By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
SIK has its complete volleyball preview, highlighting every team that has qualified for the state tournament, along with national rankings, milestones, top players and analysis of each class. This is two stories: Classes 6-4A and Classes 3A, 2A, 1A-I and 1A-II.
State returns to its normal schedule. In 2020, just the final four went to the state site. This year, like past seasons, the final eight go to state. Pool play is Friday. The top-two teams from each pool play in the semifinals and finals Saturday. Classes 6A and 5A are held at Salina’s Tony’s Pizza Events Center. Classes 4A and 3A are at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. Classes 2A and 1A-I are at Dodge City’s United Wireless Arena. Class IA-II is in Emporia.
All records from KSHSAA, state trips from KSHSAA database and statistics from MaxPreps and/or coaches/SIK research.
Key Question: Class 3A, like most seasons, is likely the deepest of any classification. This class has several elite players that rank among Kansas’ best for all classes, including Heritage Christian’s Rachel Van Gorp and Cy Rae Campbell, Riverton’s Jacy Thomasson, Smoky Valley’s Abby Rose and Beloit’s Makenzie Travis. All eight teams are definite contenders, though Heritage Christian, Beloit, Smoky Valley and Cheney likely have a slight edge with its returning state experience, strength of schedule and overall depth. This should be an outstanding field.
1. Eureka (35-1) – Eureka has qualified for state volleyball for the first time since 2010. Before then, the Tornadoes last made state in ’02 and ’09. The last state volleyball match that Eureka won came in ’02. Eureka is 1-8 in those nine state matches. However, Eureka has experienced historical success for its school in the last three years with wrestling, track, girls’ basketball and football.
This could finish as the best Eureka volleyball team in school history. Eureka has dropped four sets all season and has won eight matches in a row. Junior Maggie Miller leads with 253 kills and a .375 attack percentage. Sophomore Ashley Singahateh paces with 170 kills and a .500 average. Seniors Abby Singahateh and Brooklyn Ptacek each have 121 blocks. Senior Gracie Walden has 425 digs. Eureka’s only loss came against Circle, a 4A state qualifier.
4. Riverton (38-3) – Riverton earned wins against quality CNC foes and features one of the state’s elite players in junior Jacy Thomasson. Riverton has its first league title in 30 years. Riverton has won 12 in a row. Thomasson, who has a Pittsburg State offer, has 536 kills with a .434 hitting percentage. She is also Riverton’s leader with 85 assists and 64 blocks. Sophomore Kayla Greer has 281 digs.
5. Smoky Valley (37-3) – Smoky Valley has qualified for state volleyball in back-to-back years for the first time in school history. Last year marked the best season in program annals with a state runner-up showing to Sabetha. Many of the key girls helped SV win 3A track last spring. Check out more on Smoky Valley as the SIK Nex-Tech Wireless Central Kansas Athletes of the Week. SV senior Abby Rose is the reigning 3A Player of the Year. Rose has 1,075 career kills and is SV’s single season record holder with 316. The libero is Avery Vanderwege, and setter Adrian Hazelwood and hitter Hope Duncan have had breakout seasons in 2021. SV has won 18 straight matches.
8. Beloit (32-7) – Coach Brandy Paul has achieved great success with Beloit. The Trojans finished second in 2019 and also qualified in ’15, ’17 and ’18. Beloit beat Thomas More Prep-Marian in a season-opening five set match, and then defeated TMP again in the sub-state championship in two sets. Senior setter Makenzie Travis has cleared 2,000 career assists. Beloit finished 10-0 in NCAA play and has won 13 straight matches overall. Freshman Addison Budke has set a school record with 595 kills. She carries a .327 average, and sophomore Mylie Brown has 434 kills and a .302 average.
2. Cheney (37-2) – Coach Sara Walkup has won more than 80 percent of her matches in her career and cleared 400 career wins this year. Cheney has not won a state volleyball title but has been close numerous times with Walkup, a former Wichita State star. The Cardinals are a remarkable 115-7 in volleyball, basketball, softball and volleyball since the start of 2020. Cheney lost in the volleyball state quarterfinals to Smoky Valley last fall, then won state basketball and softball. Cheney has won 10 straight matches. The Cardinals make errors only 11 percent of the time. Four players have between 131 and 217 kills: sophomore Alex Bittner, junior Anna Martin, junior Campbell Hague, and senior Olivia Albers. Senior Brooklyn Wewe has 1,589 assists and 702 digs in her career.
