Volleyball in Kansas: Ellinwood, SM Northwest, undefeated teams, tournament winners, stat leaders mark standouts

By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen

Ellinwood’s Maxwell reaches 100 career wins; has Eagles among 2A contenders again

Ellinwood’s Greg Maxwell played college football at Bethany and won four KCAC conference championships. Maxwell coached football when his daughter, Mya, began with rec volleyball in third grade. Maxwell watched a match.

“I literally was just so frustrated, because they just stood there and did nothing,” Maxwell said. “I literally called my wife and said, ‘I will be coaching volleyball next year.’ And I went in, and I told them that this would be my last year coaching football. I have got to step in. My daughter’s going to play volleyball. She loves it. So if she is going to do it, she is going to do it at the highest level.”

Maxwell became a rec coach, and then progressed to the junior high and high school. The Maxwell family started a club volleyball program.

Maxwell took over the Eagle high school team in 2018 and posted a 27-14 record. He followed that with 32-5 and 31-5 records the last two falls. Overall, he has been an art teacher for 25 years and currently coaches high school volleyball, golf and middle school basketball.

“I’ve brought a football mentality to volleyball,” Maxwell said. “I have done that since the beginning, and I think it honestly kind of ruffled some feathers early on.”

Last year, Maxwell had an experienced group with four seniors, a core group that started with him in elementary school: Mya, Hailey Gross, Eliana Hernandez and libero Anahi Mendez. Maxwell led Ellinwood with 361 kills. Mendez paced with 380 digs, and Maxwell was second with 247 digs. They both finished in the top-four all-time in Ellinwood history in kills and/or digs.

Maxwell, now playing volleyball at Barton County Community College, ended her career with 1,101 kills and 922 digs. She also tallied 758 points in basketball. Mendez delivered 1,026 career digs. However, Ellinwood couldn’t complete the 2020 season because of COVID-19 quarantine.

The Eagles, a 2A contender, won the Central Prairie League title for the fourth consecutive year. The fall included wins against Central Plains, two-time defending champions at the 1A level, and St. John, a final four 1A-1 squad last fall.

Maxwell said the time allowed Ellinwood to “really reflect” on life lessons, overcoming adverse situations and appreciate “what we had.” He has asked the Eagles to not take volleyball for granted, a point he made to his 2021 squad last week.

“To see the pain in those kids’ eyes was one of the most difficult things as an educator and parent I’ve ever, ever seen,” Maxwell said. “From what they invested and what it meant to them, the hurt in their eyes was just devastating.”

This season, Ellinwood is 10-2 with a retooled roster. The Eagles returned 58 percent of its kills, 47 percent of aces, and 38 percent of digs.

That included a three-set win versus Barton County rival Central Plains on Sept. 11.

CP has senior Kassidy Nixon, recently went over 1,000 career kills and is the reigning 1A-I Player of the Year.

That same day, Ellinwood defeated Nickerson in two sets. On Thursday, Maxwell picked up career win No. 100 in a two-set victory against Haven.

Ellinwood has been ranked No. 9 in Class 2A in each of the last two weeks. Central Plains is second in Class 1A, Division I. Nickerson is eighth in Class 4A.

The matches occurred when Ellinwood won the Ellsworth tournament.

“There’s a lot of doubt going into this season from the outside,” Maxwell said. “As to obviously, losing those seniors and losing Mya. Everyone expected us to take a step backwards. My theme with them is ‘tradition never takes a step backwards, it takes a step forward.’ And getting them to buy into that and understand that we have the talent to do it. We actually are so much longer and bigger than we’ve been. From a skill level, we can do things we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

Ellinwood runs two setters with senior Mary Dimitt and 5-foot-10 junior Gabi Jacobs, also the team’s leading kill leader and scorer. Jacobs leads with 69 kills. Dimitt paces with 132 assists, and Jacobs has 58.

Jacobs is a three-year starter in the middle and is in her first-year setting. Maxwell said Jacobs “sets at a pretty high level” in club. Dimitt is a three-year setter and a valuable leader for Ellinwood. Junior Bella Baker is in her second year as a starter on the outside. Baker has 63 kills.

Freshman 5-10 outside Kennedy Behnke has stepped up. She missed her eighth grade year because of a torn ACL. She is third with 37 kills.

“She has come so far since this summer,” Maxwell said. “…She is still very raw, but thrilled with the progress she is making. She is one of the most coachable kids I have had, so that’s been awesome.”

The front row features several players. Dimitt hits right side and is among the state leaders with 34 aces. Statistically, Ellinwood is one of Kansas’ best serving teams. Ellinwood is top-9 in Kansas for all classes in aces per set at 4.4, per MaxPreps. Ellinwood is plus-45 in the difference between aces and errors. Last year, the Eagles averaged 3.5 aces per set. Dimitt is tied for second with 34 aces, per MaxPreps.

Junior Anna Ricker is key in the front. Junior Lauren Knop had never played in the back row and was middle in club. Last spring, Maxwell started talking to Knop and told her she would play libero in 2021.

