Volleyball in Kansas: Smith Center coach Nick Linn reaches 1,000 career wins; headlines 2A state tournament

Smith Center celebrates coach Nick Linn’s 1000th career win.


Smith Center’s Nick Linn reaches 1,000-win milestone

WaKEENEY – Since 2013, Smith Center has reached the state tournament every year but one under longtime coach Nick Linn. That includes three final fours from ’13-19. In the last two seasons, SC enjoyed the best two finishes in school history with second and first showings in 2A.

Linn, also Smith Center’s girls’ basketball coach, and longtime assistant Denyse Kattenberg have built the program on tradition and grit. In 2022, Smith Center brought in several first-year starters, and moved junior Dakota Kattenberg from the outside to middle. Smith Center graduated 2A player of the year Tallon Rentschler and top hitter Ashlyn Long.

“He’s amazing,” junior setter Camryn Hutchinson said. “He grinds us everyday in practice, and he overall is just the best – the best of the best.”

Last Saturday, Smith Center was the second seed in the 2A WaKeeney-Trego sub-state. SC and Ellinwood were both consensus 2A top-five squads. Ellinwood was considered a slight favorite. Linn was aware he was closing in on 1,000 career victories, a standard three other Kansas volleyball coaches have met. However, Linn’s focus was squarely on the 2022 team.

“To me, it’s really unfair to have us and Ellinwood together,” Linn said. “Because I think they would have a shot at winning state, as good as that team is. I mean, I really think that they are that good. I told them that.”

In the sub-state semifinals, Ellinwood dispatched Ellis in two sets. The Eagles walked over to the partition separating the courts and watched Smith Center’s match against Hoxie. Smith Center won the first set and trailed 21-19 in the second set when Linn called a timeout. A third set would have given Ellinwood substantial rest.

Instead, SC, led by a kill from junior Gracie Kirchhoff, along with a kill and block from Kattenberg, won the second set 25-22.

In the final, Smith Center trailed 13-11 in the set and came back to win 25-19, 19-25, 25-20 in front of a raucous crowd at WaKeeney-Trego High School.

“Our blue collar work ethic,” Hutchinson said. “We are so energetic. We have great team chemistry, and I think that just makes us great.”

Immediately after the match, the green and red Smith Center fan base congratulated Linn with posters and commemorations for win No. 1000.

“I am happy for them,” Linn said. “Who would have thought about losing Tallon and Ashlyn? Coming back and having to revamp. I never would have guessed it and coming here as the second seed.”

A chant of “COY” (Coach of Year) arose. Julie Hutchinson, Camryn’s mom, had a poster that had Linn as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) coach.

“My players deserve all the credit,” Linn said. “It’s not me. It’s truly them, and they are committed to play blue collar volleyball, and hitting the floor, and keeping the ball alive.”

Smith Center has multiple well-known players, including Hutchinson, Kattenberg and Kirchhoff. Hutchinson, a returning first team all-state pick, recently became SC’s all-time leader in assists.

“I wouldn’t be able to do it without my teammates or my coaches,” Hutchinson said. “The amazing support system that we have, our community is amazing.”

Hutchinson, the daughter of longtime Redmen defensive coordinator Brock Hutchinson, is the second-youngest of four children. She is known for her energy and competitive fire.

“My family obviously, the Man Upstairs, and just my teammates,” Hutchinson said. “My teammates, they are awesome, we have great team chemistry. … Energy is just one of the things that we look forward to the most. It’s so fun to play with all the teammates.”

Additionally, 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter Maile Hrabe has enjoyed a huge career in volleyball and basketball. Plus, 5-foot-11 junior middle hitter Tinley Rentschler had just two varsity kills last fall and wasn’t planning on playing in ’22.

She joined the team in mid-summer. Additionally, senior Baylee Archer, who did not appear in a varsity match last fall, has been the team’s best server. Archer has a hard floating serve and served a key run against Hoxie. Linn called Archer an “aggressive” server who has played a key role.

“Maile and Gracie on the outside have done good all year long,” Linn said. “They’re, to me, first team all league players. Camryn is an all-state player. But to fill that gap this year with Tinley almost not going out, and then to, in mid-summer, join our team, that to me was all the difference. It was all the difference in us having a really good year, and us maybe struggling for a lot of the year.”

Smith Center is 36-4 and the second seed in Friday’s and Saturday’s Class 2A state tournament at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena. After the match, Linn, also coached St. Xavier to a state runner-up in the ‘80s, remembered his first win.

“To me back then, it was just as good,” Linn said. “This was awesome. I was hoping it would be this year, get it out of the way, and tonight would have been perfect, I thought.”

He also focused on the present – and what should be an entertaining state tournament.

“This 1,000 wins is special to me tonight, but not near as special what we accomplished tonight,” Linn said.

