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: Multiple elite players in Class 6A, but the prevailing storyline is will Washburn Rural complete one of the great seasons ever in Kansas volleyball history?
1.Washburn Rural (38-0) – Washburn Rural is looking to finish one of the great seasons in Kansas school volleyball history. From 2005-20, Kansas has six undefeated state teams. Those teams are 3A Conway Springs (37-0) in 2005, 2A Moundridge (38-0) in 2006, 5A St. James Academy (46-0) in 2013, 1A-I Goessel (44-0) in 2015, 2A Central Plains (43-0) in ’15 and 1A Centralia (47-0) in 2018. Rural is up to eighth nationally in the USA Today Top-25 rankings.
Six-foot-2 junior Brooklyn DeLeye, a returning first team all-state player, has committed to University of Kentucky, the defending Division I national champions. Rural coach Kevin Bordewick has won more than 900 career matches. WR was 35-6 and took third last season. Junior Taylor Russell and sophomore Jada Ingram also are key hitters. The setters are senior Katelynn Brogan and 5-foot-10 sophomore Zoe Canfield. Russell was second team and Canfield honorable mention all-state last season. Canfield is a high-level Division I basketball recruit. Rural has won seven state volleyball titles, all from ’04-12. WR has qualified for state 23 of the past 25 seasons. No 6A team has finished undefeated since Blue Valley Northwest finished 44-0 in 1997.
4. Hutchinson (33-5) – Hutchinson has three state trips in the previous 20 years: 2007, ’14 and ’17. As detailed on SIK throughout the fall, Hutchinson has been one of the state’s top turnaround stories. Hutchinson was 20-14 last season. Before then, the Salthawks had marks of 17-22, 23-19, 12-28, 10-28, 16-27 and 22-16. Junior 5-foot-11 Maliyah Johnson has led Hutchinson with 302 kills and junior Mya Thompson has 216 kills. The Salthawks have a .215 team attack percentage. Thompson leads Hutchinson with 43 aces, one more than Johnson. Sophomore Rachel Tomac has 67 blocks. Freshman Grace Posch has 256 digs, Johnson has 253, and senior Kaitlin Yoder has 241. Yoder has 738 assists. Yoder has enjoyed a terrific last three years with 1,634 assists and 569 digs.
5. Shawnee Mission Northwest (31-8) – SM Northwest dominated its sub-state with wins versus SM West and Olathe North. In the first match, Vix Vilott paced with 11 kills. In the sub-state final, senior Ella Mackiewicz delivered eight kills, and SMNW had a season-high nine blocks. Mackiewicz has signed with University of Wisconsin-Platteville in basketball and track. Vilott had 346 kills and a .311 average, and Mackiewicz delivered 220 kills and a .341 average. The Cougars have an excellent offense with a .291 attack percentage and kills on 39.3 percent of swings. Junior Elinor Engel has 302 kills and a .357 attack percentage.
Mackiewicz has 115 total blocks, by far the team high. Senior Vivian Kieffer has 503 digs. She has committed to Division I St. Louis University. Kieffer is a four-year starting libero and has delivered a highly impressive career with a rare 1,500/1,500/100 triple – 1,501 digs, 1,560 serve receptions and 109 aces. Northwest is 4-17 in the last 21 matches versus Free State, including a 3-0 loss on Oct. 6 this year. As well, SMNW is a combined 4-28 versus Olathe Northwest and Blue Valley North, though beat ONW in two sets in Sept. 9.
8. Olathe Northwest (24-11) – Olathe Northwest entered state last year as Kansas’ lone undefeated team. Northwest has enjoyed great success with coach Barry Lenth. Northwest has taken second in ’14 and last year. Northwest also won titles in ’16 and ’17. Sophomores Skyler Pierce (6-foot-1) and six-foot Jillian Huckabey are known national names with 186 and 139 kills, respectively. Pierce is a returning first team all-state pick, Huckabey second team.