Knop and Behnke are the keys in serve-receive. Baker has 79 digs, two more than Knop. Junior Brittany Simpson paces with 16 blocks.

“Got her believing,” Maxwell said of his libero. “She has worked extremely hard to kind of embrace that role, and she has really made some plays for us.”

Ellinwood has now beaten Central Plains seven straight times. Ellinwood was 2-8 in its last 10 meetings with Nickerson, including seven straight losses that dated back to a win on Sept. 14, 2013. Nickerson is highly talented, especially with Ava Jones, an Arizona State basketball commit. Kieryn Ontjes and Josie McLean are Nickerson standouts. Maxwell said the Nickerson win was a key benchmark victory.

“To get them to believe and trust,” Maxwell said. “And that’s a big part of it. They have to know that I have their back 100 percent, that I can push them. And for me, it’s pushing them in practice to the point where they are tested on a daily basis in pressure situations, both physically and mentally. …. They can trust it. And they know that, I am going to get on them, I am going to hold them accountable, but at the same time, I’m the biggest fan. That kind of comes from that football mentality.”

Shawnee Mission Northwest off to strong start – with highly efficient offense; Mackiewicz makes college choice

SM Northwest stands at 11-2, including quality two-set wins versus Mill Valley, Spring Hill and Blue Valley Southwest. On Sept. 9, the Cougars also beat Olathe Northwest in two sets. This past week, Northwest finished 4-0, all in two set wins versus Olathe East, Shawnee Mission South, Lawrence and Gardner-Edgerton.

All 11 wins this season have come by two sets. Northwest is hitting a highly impressive .332 as a team.

Northwest finished 27-6 last year, though graduated its top-two kill leaders with Taylor McCarthy and Reanne Debose. Those two combined for 474 kills and each hit at least .273. DeBose signed with Iowa Western Community College volleyball. IWCC is the No. 1-ranked team nationally in Division I junior college volleyball. McCarthy signed with Division II Regis, in Denver.

Northwest had three quality hitters back with junior Vix Vilott, junior Elinor Engel and senior Ella Mackiewicz, a three-sport standout in volleyball, basketball and track. Mackiewicz has competed at the state level in all three events. They combined for 404 kills.

Mackiewicz has 70 kills and a .445 average. In the last week, Mackiewicz announced her commitment to basketball/track at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Last winter, SM Northwest won the Class 6A state title and was considered Kansas’ best girls’ basketball team. Mackiewicz broke the school record in the high jump with a 5-6 leap at regionals. She finished third at 6A high jump in state track.

Engel is at 78 kills with a .376 average, and Vilott has 91 kills with a .318 mark. Mackiewicz has delivered 29 blocks, Engel with 22, Vilott at 20 and Standifer with 16. Senior Vivian Kieffer has 142 digs, and junior Tori Creason is at 269 assists, tenth in Kansas. SM Northwest is fourth in 6A.

Lakeside with nice start; big win against Sylvan-Lucas

In the Northern Plains League, Downs-Lakeside is 9-3 after a 25-7 season in 2020. Last year, the Knights went 0-4 against Sylvan-Lucas. Overall, the Knights were 3-12 in the last 15 meetings against the Mustangs. On Sept. 11, the Knights earned a two-set victory versus Sylvan-Lucas (25-23, 25-19). S-L actually outhit Lakeside, .105 to .049. S-L junior standout Keeli Knobbe finished with six kills and a .267 attack percentage, along with 23 digs.

Lakeside was unranked, and S-L was ninth in Class 1A, Division I in the latest poll.

The Mustangs had edges in higher hitting percentage, more aces, blocks and digs. However, S-L committed four blocking errors, and Lakeside had zero. Lakeside has an experienced team with five seniors in the top-seven: Hailee Thornton, Morgan Eberle, Tammy Keller, Bailee Cunningham, and Ashley Larocque. Plus, the Knights have junior Kylie Bergmann and sophomore Lauren Brummet. Cunningham delivered nine kills in the victory. Sophomore Lauren Brumett paces the Knights with 102 kills. Coach Michelle Brummet, Lauren’s mother, competed in track at Texas A&M.

Udall with strong defense

Udall finished 26-7 last year and averaged 34.6 digs per set. Udall graduated five of its top-seven digs leaders. The Eagles returned senior Abby Hoffman, and junior Aubree Williams. They were second and third with 344 and 243 digs, respectively. This year, Udall has opened 8-5 and Williams and Hoffman pace Kansas in digs with 227 and 215. Udall has delivered 33.2 digs per set. The Eagles have won four of its last five matches.

Clay Center wins the Riley County tournament; continues success after key graduation losses

Clay Center won the Riley County tournament with a 5-0 record. CC beat Valley Heights, 25-11, 25-16 in the final. VH finished 4-1 in the tournament. Clay Center is 12-2. Senior Jacey Schurle paces with 56 kills and a .229 hitting percentage. Junior Megan Wright has 38 kills with a .233 average. Last year, Clay Center finished 26-7, though graduated its top-two hitters in Clara Edwards and Maddie Craig. Edwards was a three-sport all-state player, the 4A Pitcher of the Year in softball, and a South Dakota softball signing. Clay Center moved from eighth to sixth in the latest 4A poll.

