GRAND ISLAND — Diane Rouzee created a monster a few years ago out of things like Survivor and Superheroes. It was after she’d already built one of the best volleyball programs in the state.
The Grand Island Northwest coach was trying to think of a way to give her central Nebraska juggernaut an advantage over the suburban Class B teams. So, she started giving each season a theme.
“I thought there were so many great coaches in this state; I am not the smartest person one and I am not afraid to admit it,” said Rouzee. “So, I just thought, ‘What can I do to give my team an advantage that no one else does?’
“What can I do to make it fun? I thought when I started it, it would be kind of dumb and then they kept asking what are we going to do next year? It’s really grown into something we look forward to each year.”
Most of the time, Rouzee relates the theme to something in pop culture.
“We decided that it was a group of kids that were so passionate and so into volleyball that when you push all your chips into the table you are all in. We felt this group was that. We have seven seniors so we think that’s kind of lucky.”
For the most part, the Vikings haven’t need much luck with Rouzee at the helm. In her 34th season as the head coach, Northwest has gone to state 25 times, including a current 16-season streak that is the fourth longest in state history. Add in ten state finals appearances, including last year, and six straight from 2007-2012, and you have the formula for one of the top programs in Nebraska.
But, try to look up a Viking in the state record books and you’ll only find two individuals. You’ll find them six times in the team records, though. That’s how Rouzee has built her program here. With knowledge and practice. With teamwork and togetherness.
“It seems like we are always doing something together in the summer,” senior returning all-stater Taryn Mayfield said. “We put in a lot of extra work in the weight room and open gyms. Even if we aren’t doing something here, we like to get together and play sand volleyball.
“We are doing something with each other so we can come together as team.”
Mayfield was a standout as a junior leading the team with 324 kills for a 38-3 team that lost to Omaha Skutt Catholic in the Class B state finals, but some considered one of the top-five teams in the state. They ended the season with five wins over Class A competition.
Mayfield leads the list of returning players and is joined by three-year player Taylor Hageman who will likely be sidelined early in the season after suffering an ACL injury in the offseason. Hageman had 198 kills, 89 blocks and 398 digs in 2016.
Rouzee knows both will be key to Northwest’s success this season.
“(Taryn) has learned and grown so much and she just continues to improve all the time,” the coach said. “Her game is getting better, her volleyball IQ is getting better. She just keeps getting better and better. She hits the ball hard; she’s scary.”
Hageman, Rouzee said, had a big impact on her teammates while battling through injury this summer.
“She is one of those kids who comes along and is one of those dream athletes to coach,” Rouzee said of Hageman. “She had a serious ACL injury but was here every single day of weight room. She was not hanging her head, but supporting her teammates and encouraging them.
“She was doing everything and even more than if she was playing.”
Seniors Jadeyn Stutzman (libero) and Sydney Simmons (setter) both started last year for Northwest and will return in the same spot. Stutzman had 302 digs and 35 ace serves, while Simmons had 410 assists. Three other seniors — Kenzie Hageman, Kennedy Hovie and Megan Bartz — had good summers, Rouzee said.
“Jadeyn has a lot of talent,” the coach said. “She does a lot of things, music and dancing, and we let her do it. Sydney did a great job last year and is probably one of our best athletes.
“But, I really think those other three seniors are going to make us go. You don’t see a lot of stats from Kennedy and Megan and Kenzie but they step in and have a great personality and just a tremendous drive. Their chemistry and how they make things click are a big thing for our team.”
That’s a familiar story at Northwest. Develop players and teach them volleyball. The wins and losses and state tournament appearances will take care of themselves.