Class A Preview, Rankings and Preseason All-State Team
Is the landscape in Class A starting to actually change or does it just appear that way? We’re about to find out over the next three months. A vast majority of the players in Class A either weren’t born yet…
Is the landscape in Class A starting to actually change or does it just appear that way? We’re about to find out over the next three months.
A vast majority of the players in Class A either weren’t born yet or were crawling around in diapers the last time a team from Lincoln even reached the state finals in Class A. The year was 2001. Heck, the last time a Lincoln school won the Class A state championship was in 1998 when Lincoln Northeast was the last team standing. To put that into perspective, first-year Lincoln Southeast coach Paige Hubl was a second grader in 1998 – if my math is right.
Last season, Lincoln Southwest flirted with being the team that would snap that streak and entered the state tournament as the #2 seed with a 30-3 record, but got the tough draw of Millard North in the first round and couldn’t get past the Mustangs. There have been other years when Lincoln teams have come really, really close, but none have survived until the final day of the season in 17 years.
Enter Lincoln Pius X in 2018. If ever there was a team positioned to be the ones to snap that streak, it very well could be the Thunderbolts this season. Pius X returns everyone except its libero, but has a replacement that will be a Husker this time next year, so I think they will be OK there. Otherwise, everyone is back from a team that went 25-10 a year ago and fell to Papillion-LaVista South in five sets in the Class A quarterfinals. Plus, 6’2 sophomore Alexis Markowski is back after missing her freshman year with an injury.
How else might the landscape be changing? Well, Omaha Marian might actually be human this year. Maybe. The Crusaders have won four of the last five Class A titles and have played for seven of the last nine. That’s downright dominating. But, when you graduate three Division I front-row players, a Division I setter and a Division I libero, you’ve got some holes to fill. There is still a lot of talent walking the halls of Marian, but needless to say we will find out pretty quick if the Crusaders are rebuilding or simply reloading.
This is probably the most wide-open Class A field in close to the last 10 years. In years past, you could realistically rattle off the Class A title contenders on one hand and maybe even have a finger or two left over. This year, realistically, I almost run out of fingers on the second hand. Whether or not the field remains wide open as the season progresses is yet to be seen, but you probably should buckle up for this Class A season because it’s going to be pretty crazy.
Here is our initial Class A rankings with a little bit about each team.
#1 – Lincoln Pius X
Lincoln Pius X was won seven state championships in its history, but has never taken the crown in Class A. That could change this year as the Thunderbolts return the most talent in the state coming off a 25-10 season in which it lost to Papillion-LaVista South in five sets in the first round of state a year ago. The Bolts’ only loss to their roster is libero Lindsay Notleman, but senior Husker recruit Emma Gabel will fill that hole. Seniors Delaney Humm (328 kills, 495 digs) and Anna McLain (285 kills) return on the outside while in the middle, 6’0 senior Morgan Christiansen (244 kills, 90 solo blocks) is back and 6’2 sophomore Alexis Markowski should be healthy after missing all of her freshman season. Lauren Taubenheim (292 kills, 15 solo blocks) is a 6’1 junior that can play anywhere along the net and 6’0 junior right side Carly Rodaway also returns. Senior setter Grace Gokie is back, she had 1,076 assists (10.2 per set) and 323 digs a year ago. No team from Lincoln has appeared in the Class A state final since 2001 and no Lincoln school has won the Class A title since Lincoln Northeast did it in 1998.
#2 – Millard North
After winning the state title in 2016, Millard North finished as runner-up in 2017 and by all accounts looks like it has another shot to be playing in the final volleyball match of the season this fall. Junior setter Izzy Lukens returns after starting the past two seasons and the Mustangs also bring back. Along the net, Millard North has a ton of versatility and experience, starting with 6’1 junior McKenna Ruch (340 kills, 86 blocks), seniors Emmy Grant (203 kills, 124 total blocks), Paige Holdsworth (193 kills, 223 digs), and Allie Kerns (190 kills). Junior Eve Fountain had a huge state tournament last fall and finished the year with 244 kills and 281 digs. Molly Plahn, a 6’0 junior who had 22 kills and 14 blocks last season) also should figure into the mix. Meanwhile, coach Lindsay Peterseon has been pretty tight lipped about the status of 6’2 senior Iowa recruit Emma Grunkemeyer. Injuries forced Grunkemeyer to miss more than half of last season and she sat out the entire club season. If she is able to be healthy and play this season, it puts a huge charge into the Mustangs. Emma Altman, who had 267 digs last season, looks to likely take over the libero role.
#3 – Omaha Marian
While things might look really different on the court for Omaha Marian in 2018, it’s likely that the results on it won’t change a whole lot. The program that has produced four of the last five Class A state champions and has competed in the Class A final in seven of the last nine years graduated a truckload of talent. While this year’s version of the Crusaders start getting experience, what isn’t a question is their talent on the outside where seniors Emily Bressman (428 kills, 321 digs) and Hailey Zuroske (184 kills) both return. Junior Sophia Moes returns in the back row and has 442 digs and 543 serve receptions in her career. Emma Hern, a 5’11 senior, is the only returning player with significant experience in the middle or right side. Senior setter Ashley Straub and senior defensive specialist Bailey Hanus also return after limited action a year ago.