All but two of the team’s kills comes from non-seniors. Sophomore 6-1 middle blocker Lauren Roedriger has 38 blocks, and 6-foot junior Brynn LaChance has 32 blocks. Four players have at least 135 digs, including 182 by 5-8 sophomore Emmy Sher. Sophomore Addisen Horn leads with 374 assists. Senior DS/setter Emily Slightom and Huckabey are the team captains. Olathe Northwest beat Blue Valley West in five sets on Oct. 14. ONW is 5-2 all-time against Washburn Rural, including a 3-0 loss on Oct. 5 this year.
2.Wichita Northwest (39-1) – First-year coach Emily Hiebert, a Newton graduate and former conference Setter of the Year at Wichita State, has delivered an impressive season for the Grizzlies. Northwest has only lost to Washburn Rural. Northwest has had some recent state tournament showings, including ’12, ’13, ’15 and ’16. Northwest has lost just three sets all season and won six matches in a row. The Grizzlies captured the City League title. Northwest has won 74 of a possible 77 sets. Northwest has 6-foot-2 senior Caiya Stucky and sophomore Camdyn Stucky. As well, sophomore 6-2 Nina Mitchell is a middle hitter.
3. Blue Valley North (35-2) – Blue Valley North is ranked fifth in Region 8 by USA Today, a grouping that includes Kansas, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. North is loaded with talent, especially with senior outside hitter Jasmine Dulan. Blue Valley North beat Blue Valley West in two sets on Sept. 9 this year. Dulan has 205 kills and a .232 attack percentage, and freshman Logan Parks has 274 kills with a .308 percentage.
Dulan has 59 aces, eight more than Parks. Senior Clara Benskin delivered 87 blocks, while Parks has 74 and senior Morgan Debow has 70. Benskin has committed to University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. Debow has committed to University of Nebraska-Omaha. Blue Valley North has reached state five times in the last seven years. North has never won a state volleyball title.
6. Blue Valley West (28-9) – Blue Valley West is the defending 6A state champion with a 27-7 record. Senior libero Morgan Colangelo and 5-11 senior Taylor Stockman are both returning first team all-state picks, and senior 6-foot outside hitter Brooke Leiker was a second team selection. Stockman has 269 kills and a .224 average, and Leiker has 362 kills with a .289 average. Colangelo has 373 digs. In the last three years, Colangelo has 709 digs and 851 serve receptions. Stockman has committed to Nova Southeastern (Fla.).
7. Lawrence Free State (24-9) – Free State is paced with 6-foot-2 junior middle blocker Sawyer Thomsen, a returning second team all-state selection. FS junior setter Kylee Unruh is a returning honorable mention all-state pick. FS has qualified for state for its third straight year, a program record. The Firebirds have 86 percent of its kills from non-seniors. That includes 173 and a .292 attack percentage from 6-1 junior Aubrey Duncan, and 138 and a .317 hitting percentage from Thomsen.
As well, Thomsen leads Free State in blocks and aces. She is an elite national player who earned Player of the Year honors in the Lawrence area by the Lawrence Journal-World is a Top-150 national player in the Class of 2023 by the Prep Volleyball. Senior setter Kenzie Marcum (6-1) and Madison Beeley pace with 174 and 125 digs, respectively. Unruh leads with 537 assists. Beeley and Unruh are the team captains. Jayme Savage is the head coach. Her father is Bob Lisher, a longtime football coach in the K.C. area, notably for his run at Free State. Free State is 0-7 against Blue Valley North with the last match coming in 2020, and 2-17 against Blue Valley West, including a two-set loss on Oct. 9 this year.
Key Question: St. Thomas Aquinas, Lansing and St. James Academy are likely a step ahead of the rest of the field. Aquinas beat Lansing for the title last year. Then, Aquinas defeated Lansing in the ’21 season opener. Lansing has not lost since.