3. Olathe-Heritage Christian (35-2) – Heritage Christian’s move up to 3A has been one of the prevailing storylines throughout the volleyball season. HCA is the defending 2A state champion, has veteran coach Tom Sylvester and significant talent with Rachel Van Gorp and Cy Rae Campbell. HCA did graduate Katrina Davis, statistically the state’s best server, 2A Player of the Year and Virginia Commonwealth signing. Davis is now starting as a true freshman as VCU’s setter. Heritage Christian also won state titles in ’16 and ’17. HCA has won 12 straight matches. Van Gorp has 322 kills and a .385 average, and Campbell has 223 kills with a .301 average. HCA has all but four of its kills from non-seniors. HCA is again an excellent serving team with 339 aces (19.1 percent of swings).
6. Goodland (37-3) – Goodland is back to state for the second consecutive year after a Class 3A final four showing last season. Goodland was featured on SIK last week. The Cowgirls have significant experience and won the GWAC title. Goodland has won 17 straight matches. Goodland has five hitters with at least 100 kills: sophomore Jaxi Mitchek (243), senior Emma Lehman (178), junior Olivia Lehman (102), junior Lindsey Cure (234) and 6-foot junior Talexa Weeter (326). Cure paces with 106 blocks, and Mitchek leads with 276 digs.
7. Nemaha Central (36-6) – The Thunder are consistently among 3A’s top volleyball programs with longtime coach Jessica Koch. NC has reached state in ’13, ’14, ’16-’19. NC rolled through a highly challenging sub-state with six straight sets against big rival and defending state champion Sabetha, Rossville and Big 7 champion Hiawatha. Koch has more than 600 career wins, per records on the Kansas Volleyball Association site.
Big Question: Outside of Maranatha Academy, these teams are highly experienced at the state tournament. Smith Center, Wabaunsee and Hillsboro were all 2A final four teams last season. Garden Plain has reached state four straight years. Colgan has reached state five straight years and eight of the past nine. Can Smith Center break through with its first-ever state volleyball title?
1. Smith Center (38-2) – Smith Center, significantly featured on SIK, returned everyone from its 2A state runner-up squad and has been ranked No. 1 in 2A most of the year. Last season marked the best showing in Lady Red volleyball history. This year, SC looks for its first volleyball title under longtime coach Nick Linn, who has more than 900 career victories. Linn wanted the Lady Red to show improvement in the serve-receive area in 2021.
Smith Center has its bevy of well-known names, paced by senior hitters Tallon Rentschler and Ashlyn Long and sophomore setter Camyrn Hutchinson. Rentschler has committed to Fort Hays and is SC’s all-time leader in kills. Long has committed to Hutchinson CC volleyball. Hutchinson has more than 1,000 career assists. SC has won 12 in a row and captured the Mid-Continent League title. Rentschler is among the state leaders in kills (422), hitting percentage (.444) and blocks (138). A trio of sophomores, Maile Hrabe, Dakota Kattenberg and Gracie Kirchhoff, are also key players. Rentschler has 1,441 career kills.
4. Hillsboro (32-8) – Hillsboro has won five in a row. Sammie Saunders is the lone senior who sees significant playing time. Saunders has 377 kills, easily the team high. She has 45 aces, one off the team high. Saunders has 43 total blocks. Junior Kori Arnold has 433 digs.
5. Wabaunsee (32-8) – Wabaunsee is at state for the fourth straight year and features senior Lauren Schutter, the state’s top recruit by at least one publication. Wabaunsee has finished second, first and third. Schutter has signed with Illinois State. Schutter was profiled on SIK All-Access this season. She has 467 kills, 162 blocks and a .406 average.
Senior Kara Hafenstine, who has committed to play softball at Ottawa University, is second with 167 kills. Senior Kaelyn Conrad has a team-high 50 aces, two more than Schutter. Conrad paces with 361 digs, while Schutter has 277 and Hafenstine with 261.
8. St. Mary’s Colgan (26-14) – Colgan has routinely made the state volleyball tournament. The Panthers have qualified in ’13, ’14, ’15, ’17, ’18 and ’19 in recent years. Colgan has won 13 in a row under longtime coach Cathy Oplotnik. A high majority of Colgan’s key players were part of the state runner-up basketball team and two-time defending state softball champions. Panthers’ top players include senior outside hitter Emily Imhof, senior defensive specialist Gabi Radell, 6-1 middle hitter Lauren Torrance and senior Lauren Yaghmour. Imhof has 275 kills, Torrance with 268, and Yaghmour with 187. Torrance paces with 66 aces and 72 blocks. Radell leads with 320 digs.
