Let me tell you a quick story. There was a high school volleyball team in Nebraska that very, very young and very, very talented. This team had its ups and downs throughout the season and ultimately was able to put…
Let me tell you a quick story. There was a high school volleyball team in Nebraska that very, very young and very, very talented. This team had its ups and downs throughout the season and ultimately was able to put it all together at the right time and won a thrilling Class A state title match in five sets behind the play of a senior who was named the Class A Player of the Year.
You know who I’m talking about, right?
Yep – Omaha Marian.
Of course, I’m talking about the 2013 Omaha Marian team led by senior Sydney O’Shaughnessy and young talent like Elizabeth Loschen, Sophia Terwilleger, Brittany Witt, Kelsey O’Connell and Andie Hanus. That team knocked off Millard West in five sets for the first of its three consecutive state titles. That Marian team lost 11 matches on the season, the most ever by a Class A state champion.
So, it seems ironic that the same story virtually repeated itself in 2016 when a very, very young and very, very talented Millard North team – behind the play of Class A Player of the Year and senior Elise Baumann – won the Class A title while having………wait for it………11 losses on the year.
Instead of looking at Millard North as the next dynasty in Class A volleyball, though, it seems the Mustangs aren’t getting much respect based on other preseason polls and the fact that they aren’t even a top seed in their own pool at the Bellevue Invitational next weekend.
Yes, I understand that had Marian’s powerhouse MH and Iowa recruit Sarah Wing not gotten hurt prior to the state tournament things may have turned out differently. Or, maybe, the injury exploited that Marian didn’t have the depth it has had in the past to overcome the injury. There are always multiple ways to look at something.
Yes, Marian was outstanding last year, going 33-6 before losing in the Class A semifinals. And, yes, they only lost one senior and have Wing back healthy as ever. But, that one senior, current UNK Loper MK Wolfe, was really the MVP for Marian last year and what she did both defensively and at the net will be difficult for the Crusaders to replace. And, depth will be an issue again should someone at the net go down.
Now, let’s look at Millard North. Last season was truly a tale of two different Mustang teams. There was the early Mustangs that went 14-9 in its first 25 matches and struggled to find consistency. Then there’s the late Mustangs that turned things around at 14-9 with a win over……wait for it…….Omaha Marian that started a 13-2 run for the team on its way to the Class A title.
Yes, Millard North lost Baumann and valuable RS Madison Johnson, but with all due respect to both players that are now off playing in college, Millard North is going to be even better at those positions this year. And, to top it off, the Mustangs’ 14-player roster is the deepest of anyone’s in the state.
So, that’s why my verdict is that the defending champs from Millard North go into 2017 as the team to beat. And, given the youth they have, I think you can go ahead and pencil the Mustangs in as the team to beat in 2018 at well.
1.) Millard North – The defending state champions come back even more loaded than they were a year ago. The Mustangs have one of the state’s best players in 6’1 sophomore OH McKenna Ruch and then have their choice between the trio of juniors Paige Holdsworth and Allie Kerns or sophomores Eve Fountain and Lauren Maciejewski as their second OH. It will be an interesting battle to see who settles into the L2 spot. With 6’2 Iowa recruit Emma Grunkemeyer, 6’1 Emmy Grant, 6’1 Molly Plahn and 6’0 Breanna Kelly, the Mustangs will be massive in the middle and right side. Izzy Lukens returns at setter and junior Marissa Salber has the ability to contribute as either a setter or RS. Defensively, seniors Megan Hanson, Madison Evans and junior Emma Altman gives the Mustangs one of the top back row units in Class A.
2.) Omaha Marian – As usual, Marian will be able to put an insane amount of talent on the court. Senior SMU recruit Lily Heim will direct a potent attack that includes OHs Emily Bressman and Wyoming recruit Hailey Zuroske as well as Ashtynne Alberts. Iowa recruit Sara Wing and New Hampshire recruit Maddie Wiedenfeld give Marian two outstanding senior MHs. The back row will be rock solid again with Sophie Moes and Louisville recruit Maggie Mullen as Marian looks to reach state for the 16th season in a row.