1.Lansing (33-1) – Lansing is a longtime state power, including third and second place finishes the last two seasons. The Lions have made state eight straight falls. Second-year coach Lindsay Zych took over for coach Julie Slater (1,000-plus career wins) before the 2020 season and has continued the program’s success. Lansing, which has been ranked in the top-25 nationally this year, lost the season-opening match to St. Thomas Aquinas and has captured every match since.
Lansing has its group of well-known seniors including defensive specialist McKenzie Moburg, 5-11 libero Kamryn Farris, setter Caitlin Bishop, and hitters Iyannah Jackson, Olivia Mae van der Werff and Mackenzie Manthe. Bishop has committed to University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Moburg to UMKC. Van Der Werff, an outside hitter, has committed to Division I College of Charleston as a middle hitter. Manthe is headed to Mid-America Nazarene for at least basketball.
Jackson has led Kansas in hitting percentage the bulk of the season. Mae van der Werff has 378 kills and a .345 average, and Jackson has 236 kills with a .477 attack percentage. Farris has 385 digs, and Bishop with 896 assists. Bishop will likely clear 3,000 career assists – a highly rare achievement – at state. She currently has 2,966 career assists. Farris has 1,184 digs and 1,590 serve receptions. Coach Zych confirmed to SIK on Tuesday night that Bishop has the school record for assists. Zych called the feat “super impressive” as Bishop also ran a 6-2 offense with two setters for two years.
4. Maize South (30-8) – Maize South has won eight matches in a row. The Mavericks have made state four straight years. Maize South has 77 percent of its kills from non-seniors. Freshman Jillian Gregory has 258 kills and a .324 attack percentage. Sophomore Gracie Morrow has 191 kills and a .356 average. Sophomore Cece Young has a .342 average. Maize South has kills on 43 percent of swings and a .296 team percentage. Senior libero Callie Palecki has 197 digs. Palecki has committed to Neosho County Community College. Palecki is a terrific server with 200 aces and a 93.4 serve percentage in the last three years. She has 507 career digs.
5. St. James Academy (27-9) – St. James has won nine state titles, including most recently in ’13, ’15, ’17 and ’18 with longtime coach Nancy Dorsey. SJA lost four straight matches in early season to Washburn Rural, Aquinas, Blue Valley West and Blue Valley North, all state qualifying teams. However, the Thunder came back to beat Blue Valley North in two sets on Sept. 11 and lost to BVN on Oct. 2. Three other losses came versus non-Kansas schools. Senior Rachel Ziesman has 186 kills and a .237 attack percentage, and sophomore Mya Bolton has 279 digs.
8. Bishop Carroll (25-12) – Bishop Carroll has won eight state volleyball titles, though the most recently came in 2001. BC has won four straight matches. Senior Kenzie Dugan has delivered a nice season with 278 kills and a .290 attack percentage. Senior Lily Ebright has 335 digs. Junior Grace Long and senior Anna Wineland pace with 373 and 273 assists, respectively.
2. St. Thomas Aquinas (34-3) – Either St. James or St. Thomas Aquinas has won the last four 5A titles. Aquinas is ranked No. 16 nationally by USA Today and second in Kansas behind Washburn Rural. In Region 8, Rural is first and Aquinas second – ahead of top schools from Colorado, Wyoming, No. 5 Blue Valley North, New Mexico and Utah. Aquinas has won eight state volleyball titles, including the last two seasons with 34-7 and 29-2 records.
The Saints also won in ’14, ’07, ’06, ’01, ’95 and ’80. As noted on SIK several times this year, Aquinas is loaded with talent. Senior Ava Martin has committed to Creighton, junior Betsy Goodenow to Yale, and senior Mikayla Benanti to University of North Florida beach volleyball. Martin is ranked No. 47 nationally in her class with 389 kills and a .330 attack percentage. Sophomore Tatum Grimes, another elite player, has 150 kills and a .301 average. Sophomore Sophia Bond has 50 aces. Benanti paces with 75 blocks, five more than Grimes. Junior libero Reagan Anderson has 313 and 417 serve receptions. She has committed to Wichita State.
