Volleyball in Kansas: “They have become my family” – How Ellis’ Kaleigh Soneson turned around her alma mater; school records, milestones, stat leaders across state

Ellis’ Kylee Pfeifer reached 1,000 career assists and is part of the Railroaders’ big turnaround the last couple falls.


Kaleigh Soneson enjoyed an impressive career with Ellis. As a senior, Soneson was second team all-league basketball and honorable mention in volleyball. She took ninth in the 2A pole vault.

A 2014 Ellis graduate, Soneson was a key starter on the Railroaders’ last girls’ basketball team to reach the state tournament. After high school, Soneson had a productive two-year career at Pratt Community College volleyball. Soneson played in 44 matches in two seasons and was among the Beavers’ leaders in kills and points as a sophomore in 2015.

When Soneson first went to Pratt, she had never thought about going into coaching. Once her college career finished, Soneson had a realization.

“I did not want to leave the game of volleyball,” she said.

Soneson wanted to coach or continue to play recreationally. She heard Ellis had an assistant volleyball coaching position open for the fall of 2016. Years later, Soneson still remembers sitting in her Pratt CC dormitory room in the spring of 2016 doing a phone interview with then-Ellis administrator Corey Burton.

“Perfect time,” Soneson said. “Perfect moment.”

Soneson came back to Ellis and finished her biology degree at Fort Hays. She served as an assistant coach in ’16 and ’17. Soneson juggled school and jobs around coaching. Now in her fifth season as head coach, Soneson has rebuilt the Railer program – and still works two jobs as a Rule 10.

“It was fun getting my feet in the door, being an assistant coach for two years,” Soneson said. “I learned a lot as coaching compared to when I was playing. It was definitely a different role that you don’t always think about when you are a player.”

Ellis, which has not made state since 2001 in volleyball, has consistently struggled against the upper echelon Mid-Continent League teams.

While the Railroaders have posted several quality seasons in recent history, Ellis has had difficulty retaining coaches and has had multiple single-figure winning volleyball falls. Soneson has provided consistency for a school that has went through at least three football, boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball head coaches in the last five years.

“When I showed up, they were used to losing, like they were OK with losing, and so it was very hard to get that mentality of hey, we need to win, we want to win,” Soneson said.

Ellis went 6-25 in Soneson’s first year. Soneson worked on the basics and had a daily inspirational quote. The Railers have improved each year, to 8-18, 15-14 and 25-12 last fall.

“We literally started from square one,” Soneson said. “I did a lot of just individual things during practice. We worked on our form because as the girls came up as freshmen sometimes they didn’t always know what kind of form they were needing or how to run a 5-1 or 6-2, so we literally started from the very beginning and nitpicked each thing until they got something down, and then we would move on.”

This season, Ellis is 22-9 and won its home tournament in early October. Junior setter Kylee Pfeifer matched her goal of 1,000 career assists.

The Railers are currently the fourth seed in the 2A WaKeeney-Trego sub-state that will occur a week from Saturday. Ellinwood (27-3), defending state champion Smith Center (28-4) and Hoxie (23-7) pace the sub-state.

Ellis has two seniors: Emily Eck and Abbigail Heifner. Eck, Pfeifer and junior Kaydawn Haag are the team leaders. Eck and Haag each collected all-league recognition at some level last fall. Haag is a two-time state wrestling medalist and first team all-state softball. Eck is among 2A’s best basketball players.

“Those two juniors are my big leaders, including Emily Eck,” Soneson said. “I think they have pushed the younger girls.”

Soneson’s coaching has earned her attention from area schools. Since fall 2020, Hays High, Thomas More Prep-Marian, La Crosse, Ness City, and Plainville and WaKeeney-Trego, all within 40 miles of Ellis, have had open volleyball positions. Likely the coaching would have come with a teaching position.

Soneson was planning to teach but wasn’t quite finished with her schooling when Jack Wolf retired as an Ellis’ science teacher. Wolf served multiple decades as an EHS teacher and coach, notably head cross country and head track. Another teacher took the position before the ’21 school year.