2. Ellinwood (34-4) – An excellent coaching job by Greg Maxwell to get the Eagles back into the state tournament. Featured earlier this year on SIK, Ellinwood won the Central Prairie League title and has multiple wins versus state qualifiers Central Plains and Victoria. Ellinwood also beat Meade in the sub-state finals. Meade entered the postseason with one loss. Maxwell has won more than 100 matches in four years and completely changed the trajectory of the Eagle volleyball program. Ellinwood qualified for state in ’18, the only appearance in at least the last 20 years. Last season, Ellinwood had a strong chance to qualify but missed the postseason because of COVID-19 protocol.
Ellinwood graduated standout Mya Maxwell, though has reloaded and finished the season with 13 straight victories. Junior Gabriele Jacobs has 251 kills and a .249 attack percentage. Ellinwood has kills on just 10.9 percent of swings but is an exceptional statistical serving team at plus-122 between aces (266) and errors (144). Senior Mary Dimitt has 72 aces and 432 assists. She has 1,152 assists in the last three years. Junior Bella Baker has 194 kills and a team-high 260 digs.
3. Jefferson County North (33-7) – JCN has most recently made state in ’12, ’13 and ’19 and last season. The Chargers have won four in a row, including a two-set victory versus rival Jackson Heights in the sub-state championship game. Jeff County North has one senior, setter/middle hitter Adison Manville.
6. Garden Plain (30-9) – Garden Plain is one of Kansas’ most premier programs under longtime coach Gina Clark. She has multiple state titles, including ’08, ’15 and ‘18. GP annually plays one of the harder schedules among 3A and smaller schools. All nine losses came against teams that made at least a sub-state title. Four defeats came versus Cheney, one versus Andale and one against Augusta – all teams that reached the state tournament. Senior Brooke Hammond, who has committed to Emporia State track, is a standout three-sport athlete. Hammond has 298 kills, easily the team high. Junior Sydney Puetz has 429 digs. Senior Naomi Dooley and junior Ryleigh Stuhlsatz are the setters.
7. Maranatha Academy (27-12) – Maranatha Christian Academy has one previous trip to state, a 1-2 showing in 2018. Senior Madison Piva paces with 253 kills. Sophomore Tori Brown has 296 digs, two more than Piva. Junior Sienna Alexander leads with 695 assists. Maranatha lost twice to Heritage Christian Academy, twice to Centralia, once to 4A Baldwin and once to 2A Jefferson County North. All those squads reached state.
Class 1A, Division I
Key Question: This is a relatively open field with several talented players, including Pretty Prairie’s standout seniors, Victoria’s duo, Little River’s Lily Boughfman and Centralia’s Avery Deters. MaxPreps’ statistical rankings, which weighs strength of schedule, has little difference between Little River, Pretty Prairie, Victoria and Burlingame, all ranked between No. 63 and No. 76 for all classes in Kansas. However, how much will strength of schedule be a factor? Centralia (No. 40 ranking) has played easily the hardest SOS among the eight teams. Centralia owns four wins versus Jefferson County North, Maranatha Christian Academy (twice) and Hanover, all state qualifying teams.
1. Pretty Prairie (38-4) – Pretty Prairie has won 25 in a row. Senior Jorah Harbaugh has 177 kills and carries a .190 average. Senior McKenna Vogl has 248 kills and a .260 hitting percentage. Senior Aubrey and junior Bailey Young are key players for coach Lori Young. Overall, PP has five seniors, all who have played together since elementary school. Grace Webster and Allison Colton are the other seniors. PP won the Heart of the Plains League title. Vogl, featured on SIK last basketball season, has offers from Friends University and Baker University for basketball. Aubrey Young paces the team with 210 digs and 779 assists. PP last qualified for state in ’16 and ‘17. PP was fourth in ’17, the best showing in school history.
4. Lakeside (31-5) – Lakeside captured the Northern Plains League and reached the state tournament for the first times in school history. The Knights have won 14 straight. Sophomore Lauren Brummet has 312 kills and a .260 hitting percentage. Senior Bailee Cunningham has 230 kills. Cunningham leads with 88 aces, and senior Tammy Keller has 42 blocks. Senior Hailee Thornton has 246 digs. Lakeside opened 3-3, including a two-set defeat to Bennington, a three-set loss to Osborne and a two-set defeat versus Logan-Palco.