3. Spring Hill (30-6) – Coach Erica Book has turned around the Spring Hill volleyball program. Book was an All-American libero at Washburn University and still holds several school records. Spring Hill qualified for state in 2019 and this year with Book. Spring Hill has won 14 in a row. SH has lost just 26 total matches in the last four years. In the previous four seasons before then, the Broncos lost 91 matches. Before ’19, Spring Hill had not reached state since 1985 or won the Frontier League since ’83.
Senior Rylee Serpan had 355 kills and a .361 attack percentage. Senior Kate Frakes has 235 kills and a .366 attacking percentage. Sophomore Shannon Frakes has 253 kills with a .183 percentage. Spring Hill has errors on just 12.4 percent of swings. Spring Hill beat top-10 Basehor-Linwood in two sets in the sub-state title game. SH held B-L to a .103 attack percentage. Senior Cate Milroy and juniors Avery Pankey and Daphne Gardner all had seven digs in the win. Serpan has committed to Kansas Wesleyan volleyball. Spring Hill went undefeated in the Frontier League.
6. Emporia (26-9) – Emporia last qualified in ’07, ’15 and ’16 and has been a nice turnaround story this year behind 6-foot-2 senior setter Grace Xu. EHS had lost three in a row before sub-state. In the previous two seasons, the Spartans were a combined 27-25. Senior Rylee Peak has 255 kills with a .319 attack percentage.
Senior Gracie Gilpin, a standout basketball player, has 144 kills with a .128 attack percentage. Junior Rebecca Snyder has 161 kills and a .298 attack percentage. Xu has 681 assists this year and 1,406 assists in the last three years. Xu has also improved her hitting from last year. As a junior, Grace has 47 kills and a .227 average. This year, she has 86 kills and a .479 average. Xu’s parents have been involved with Emporia State volleyball for many years, and her mother, Ping, took over EHS this season. Emporia has six seniors. In particular, Peak has stepped up after she saw limited time last year.
7. Topeka Seaman (25-10) – Setter/outside hitter Drew Baxter is a key senior. Seaman beat Centennial League foe Emporia on Sept. 14. Seaman has never won a state volleyball title and has qualified for state in back-to-back years. Before then, Seaman had not reached state since 2014. Seaman was 28-8 last season as Baxter earned all-league honors. Taylin Stallbaumer is also a key player.
Key Question: Andale, Circle, McPherson and Augusta all come out of the AVCTL and had multiple matches against each other this season. Of those four, only McPherson has ever won a state title, with the only one coming in 2012. Can one of them get through Bishop Miege, which is looking to become the first volleyball team in Kansas history to win a state title with a losing record? McPherson’s Rhian Swanson is second nationally in kills per set.
1. Andale (36-2) – Andale has finished as back-to-back state runner-up, the best showings in school history. Andale has been the No. 1 team in Class 4A throughout the fall with coach Kaylie Bergkamp. Pool 1 is loaded with three teams that finished in the top-four in the final 4A coaches’ poll – plus Miege, which is the defending 4A state champion. Andale has won 10 in a row versus Circle, including a victory this fall. Andale and McPherson split a pair of meetings this season. Andale is 0-3 versus Miege in recent history, including a pair of losses at state last season. Junior McKenzie Fairchild is one of the short list for Kansas’ best player with 340 kills and a .303 average. Seniors Jaley Eck and Annabeth Baalmann are key players. Junior Maddie Schrandt has 150 kills with a .292 hitting percentage. Fairchild leads Andale with 31 aces, 50 blocks and 262 digs.
4. Towanda-Circle (33-6) – Circle last qualified for state in ’06, ’11 and ’19. Circle was third in ’19, which marked its best showing in 17 years. Sophomore Lyric Edgerle played well in the sub-state against Concordia and Clearwater after she was banged up earlier in the season. Edgerle and Jacqueline Corcoran are key players for the Thunderbirds. Senior Marissa Holt is also coming back from two ACL surgeries, per the Butler County Times Gazette. Circle won the AVCTL Division III for the first time in school history. Coach Shelly Nibarger has more than 800 victories, per the Kansas Volleyball Association.