Soneson said NC offered the head volleyball coaching position a couple years back and there was interest regarding Plainville. Soneson has stayed with her alma mater and enjoyed success.

“Since I have been here through Ellis, I have been comfortable with my surroundings, and I think from a couple years ago, I could tell where the program was growing,” she said. “And I wanted to stick through that and watch my girls succeed as they got older. … I do believe the girls have great potential here, and watching them grow, they have become my family, too, so it would be hard to see them go as well.”

Soneson has worked at Orschlen’s in Hays the last four years. Her family has long run a well-known pumpkin patch on the west side of Ellis. Most days, she wakes at 6 a.m. and is at work by 7:30 a.m. Then, she drives the 17 miles back to Ellis for practice from 3:30 p.m. to around 6 p.m.

Ellis has Friday morning practices at 6 a.m. On the weekends, Soneson helps her family at the pumpkin patch. She is also a great artist and known for her drawings.

“They are really good about working with me during volleyball season,” Soneson said of Orschlens.

Ellis graduated just three seniors off last year’s squad.

“Junior class is really strong, all across the board,” Soneson said.

This season, Ellis opened 1-2 before it delivered nine straight victories, including a win against rival Thomas More Prep-Marian. Junior libero Taylor Seibel has enjoyed the team’s top passing percentage, though suffered injury at the Kiowa County tournament and has missed the last couple weeks. Addison Kohl went from JV setter to varsity libero.

“Addison Kohl, she, on JV, would go for every ball, she would hustle every play, and that’s what I needed on the team as my runner-up libero,” Soneson said.

Ellis traditionally not had tall girls, which has been a weakness against certain teams.

This year, 6-foot sophomore Natalee North can terminate balls. She carries a 40.4 kill percentage.

“That helps a lot, too, because we haven’t had any tall girls compared to Smith Center and Phillipsburg, so she helps a lot,” Soneson said.

Haag has paced in digs. Eck, Haag and North all have between 105 and 133 kills in the team’s last statistical release.

“Natalie has been awesome up at the net this year,” Soneson said. “I had her on the JV last year, and I think just one year of JV helped her tremendously. She has stepped up this year. … She has definitely helped out the team a lot with being a big block on the net.”

Ellis had run a 6-2 in the past with two setters. Pfeifer played JV her freshman season and was pulled up to varsity at the end of the fall. Ellis has used a 5-1 the last two falls with Pfeifer, known her for hustle and intelligence.

“Smart on the court, knows where to place the ball, and especially when we are in trouble, she is pretty good at dumping every once in awhile,” Soneson said.

Top Performers, Top-25 national teams, school records, milestones

Washburn Rural is now into the national top-25. Coach Kevin Bordewick cleared 1,000 career victories, the third coach in Kansas history to achieve the milestone. WR is ranked No. 24 nationally by MaxPreps and stands at 30-1. Rural has won 29 in a row after it dominated the Derby tournament. Rural’s only loss is to St. James Academy, which is just outside the top-25 nationally. WR has setter Zoe Canfield, who recently committed to Kansas basketball, and Brooklyn Deleye, the reigning Gatorade volleyball player of the year and a Kentucky volleyball commit. Taylor Russell and Jada Ingram also return after first team all-league seasons. Rural was 41-2 and didn’t lose until the state tournament last fall. WR is ranked No. 1 in 6A.

Olathe West, featured on SIK earlier this fall, is 24-4 and continues its big turnaround. OW was 25-33 the last two falls. The Owls broke the single season school record of wins set in a 23-14 season in 2019. This is OW’s sixth season of volleyball.

Ava Testrake, a Creighton commit, has 3.4 kills per set and a .369 average. Testrake, Brynn Stowell and Greta Treff are all hitting between .354 and .369. Ella Stowell and Emma Sales are tied for the team high with 62 blocks. Riley Ourth has 3.3 digs per set. Amber Allen continues to rank among the state leaders with 637 assists.