However, Lakeside beat L-P and Bennington on Sept. 11. On Sept. 25, Lakeside beat Osborne and Logan-Palco, though took a three-set loss to Sylvan-Lucas. However, Lakeside then beat Sylvan-Lucas for the league title and defeated Thunder Ridge at league and sub-state. Coach Michelle Brummet competed in track at Texas A&M and is Lauren’s mother. Lauren’s sister, Bey Lee, currently competes on the Wichita State track team. Before this year, Lakeside had lost four in a row to Sylvan-Lucas and was 2-11 in the last 13 matches versus Thunder Ridge.
5. Victoria (29-5) – Coach Sarah Nuss has led the Knights to state tournaments in the last three years. Before then, Victoria had not made state since 1991. Victoria opened the season 20-0. The Knights’ five losses have come three times to Ellinwood and twice to Central Plains. Victoria has its pair of highly athletic seniors in Kassi Weber and Melany Huser, who are both multi-sport athletes. Weber has 310 kills and a .232 hitting percentage, and Huser has 284 kills and a .245 attack percentage. Weber paces with 55 aces. Senior Jessica Schroeder and junior Brooklyn Nowak pace with 44 blocks apiece. Six players have between 153 and 255 digs, and Huser leads the team. Senior Kaitlyn Windholz and junior Janet Hugunin have 420 and 347 assists, respectively. The 5-foot-2 Windholz has played in 308 career sets as a key four-year player with 1,051 assists.
8. Atwood-Rawlins County (16-18) – Ashlyn Livas cleared 1,800 career assists for a Buff squad that was one of the state’s surprises. In the sub-state semifinals, Rawlins County beat Wichita County, 22-25, 25-8, 25-21. Wichita County finished 25-12. In the championship, RC defeated South Gray, 25-23, 25-13. Rawlins County last qualified for state in ’07 and ’17.
2. Little River (34-4) – Little River has plenty of experience, paced by 6-foot-1 senior Lily Boughfman, who has committed to Fort Hays volleyball. She has 304 kills and a .324 attack percentage this season. This is LR’s first state tournament since ’06. LR was second in ’05. Sophomores Ashley Stephenson and Aubrey Olander and freshman Elsie Boughfman are also key players. Lily Boughfman leads with 263 digs, 22 more than junior libero Mea Debaere.
3. Centralia (35-5) – Centralia returned first team all-state senior Avery Deters. Centralia has won 15 all-time titles, the last coming with a 47-0 record in 2018 before Kimbrook Tennal retired. Centralia has delivered an impressive resume with wins against state qualifying teams Jefferson County North, Maranatha Christian and Hanover.
6. Spearville (32-7) – Spearville has consistently enjoyed volleyball success, including back-to-back state runner-up showings in different classifications in ’18-19 and a state quarterfinal loss at Smith Center last year. Spearville edged out Kiowa County, 23-25, 25-18, 25-23 in the championship. The Lancers held KC to a .282 average. The Mavericks hit .337 for the season.
7. Burlingame (26-7) – Burlingame qualified out of a challenging sub-state that also featured St. Paul. Burlingame has its excellent two seniors with Daelyn Winters and Brooke Lewis. Burlingame, which took state runner-up in 2-1A softball last spring, has qualified for state volleyball for the first time since 1983. Lewis has 327 kills with a .398 average. Winters has 264 kills with a .264 average. Winters paces with 58 aces. Junior Alex Crook has 84 blocks, and sophomore Kaylin Noonan has 57 blocks. Senior Kenna Masters has 217 digs. Winters and Noonan have served as the setters with 382 and 237 assists. Burlingame dominated in sub-state with six straight sets, none closer than 25-15. The Bearcats beat Oswego, then rival Madison (21-12) and top-seeded St. Paul (29-5).
Class 1A, Division II
Key Question: Hanover and Central Plains are defending state champions, though were in different classifications last year. CP, which has won two straight state crowns, dropped down to Division II. While Wheatland-Grinnell and Lebo are certainly strong contenders, Hanover and Central Plains are the favorites. Hanover and CP have never played each other in volleyball. They will meet once – and could play twice – this weekend.