5. McPherson (33-6) – McPherson has won 15 straight matches. Senior Rhian Swanson has led Kansas in kills for most of the year with 584. She has averaged 7.7 kills per set with a .336 hitting percentage. Senior Brette Doile has more than 2,500 career assists, including 750 this season. Senior Ella Schmid has been a strong back row player with 326 digs and 374 serve-receives. Swanson has committed to Kansas. Swanson ranks second nationally per MaxPreps in kills per set. McPherson was fourth in 2020.
8. Bishop Miege (14-23) – Miege has won 26 all-time state volleyball titles, the most in Kansas. The Stags captured crowns in ’18 and ’20 with records of 26-16 and 22-11. Miege graduated Payton Verhulst, the reigning 4A Player of the Year in volleyball and basketball, as well as three other players who signed to play college volleyball. Verhulst, Kansas’ top female athlete last year, signed with Louisville basketball. Coach Kathleen Rush stepped aside to spend more time with family. Longtime club coach Tui Atagi took over this season. Freshman Lauren Lopez has 233 kills and a .246 attack percentage. Senior Allie Burns has 194 kills and 234 digs. Miege has played a highly challenging 5/6A schedule. The most losses by any Kansas state volleyball champion is Axtell’s 27-15 record en route to the Class 1A, Division II state title in 2016.
2. Labette County (37-3) – Labette County has qualified for state in back-to-back years. Before then, LC had most recently previously qualified in ’04, ’07 and ’10. The Grizzlies, noted several times on SIK this year, are paced by multi-sport standout Anna Dean. LC has captured 17 straight matches. Dean is at 326 kills with a .268 hitting percentage, 467 digs, and 70 blocks, all team highs. Senior Lauren Forbes has delivered 233 kills with a .171 attacking. Senior Ava Alloway has 430 digs.
3. Baldwin (28-4) – Baldwin, like Augusta, was not ranked in the preseason top-10 and has enjoyed a breakout year. Sophomore Fisayo Afonja has 312 kills and a .400 average. Junior Chaney Barth has 308 kills with a .253 average. The 5-foot-10 Afonja was a returning all-league player and has significantly improved after a freshman season when she delivered 110 kills and hit .283. She already has 199 blocks, including 137 solo. Baldwin was 12-11 last season and has a plus-16 win improvement.
The Bulldogs have improved from 1.6 blocks per set last season to 2.6 this year. Baldwin, featured several times on SIK this fall, is at state for the first time since 2014. Baldwin has first-year coach Crystal Engemann. In the sub-state final, Baldwin beat Louisburg 25-21, 21-25, 25-15. It marked Baldwin’s first win versus Louisburg since Oct. 16, 2020. Baldwin had lost 14 in a row to Louisburg.
6. Augusta (28-9) – Augusta, which owns a win versus McPherson, has enjoyed one of the biggest turnarounds in Kansas this fall under first-year coach Kynnedy Myers, a former Rose Hill standout. Augusta, like Baldwin, opened the year outside of the top-10 in the 4A rankings. Augusta has its first state appearance since 2008 and fourth in the last 25 years. Featured on SIK earlier this month, Augusta has big seasons from multiple players, including senior hitters Sydney Scott and Tommie Schaffner, senior libero Avery Riedel and sophomore setter Kayla Houghtaling. Scott and Riedel most notably have NAIA volleyball offers.
7. Ottawa (21-16) – Ottawa was a 4A final four squad last fall. The Cyclones have won eight in a row. Sophomore Emery Keebaugh has 400 kills with a .267 average. Senior Sofia Ficken has 296 kills with a .199 attack percentage. Senior Kirsten Evans has delivered a remarkable career with 878 assists and has 3,339 in her career. Evans has committed to Fort Hays volleyball.