3.) Millard West – Truth be told, there really isn’t much of a gap between Millard West and the top two teams in the rankings as the Wildcats are legitimate Class A title contenders. OHs Ashley Bush and Jordan McCormick, a Wayne State recruit, both return as starters while a pair of 6’0 juniors in Hailey Petersen and Bailey Wilson each return after each having more than 140 kills a year ago. Look out for 6’0 senior Jada Key this season and sophomore MB/RS Gabi Nordaker and freshman OH Elise Gilroy could each contribute as well. Defensively, Iowa State recruit and junior libero Jaiden Centeno returns after missing last season because of an injury. Maggie Sempeck – an all-stater as Centeno’s replacement – slides over to a DS role and her twin sister Makenzie also will contribute.
4.) Papillion-LaVista South – The Titans came up just short (20-18) in the epic fifth set of the Class A state finals last year against Millard North. Papio South might have started the year ranked higher if not for the fact that sophomore OH Sophie Hendrix left last weekend’s exhibition match with a knee injury that didn’t appear good. Best-case scenario she’s able to get back right away, but if the injury is more serious, that’s a serious blow to the Titans. Hendrix and North Dakota recruit Taliyah Flores give the Titans powerful OHs that can also play tremendous defense. Setter Mara LeGrand and setter/DS Payton Moore return as does sophomore setter Ashlyn Dierks. Moe Bianchi and Jessica Hendrix are back as MH with 6’0 junior Anna Gregerson also in the mix. Army recruit Peyton Schendt returns at RS. Lindsey Allgire could be a valuable OH as well for the Titans. Libero Leah Palensky is back after a great sophomore season.
5.) Lincoln Southwest – The Silver Hawks may not have much size in 2017 but that shouldn’t lead to small expectations. Wayne State recruit and setter/OH Rachel Walker is the straw that stirs the drink for Southwest and she has two great OH options in 6’0 Jaden Ferguson and 6’1 Hannah Kelle. Those two, however, are the only players taller than 5’9 for the Silver Hawks. MH Caitlin Dirks and OH/DS Paige Silverberg each had more than 100 kills for Southwest last year while Katie Siefkes returns for her senior season at libero.
6.) Lincoln Southeast – The Knights have been the most consistent volleyball program in Lincoln for a while and that should continue under first-year coach Theresa Naumann. Melanie Brecka, a UMKC recruit, is back for her senior season as one of the most athletic and explosive MH in the state. Cassidy Plooster, a transfer from Lincoln Pius X, takes over at setter for the Knights while Southeast also returns OH Peyton Rhode, libero/DS Madison Renn and MB Lexi Long.
7.) Papillion-LaVista – The arrival of sophomore setter Brooklyn Schram, a transfer from Bellevue West, will help the Monarchs overcome the loss of a lot of talent from a year ago. MH Sydney Fitzgibbons, OH/MH Ally Glaser, OH Chloe Paschal and libero Mckenzie Michalek, an Omaha recruit, each saw considerable action last year. Seniors Carly Lindenmeyer and Megan Helmberger should play key roles as well and keep an eye out for freshman Nora Sis.
8.) Millard South – Millard South might not have a senior on its roster, but the Patriots look to have their best team since they went to state in 2014. Junior setter Jaisee Stinson is one of the best female athletes in the state and is an offensive weapon at the position as well. Juniors Claire Larson and Lauren Walenz return at OH while sophomores Paige Fixemer and Maggie Madej both return at MH. The RS position will likely be held by either Kelsey Olson or Chloe Nicholisen – both juniors – while the back row duo of junior Jordan Harre and sophomore Sam Steele is very steady.
9.) Grand Island – Senior OH Alexa Blasé – an Omaha recruit – leads a talented group of players back for the Islanders. Sydney Wald, Britni Aguilar and Sam Armstrong each had more than 100 kills for Grand Island last year while setter/DS Katie Ellis had 300 assists and 200 digs a year ago.
10.) Lincoln Pius X – Freshman phenom Alexis Markowski had surgery for a broken foot earlier this week and that injury puts a damper on the start of the Thunderbolts’ season. It’s still going to be a very good Lincoln Pius X team in 2017 though. Libero Lindsay Nottleman, a Nebraska-Kearney recruit, is back, as is junior MB Morgan Christiansen and senior DS Karly Wieser. The setting duties will be handled by either Grace Gokie or Abbey Maul and watch for a couple newcomers in 6’1 sophomore Lauren Taubenheim and 5’10 freshman Kylin Sealock.