#4 – Millard West
Millard West has been to seven straight Class A state tournaments but looks poised to win its first match in Lincoln in November since 2014. The Wildcats showed they will be strong contenders by winning the Creighton team camp in July despite using several young players while some returning starters were at individual camps. That means the Wildcats should have a lot of options to choose from on their roster. Anchoring the defense is three-year starter Jaiden Centeno at libero while Millard West has a pair of setting option in senior Bree Green and freshman Ella Hazen. Sophomore Elise Gilroy returns on the outside while in the middle Millard West has both Bailey Wilson and Hailey Petersen back for their senior years. Gabi Nordaker returns after being second on the team in kills last year with 204 on the right side.
#5 – Papillion-LaVista South
The Titans being life after Taliyah Flores this season and must find a way to replace the 907 kills produced a year ago between Flores, Moe Bianchi and Peyton Schendt – not to mention Flores’ 400-plus digs and defensive presence. All-state setter Mara LeGrand returns as a senior and the back row looks to be in good hands with the return of senior Leah Palensky and junior Ashlyn Dierks. Senior right side Jessica Hendrix is the top returning kill lead after having 109 a year ago and Sophie Hendrix, a junior outside, returns on the outside after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Senior Lindsey Allgire and freshman Ava LeGrand figure to see a lot of action on the outside, while senior Anna Gregerson and freshman Emma O’Neill should be main pieces of the puzzle in the middle. Senior Madi Bollow will also compete for playing time in the back row.
#6 – Lincoln Southwest
Southwest looked prepared to be the team that snapped Lincoln’s drought of having a team reach the Class A final last year when it rolled into the state tournament at 30-3, but a first-round loss to Millard North ended those dreams. If the Silver Hawks are going to make another strong run, they will have to replace all-state setter Rachel Walker and likely ride one of the best players in the state in returning outside hitter Jaden Ferguson. Southwest has senior Paige Silverberg at one of the pins also coming back, but no other players had more than 70 kills a year ago. The arrival of transfer libero Holly Ochsner from Lincoln Northeast fills another major void for Southwest.
#7 – Papillion-LaVista
There is a lot of talent but not a lot of depth returning in 2018 for first-year coach Ashley Beccard. Leading the way is one of the best all-around players in Class A in outside Norah Sis. The 6’0 freshman led the Monarchs a year ago in kills with 353 while hitting .286 and also had 289 digs, which was good for third on the team. Junior Chloe Paschal also returns and is a six-rotation standout as well, finishing last year with 291 kills and 347 digs. Junior Erica Broin returns in the middle after having 40 kills and 81 total blocks a year ago and setter Brooklyn Schram is back for her junior year after having 1,127 assists (10.8 per set), 63 kills and 43 aces.
#8 – Millard South
After being one of the youngest teams in Class A each of the last three years, the Patriots are now one of the most experienced and have a very real shot at their first state tournament since 2014. Millard South has depth on the outside with seniors Lauren Walenz (220 kills, 295 digs) and Claire Larson (266 kills, 304 digs) along with incoming freshman Maddie MacTaggert. In the middle and right side, the Patriots return 6’0 senior Kelsey Olson (98 kills, 33 total blocks), and juniors Paige Fixemer (244 kills, 86 total blocks) and Maddie Madej (190 kills, 49 total blocks). Freshman Laci Abendroth and senior Chloe Nickolisen could also compete for time along the net. Junior Sam Steele (525 digs, 435 serve receptions) returns at libero for the Patriots while freshman Makayla Fleming takes over at setter for injured senior Jaisee Stinson.
#9 – Gretna
When Elkhorn South left the Eastern Midlands Conference to join the Metro Conference starting last year, it was assumed the Storm was on its way to Class A. However, Elkhorn South has yet to rise to Class A while its former EMC mates from Gretna have moved up a class this year. Gretna has been a force in Class B, reaching the state tournament in eight of the last nine years, finishing second in 2012 and 2015. The Dragons should be immediately competitive in Class A with the return of outsides Lydia Yost and Kamryn Schuler, along with the return of libero Kenedy Schaecher and setter Baylie Shearer.
#10 – Lincoln East
The final spot in the rankings could have easily gone to Bellevue West or Lincoln Southeast, but the hunch here is the Spartans are going to take a big step forward from last year’s 13-17 season. Senior setter Alex Lemke is back and has three of her top four kills leaders from last season back as well. Junior Atley Carey (172 kills, 58 blocks), sophomore Brooke Peltz (119 kills, 137 digs) and senior Erin Morgan (110 kills, 175 digs) all return along the net, as does senior middle Maisie Ohlrich (74 kills, 44 blocks). Sophomore Brooke McCartney is back after having 238 digs last season.
Here is a look at our A Preseason All-State Team
Setter – Mara LeGrand, 5’10, Sr., Papillion-LaVista South (committed to Regis University)
Setter – Grace Gokie, 5’9, Sr., Lincoln Pius X
Hitter – Emily Bressman, 5’10, Sr., Omaha Marian (committed to Creighton)
Hitter – Jaden Ferguson, 6’0, Sr., Lincoln Southwest (committed to Northwest Missouri State)
Hitter – Norah Sis, 6’0, Soph., Papillion-LaVista
Hitter – Mckenna Ruch, 6’2, Jr., Millard North (committed to Omaha)
Hitter – Bekka Allick, 6’3, Fr., Lincoln North Star (committed to Nebraska)
Hitter – Hailey Zuroske, 5’11, Sr., Omaha Marian (committed to Wyoming)
Libero/DS – Jaiden Centeno, 5’7, Sr., Millard West (committed to Iowa State)
Libero/DS – Kenedy Schaecher, 5’5, Jr., Gretna