Emily Schmidt has 283 kills for Mulvane, which broke the school record of 280 set by Kendra Banzet in 1990. Mulvane split with McPherson and Buhler on Tuesday and stands at 20-15. Karlie Kanaga bumped her school record digs mark to 419. Mulvane was featured on SIK last week. Schmidt has returned from injury and has helped the Wildcats reach 20 wins for the first time since 2010. Two more victories would be the most for Mulvane in 32 seasons.

Hutchinson’s Josie McLean reached 2,000 career assists. McLean played her first three seasons at Nickerson. She is among the state leaders in assists this fall. The Salthawks are ranked sixth in 5A.

Baldwin is 29-3. Fisayo Afonja, an Ivy League Brown University commit, and Chaney Barth continue to pace the Bulldogs. Afonja is the state’s leader in blocks. Barth has 4.2 kills per set and a .288 average. Afonja has 3.2 kills per set and a .318 average. Barth cleared 1,000 career kills. Baldwin is No. 2 in 4A behind undefeated and defending state champion Andale.

Nemaha Central is ranked No. 1 in 3A at 31-1 after a senior night victory. Coach Jessica Koch, who has enjoyed great success at Baileyville B&B and NC, has won 677 career matches. The three NC teams are a combined 90-4. NC was featured with video interviews from SIK’s Bethany Bowman this week.

Olathe Heritage Christian coach Tom Slaughter reached 200 career wins with HCA. Slaughter has led Heritage Christian to back-to-back state titles and four overall, all since 2016. HCA has its pair of Power 5 junior commits with Rachel Van Gorp (Iowa State) and Cy Rae Campbell (Wake Forest). Van Gorp is the reigning 3A Player of the Year. Heritage Christian is ranked second in 3A. Heritage Christian stands at 25-7 and has won seven in a row. In addition to Van Gorp and Campbell, Grace Schmedding has 2.7 kills per set, and Caelyn Ferguson carries a .344 hitting percentage. Maci Hazel has 517 assists and 48 aces. Van Gorp leads in kills per set (3.7), digs per set (2.8) and serve-receptions (297).

Tribune-Greeley County has been featured on SIK throughout this fall. GC has just seven players and is ranked for the first time in school history. Junior Llianey Yanez reached 1,000 career assists. GC is ranked seventh in Class 1A, Division II. GC stands at 18-9.

Ell-Saline’s Keala Wilson went over 1,300 career assists. Ell-Saline was unranked and is now ninth in 2A. E-S is 17-6.

Clay Center won the North Central Kansas League title for a third straight fall. CC’s MacKenzie Weller joined the 1,000 assist club. Clay Center is ranked seventh in 4A. Clay Center is 23-10 and has won three in a row.

Crest volleyball has put together an impressive season and stands at 26-6. The Lancers broke the school record for wins, previously held by the 1988 squad at 24-6.

Concordia’s Hattie Blackwood, Garden Plain’s Ryleigh Stuhlsatz and Coldwater-South Central’s Tory Maris reached 1,000 career assists. Garden Plain is sixth in 2A.

Fredonia’s Madison Jenkins and Minneapolis’ Jordan Peck both surpassed 1,500 career assists. West Elk senior Karly Kill went over 1,000 career assists and holds the school record in that category.

Sedan senior Jacie Cummings reached 1,000 career kills.

Mill Valley won the De Soto tournament. MV stands at 26-7 and has won five in a row. Kaitlyn Burke has 2.6 kills per set, while Saida Jacobs has a .355 hitting percentage. Madeline Schnepf has 2.5 kills per set, while senior libero Sidney Kacsir leads with 3.6 digs per set. Saida Jacobs paces with 71 blocks.

Jefferson County North went 5-0 and won the Riverside tournament for the eighth straight year.