Mix of traditional foes and two newer teams

2A is one of the state’s most compelling classes with a mix of tradition alongside two teams (Meade and Inman) that have limited recent state tournament experience – though have statistically some of the state’s best players.

Pool 1 has No. 1 Hillsboro (39-1), No. 4 Meade (31-7), No. 5 Jefferson County North (30-8), and No. 8 Pittsburg-Colgan (23-16).

Pool 2 features Smith Center, No. 3 Inman (34-5), No. 6 Garden Plain (30-9) and No. 7 Valley Heights (25-13).

Hillsboro has the edge over Smith Center and Inman in MaxPreps’ statistical rankings that include strength of schedule. Hillsboro is ranked No. 15 in all classes, just ahead of 6A state qualifier Hutchinson.

While 4A-6A will likely have several rematches from the regular season, 2A is intriguing in that these eight teams rarely play each other – except at state.

Last year, Smith Center was first, Hillsboro second and Garden Plain third. Along with Linn, Hillsboro has longtime coach Sandy Arnold and GP features legendary Gina Clark.

Smith Center also defeated Hillsboro in the 2020 state tournament. Hillsboro won three titles from ’11-13, was second in ’14, and third and second the last two falls.

Garden Plain took second in ’12, first in ’15 and has qualified for state five straight years. GP won in ’18, third in ’19 and third last year.

Garden Plain beat SC in the ’18 and ’19 state tournaments. Hillsboro defeated GP at the state tournament last fall, and in the 3A final in ’12.

Colgan is at state for the ninth time in 10 years with veteran coach Cathy Oplotnik. The Panthers have historically struggled in pool play, though did take fourth in 2018. Lauren Torrance, a first team all-state basketball player, paces Colgan with 4.0 kills per set, a .233 hitting percentage and 83 blocks. Dalanie Meek has 3.5 digs per set.

Jefferson County North is at state for a fourth straight season. JCN went a combined 1-5 in pool play in ’19 and ’21 with a loss to Garden Plain last fall. The Chargers have won nine straight matches and beat rival Jackson Heights in three sets. JH won the first set 25-20 before North won the next two: 25-17, 25-22. North has eight seniors: Jocelyn Seever, Korrie and Kaydee Bertels, Audrey Bell, Macy Thompson, Emma Edwards and Claire Jobbins.

Harris, Woods leading Inman with school marks

Inman freshman Suttyn Harris has a state-best 596 kills. She has delivered kills on 52.6 percent of swings, an astronomical rate. Harris has delivered 260 digs and 112 blocks.

Kambrey Woods has consistently been top-5 in Kansas for assists. She has 934 this fall and enters state with 999 assists. Woods played varsity last year, though wasn’t the setter. She set two matches when the ’21 setter was hurt and had 65.

Chloe Schmidt has delivered a quality year with 297 kills, 93 blocks and a 45.3 hitting percentage.

Inman last reached state in 2010. Woods has set the individual season record for assists. Harris has Inman’s record for kills and points scored. Maci Neufeld has set the individual record for most good serves in a year. Inman, under coach Megan Heckel, has team records for most kills and most assists. Before 2010, Inman’s last appearance was a state title in 1994. Inman has won 10 straight matches.

The Teutons lost three times, including twice in three-set matches, to previously undefeated Sedgwick. Inman won the fourth matchup in the sub-state finale in three sets.

Martin, Krier pacing consistent Meade

Meade has won 13 in a row. The Buffs have posted 30-plus wins in five of the last six years. Senior CC Krier has 231 kills, and junior Carlee Martin has 230. Krier has posted 56 aces, with senior Ryleigh Foster at 45, and Martin at 43.

Martin also leads Meade with 380 digs. Krier has 247 digs. Foster has 592 assists. Sophomore Charity Powell has 397 receptions, and Martin has 304.

Martin has delivered 748 digs in three years, along with an impressive 134 aces.

Hillsboro with dominating team

Hillsboro has won 31 straight matches with only a three-set loss to 4A second seed Circle – though came back later in the season to defeat the T-Birds. Hillsboro has wins against 3A state qualifiers Smoky Valley (twice), Beloit and Cheney. Plus, Hillsboro defeated Garden Plain.

Additionally, the Trojans have wins against 5A Great Bend, 4A qualifier Rock Creek.

 Zaylee Werth has enjoyed a huge season with 5.4 kills per set and a .346 average. Savannah Shahan has 4.1 kills a set and a .254 average. Kori Arnold is an elite defensive specialist with 4.6 digs per set and 77 aces. Ella Suderman is among the state leaders with 836 assists.

Garden Plain back to state again

GP consistently plays a highly challenging schedule that prepares it for the postseason. Molly Zoglman has 2.8 kills per set. Sydney Puetz leads with 441 digs, and Ryleigh Stuhlsatz has 731 digs.

This entry was posted in High School, Volleyball. Bookmark the permalink.