1. Lebo (36-4) – Lebo returned a pair of first team all-state players with junior Brooklyn Jones and senior Abby Peek. Jones is a tremendous multi-sport athlete, including breaking the school javelin record in the spring, a mark that had stood since the ‘80s. Lebo was second at state to Central Plains last season. The Wolves also qualified for state in ’09, ’16 and ’17. Lebo has won eight straight matches.
4. Wheatland-Grinnell (29-9) – W-G is a longtime volleyball power under coach Shannon Foster and was loaded entering 2021. The Thunderhawks, featured early this fall on SIK, took its normal early season losses at the Hays High tournament against much bigger schools and then rolled against 1/2A teams. Senior Livia Schultz is a returning first team all-state player, and senior setter Anna Godek was a second team selection.
Schultz hit 1,000 career kills in the first round of sub-state. She is the first Thunderhawk since 2011 to accomplish the feat. W-G has won 10 straight matches. This season, Schultz has 340 kills. Sophomore Karoline Schroeder has 236 kills, 66 aces and 340 digs, the latter two which lead the team. Godek has 725 aces. Foster won a state title in 2015.
5. Hutchinson-Central Christian (27-9) – Senior Samantha Ramsey is a returning second team all-state pick. In the sub-state championship match, Central Christian defeated Attica, 25-14, 25-13. Attica finished 35-4. Ramsey has delivered a huge year with 257 kills and a .345 hitting percentage, by far the team’s best marks. Ramsey also leads with 57 aces and 230 digs. Seniors Leia Shank and Aly Lambert have combined for 270 kills. Junior Kaylee Kauffman has 740 digs. CC has a plus-seven win improvement from last year.
8. Bucklin (14-21) – The surprising Red Aces are at state for the first time since 2011 and ’12. Bucklin came out of a sub-state where no team had a winning record. The roster includes seven seniors: Kiera Fuller, Makenna Scott, Ashlee Nagore, Halie Feikert, Lyric Marquez and Daelyn Katz. Two key players in basketball are the libero (Emalea Warden) and outside hitter (Sydnie Jones).
2. Hanover (35-5) – Hanover won the Class 1A, Division II championship last year with a 34-6 record, the team’s first state volleyball title since 1979. Hanover brought back virtually all of its key players. Hanover returned three first team all-state players: junior Ceegan Atkins, senior Avery Behrends and senior Madison Bruna. Hanover has won 10 in a row. Bruna, senior Allison Jueneman, Atkins and junior Massey Holle all have between 212 and 247 kills. Hanover hits .273 as a team. Behrends leads with 47 aces, and Holle has 88 blocks. Atkins paces with 471 digs.
3. Central Plains (30-8) – Central Plains captured the Class 1A title in 2019 and won 1A, Division I in 2020. Coach Lisa Crites starts six seniors, including Kassidy Nixon, who recently cleared 1,000 career kills and is the reigning classification player of the year. CP’s starters are 5-foot-1 Nora VanScyoc, Nixon, 5-6 Riley Thompson, 5-10 Madison McGuire, 5-9 Shaylah Kempke and 5-6 Valentina Cellesi. Sophomore Addyson Ogle starts at libero. Junior setter Reece McGuire rotates in for Cellesi. Sophomore opposite Melissa Donecker is in the rotation for VanScyoc. In the spring, VanScyoc won a state powerlifting title and set state records in bench press and squat.
The key reserves are sophomore defensive specialist Mollie Steiner, who has recently returned following knee surgery and rehab, sophomore opposite Kashlin Beck and freshman outside hitter Marilyn Soeken. Cellesi is a foreign exchange student from Italy, who has plenty of volleyball experience with a nice court presence and touch on the ball. Nixon is at 278 kills and a .329 average in the team’s most recent statistical release. McGuire has 213 kills and a .285 average. McGuire leads with 41 aces, and Nixon paces with 48 blocks and 198 digs. Thompson leads with 343 assists.
6. Dighton (26-9) – Dighton last qualified for state in ’11, ’13 and ’16. Dighton has five seniors, led by standout Traci Cramer. The other seniors are: Hanna Schultz, Tomi Gall, Austin Handy and MaKenzie Doris.
7. Centre-Lost Springs (17-17) – Lost Springs came out of the sub-state that featured no team above .500. Centre came back to beat No. 1 seed Elyria Christian, 12-25, 25-22, 25-22. This marks the first time Centre has made the state tournament since 1994. Lost Springs lost to Elyria Christian on Oct. 5 but then beat EC on Oct. 16 and sub-state.