Meade won the SPIAA tournament for a third straight year. Meade stands at 25-7 and has won seven in a row. Senior C.C. Krier has 2.9 kills per set, while Carlie Martin has delivered 4.8 digs per set.

Abilene captured the Council Grove tournament, while Paola won the Atchison tournament. Paola is sixth in 4A.

Flinthills captured the South Central Border League tournament, and Karly Girty exceeded 1,200 career assists. Flinthills stands at 25-2 and ninth in Class 1A, Division I.

McPherson coach Christy Doile earned her 500th career victory.

Statistics (MaxPreps or emailed to [email protected])


Harris, Inman, 507

Keebaugh, Ottawa, 420

Budke, Beloit, 407

Lujan, Belle Plaine, 402

Thomasson, Riverton, 391

Stein, Ingalls, 387

Bartlett, Bennington, 368

Cummings, Sedan, 361

Barth, Baldwin, 327

Werth, Hilllsboro, 321

Davidson, Minneapolis, 319

Laincz, Lansing, 315

Gollier, Ottawa, 313

Senecaut, Girard, 306

Young, Pretty Prairie, 305

White, Baxter Springs, 304

Pyle, Frontenac, 302

Perine, Rossville, 301


Afonja, Baldwin, 121

Coughlin, Olpe, 119

Briggs, Quinter, 109

Harris, Inman, 104

Hawkinson, Elyria Christian, 102

Pasquarelli, Erie, 88

Countryman, Quinter, 87

Wurtz, Clifton-Clyde, 86

Grimes, Aquinas, 84

L. Cure, Goodland, 83

Cheeks, Salina South, 82

Rucker, Eureka, 81

Randall, Flinthills, 80

Lohman, Iola, 79

Luna, Great Bend, 79


Kremeier, Herington, 554

Koontz, Newton, 499

Hett, Marion, 459

Atkins, Hanover, 430

Bender, Abilene, 416

Anderes, Salina South, 413

Kanaga, Mulvane, 396

Foster, Derby, 387

Wright, Clay Center, 385

Troike, Girard, 381

Munson, Arkansas City, 376

Cornelsen, Holcomb, 375

Adolph, Cheney, 368

Humphrey, Hays High, 355

Jones, Holcomb, 348


Woods, Inman, 804

Bergan, Baldwin, 770

J. Follis, Beloit, 757

Creason, SM Northwest, 701

Nichols, Ottawa, 683

McLean, Hutchinson, 680

Scanlon, Lansing, 679

Compton, Riverton, 671

Lehman, Goodland, 668

Weller, Clay Center, 667

Wedman, Blue Valley West, 661

Gardner, Spring Hill, 657

Smith, Circle, 649

Allen, Olathe West, 637

Burkholder, Marion, 635

Baldock, Tonganoxie, 631


Rodriguez, Sumner Academy, 96

Girty, Flinthills, 84

Wight, Flinthils, 74

Holling, Thunder Ridge, 73

Sutton, Marmaton Valley, 73

Wells, Riverton, 70

Wiles, Beloit-St. John’s/Tipton, 68

Randall, Flinthills, 67

Lutters, Osborne, 66

Goree, Collegiate, 65

Alvarez, Kiowa County, 64

Cure, Kapaun Mt. Carmel, 63

Higbie, West Franklin, 62

Brown, Frontenac, 62

Walker, Basehor-Linwood, 62

Hitting Percentage

Thomasson, Riverton, .472

Stein, Ingalls, .467

Randall, Flinthills, .425

Stover, Neodesha, .411

Romer, Kapaun Mt. Carmel, .389

Young, Pretty Prairie, .376

Thomsen, Lawrence Free State, .375

Wells, Riverton, .370

Testrake, Olathe West, .369

Knobbe, Sylvan-Lucas, .368

Pyle, Frontenac, .367

B. Stowell, Olathe West, .366

Klingenberg, Rock Creek, .364

Pierce, Olathe Northwest, .361

Grimes, St. Thomas Aquinas, .358

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