Other top performances; tournament champions

Multiple sport all-state pick Kassidy Nixon of state powerhouse Central Plains picked up her 1,000th career kill at the Russell Tournament over the weekend.

Meade finished 6-0 at the Liberal tournament. Meade, featured in-depth at SIK last year, is 18-0 this season with a veteran group. Meade is ranked eighth in 2A.

Eureka is 16-0 and won the Marion tournament. Eureka  has not lost a set this year. Eureka is ninth in 3A.

Hiawatha won the Hiawatha Invitational over the weekend, going 6-0.

Macksville won the Pawnee Heights tournament Saturday.

St. Paul took second at the Oswego tournament and lost to 3A Riverton. SP is 17-1. St. Paul was not ranked and then moved to eighth in Class 1A, Division II in the latest poll.

Remington won the Humboldt tournament. They went 6-0 on the weekend.

Goodland, a final four 3A team last season, won the Russell tournament. Goodland is tenth in 3A.

Smith Center captured the Republic County tournament with a 5-0 mark. SC is ranked third in Class 2A. Tallon Rentschler was featured by Bethany Bowman of Sports in Kansas on SIK All-Access last week, be sure to check it out on twitter and Facebook.

Ell-Saline went 5-0 in the Tescott tournament.

Statistical Leaders Top-15 (as of Saturday afternoon)

Hitting Percentage

Heinson, Kiowa County, .556

Cary,  Wichita Trinity, .453

Mackiewicz, SM Northwest, .445

Thomasson, Riverton, .444

Schutter, Wabaunsee, .431

Harris, Atchinson, .419

Yungeberg, Valley Heights, .390

Ronnebaum, Marysville, .385

Little, Kiowa County, .385

Engel, SM Northwest, .376

Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas, .375

Boughfman, Little River, .364

Hill, Bishop Seabury, .364

Rose, Smoky Valley, .359

VanGorp, Heritage Christian, .351


Thomasson, Riverton, 205

Saunders, Hillsboro, 170

Rose, Smoky Valley, 165

Budke, Beloit, 156

Ronnebaum, Marysville, 152

Shanfelt, Wichita Classical, 150

VanGorp, Heritage Christian, 149

White, Baxter Springs, 138

Schultz, Wheatland-Grinnell, 133

Fairchild, Andale, 132

Werth, Hillsboro, 132

Testrake, Olathe West, 132

Bell, Gardner-Edgerton, 129

Miller, Eureka, 118

Harris, Atchison, 117

Gray, Sterling, 117

Tolle, Smoky Valley, 117


Hazelwood, Smoky Valley, 387

Suderman, Hillsboro, 368

Hazel, Heritage Christian Academy, 363

Rader, Marysville, 296

Compton, Riverton, 293

Gardner, Spring Hill, 288

Horsch, Sterling, 274

Creason, SM Northwest, 269

McLean, Nickerson, 263

Cummins, Olathe North, 263

Godek, Wheatland-Grinnell, 256

Rion, Baxter Springs, 246

Heft, Kiowa County, 245

Baker, Baldwin, 242

Young, Pretty Prairie, 238


Thomasson, Riverton, 37

Dimitt, Ellinwood, 34

Brummet, Lakeside, 34

Wiles, St. John’s-Tipton, 31

Garcia, Flinthills, 31

Bruce, Atchison, 31

Stearns, Andover Central, 30

Hazel, Heritage Christian, 30

McCreight, Flinthills, 30

Hanna, Bishop Seabury, 30

Schroeder, Whearland-Grinnell, 29

Randall, Flinthills, 29

Lovesee, Bluestem, 29

Martin, Meade, 29

Miller, Eureka, 28

Lauffer, Pratt-Skyline, 28


Warren, Olathe West, 81

Coughlin, Olpe, 76

Tolle, Smoky Valley, 65

Ptacek, Eureka, 60

Afonja, Baldwin, 58

Gray, Sterling, 58

Hawkinson, Elyria Christian, 55

Singahateh, Eureka, 53

Hermreck, Olathe West, 52

 Scheve, Olpe, 50

Alt, Herington, 46

Schutter, Wabaunsee, 41

Crook, Burlingame, 40

Horsch, Sterling, 37

Schurle, Clay Center, 36

Wallace, Sylvan-Lucas, 36


Williams, Udall, 227

Hoffman, Udall, 215

Rutschman, Herington, 199

Wecker, Olpe, 196

Nitz, Atchison County, 184

Acree, Concordia, 180

Walden, Eureka, 171

Arnold, Hillsboro, 170

Jones, Yates Center, 168

Jessop, Andover Central, 168

Nachtigal, Great Bend, 154

Heredia, Pratt, 151

McMillan, Beloit, 147

Leiker, Hays High, 147

Dean, Labette County, 145

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