic…
Hampton and its dominance on its way to a perfect season and state title was the story of 2016 in Class D-2. To say the script has changed as we enter the 2017 season would be an understatement of epic proportions.
The positive to having a core of five seniors leading the Hawks to a 35-0 season in which it swept it opponents 34 times is being one of the greatest Class D-2 teams of all time. The negative comes this year with the slate – and roster – being swept clean for Hampton which opens the door to a wide-open Class D-2 race in 2017.
There is no definitive favorite in Class D-2, but if anyone is prepared to replace Hampton atop the standings, it’s the team that ended the 2015 season on top…..
1. Exeter-Milligan – The Timberwolves followed-up their 2015 state title by going 28-5 with a third-place finish in 2016. The difficult task for Exeter-Milligan will be replacing setter Sydney Hall and all-around stud Hailey Luzum, but coach Darcy White has plenty of talent left over from a year ago. Junior Katherine White, who will be one of the top all-around players in D-2, and senior Hannah Beethe give the Timberwolves an outstanding 1-2 punch.
2. Riverside – Hampton put an end to Riverside’s season in the district finals last year, but the Chargers look to carry over the momentum of that 22-10 season into this year. It also helps that Riverside returns four of its top five attackers from a year ago in seniors Becky Schmeits, Maddie Walkowiak and Grace Schalk and junior Morgan Haschke. If the Chargers can find a new setter to replace Baylee Wlaschin they should be one of the deepest and best teams in D-2.
3. Red Cloud – The Warriors had a breakout year in 2016, reaching the state tournament for the first time in program history and finishing 25-5 after falling to Hampton in the quarterfinals. Morgan Nibbe, the #26 Class of 2018 prospect, is back after leading the team in kills as is her junior sister Mary Nibbe, the #10 prospect for 2019. Ultimately, though, it’s the development of seniors Jocelyn Shipman and Kiara Uhrich along with juniors Julia Shipman and Hannah Vance that determines if Red Cloud simply returns to state or is a threat to win it.
4. Axtell – Axtell had a 2-1 lead on Red Cloud in the subdistrict finals a year ago before the Warriors came back to win sets four and five and end the Longhorns’ season at 25-4. Yes, Axtell has a lot to replace, but the Longhorns return enough to make for another successful season. Caitilin Callan is back for her senior season after having 166 kills a year ago and junior Camielle Fishell added 128 kills last season and will lead the way for Axtell in 2017.
5. CWC – Losing Jacie Laetsch certainly hurts CWC – which went 23-8 and finished fourth in Class D-2 last season – but the Renegades will be strong again in 2017. Sophomore Taylor Peter is one of the best small-school setters in the state and junior Jordan Laetsch is the heir-apparent to replace Jacie as the team’s best all-around player.
6. Elwood – The Knights return five key pieces from last year’s squad that went 18-12 and lost to Red Cloud in the district championship match and is primed for a shot at its first-ever state volleyball tournament berth in 2017. Senior Felicia Knoerzer returns after registering 360 kills and 462 digs in 2016. Junior Baylee Diefenbaugh and sophomore Hadley Martin each had over 100 kills last season and senior setter Manon Martin also returns.
7. Anselmo-Merna – It’s been 45 years since Anselmo-Merna’s only appearance at the state volleyball tournament in 1972, but the Coyotes cold have one of their best teams in several years. After going 19-10 a year ago, Anselmo-Merna returns kill leader in senior Megan Christen and three other proven players in senior Jalea Chandler and juniors Taylan Myers and Kourtney Safranek.
8. Sandhills-Thedford – After starting last season winning 14 of its first 16 matches, Sandhills-Thedford stumbled down the stretch, going just 6-6 in its final 12 matches and falling in the first round of subdistricts to Anselmo-Merna. It’s a big season for 6’2 junior Marlee Taylor, as the Knights need her to be as consistently dominant as she can be. Senior Hannah Higgins returns as setter.
9. Potter-Dix – The Coyotes have gone a combined 58-4 the past two regular seasons combined, but have been swept in the first round of the state tournament both years. Potter-Dix should again have a very successful season behind seniors Audrey Juelfs and Trinity Langley but the Coyotes struggle to get good competition to help prepare them for the postseason in their remote part of the state.
10. Wauneta-Palisade – The Broncos are the only team to have a losing record last year and be included in the D-2 rankings this season. Wauneta-Palisade lost just one senior and, most importantly, has 6-foot senior Faith Simpson to lead its attack.
Honorable Mention: Giltner, Humphrey St. Francis, Hyannis.