By CONOR NICHOLL
This week’s Sports In Kansas volleyball notes highlight several teams that won tournaments and/or have undefeated records, along with several big milestones and stat leaders. Plus, Wheatland-Grinnell continues its trend of winning after the season-opening Hays tournament:
Wheatland-Grinnell on winning streak
Wheatland-Grinnell finished 23-20 as a Class 1A, Division II final four team. The Thunderhawks had just nine players on the varsity roster in 2020 and only one senior, Kirsten Schroeder, an eventual honorable mention all-state pick. She was hurt in the state quarterfinal match and couldn’t play in the final four competition in Emporia. W-G went 0-5 in the final four round robin. Hanover eventually won the title.
Wheatland-Grinnell is a consistent winner under Allison Polifka and her sister, Shannon Foster. Polifka has since taken over at Quinter, W-G’s Gove County rival. Foster won a state title in ’15.
Since 2015, the Thunderhawks are 37-7, 38-7, 41-4, 30-12, 31-8 and 23-20.
“The attitude for fall camp so far has been that we want to not only make it back to Emporia, but finish better than we did a year ago,” Foster told SIK in August. “We felt kind of like we could have maybe done a little better. I think that the injury just kind of sucked a lot of our life at the end of the season, so we are looking to get back. We were just having some really good, healthy competition to fill that one spot that we are missing, which is great.”
In 2019, Wheatland-Grinnell had its usual season-opening triangular against Oberlin and Hoxie, similar sized schools. Then, W-G went to the Hays High tournament and took losses to Colby, Hays High, Scott City and Olathe West. Colby and Scott City are normally 3/4A schools, Hays High 5A, and Olathe West is 6A.
W-G opened 1-6 and then went 30-1 in next 31 matches.
Last year, the Thunderhawks finished 1-4 at the Hays tournament with its lone win against 1A Bucklin. Competitive losses came against 3A powerhouse Thomas More Prep-Marian, Colby, and a pair of losses to 5A Salina South. W-G started 3-4, then won seven in a row and 10 of its next 11.
“The experience is just invaluable,” Foster said. “I firmly believe – and the girls believe it also because they tell me every year, ‘No, no, no, coach, we want to stay there (in Hays). We want to go be challenged. We want to go see other teams, and then that way once we get into sub-state, there’s not much we haven’t seen.”
The same trend has occurred this season for the veteran-laden Thunderhawks. W-G returns first team all-state senior outside hitter Livia Schultz. Wheatland-Grinnell is ranked eighth in Division II after it started sixth.
However, W-G finished 2-3 at the Hays tournament with losses against TMP, Olathe West and Hays High. Those are the Thunderhawks’ lone losses. Since then, W-G has won four straight and stands at 8-3 overall. That included a three-set win versus St. Francis, which is ranked fourth in Division II. W-G went from 11 players (including freshmen) last season to 17 this year. W-G can play a JV schedule after not getting a full JV slate last year.
“We are in that tournament, because we want to be challenged,” Foster said. “We want to see some really good teams, because it allows us to really find out what our strengths are and what we need to work on.”
In the team’s latest statistical release, Schultz paces with 84 kills on 216 attempts. She had more than 1,000 attacks last season. She has 758 career kills.
“She’s just an all-around player,” Foster said. “Loves the game. Has always loved the game, ever since she came up, she’s just been really passionate about it, and she’s just got such a good mental makeup where she can handle the stress of taking so many attacks. She wants the ball. She is also one of my primary passers, like I try to put her back there in the middle of the court as much as I can, so she can get as many passes as possible. So she is just that kid that wants the ball.”
Sophomore Karoline Schroeder has 53 kills. Other key players are: seniors Isabella Ostmeyer, Anna Godek, Tyra Schultz, and Jaidlyn Harvey and juniors Kerri Heier and Halle Habiger.
Tyra Schultz didn’t play volleyball last season. A vocal presence, Ostmeyer plays all the way around.
Foster said Karoline has “potential to be a great all-around player by the time she is a senior.” Karoline, known for her defense, moved to the outside this year. W-G expects Karoline to make a big jump. Schroeder has produced 53 kills, second-most on the squad. She leads with 71 digs.
“She has got a lot of raw power up at the net,” Foster said. “She can hit the ball very hard.”
Wheatland-Grinnell has long been known for its scrappy play and defense. In a 22-25, 25-22, 25-16 win against Logan-Palco on Sept. 7, the Thunderhawks hit .075. Logan-Palco hit .074. L-P coach Robin Van Laeys has more than 500 career victories.
“We preach and preach in practice that every single ball is important,” Foster said. “We don’t want to throw away any balls, and so, if we are not hitting the floor on balls, then there is tasks in practice.”
W-G delivered 59 digs, including 16 from Godek, 15 by Schultz and 10 from Schroeder. L-P connected on kills on 22 percent of swings. For the season, L-P is 3-1 in its other four matches and has connected on kills on 31 percent. W-G’s first priority in practice everyday is passing, defense and serving.
“I firmly believe that you can win matches on that side of the ball,” Foster said. “Doesn’t matter if your hitters are hitting. If you can’t dig up the ball, and if you can’t pass the ball, the rest is moot.”
Godek has delivered 22 aces, 66 digs and 152 assists. She leads in aces and assists. Schultz has 61 digs. Heier is the primary serve-receiver.
“Kerri has probably one of the prettiest passing postures I’ve seen in a long time,” Foster said. “We put her on the opposite last year. Took her a little bit, and then she finally really figured out exactly what that role should look like, and she just played it to perfection.
“And we actually had to lean on Kerri to move around all over the place last year with COVID quarantines and such,” Foster added. “She played every single position except for libero – and she could play libero. She is that good.”
Godek posted 675 assists in 2020. The 5-foot-6 Godek has 832 career assists with just four ball handling errors.
“Anna is just a heads-up, all around smart setter,” Foster said. “Her footwork is great. She has good hand position. She can block on the front row. She is an offensive attack, and she has such a great mental workup, where she’s just unflappable, where it doesn’t matter what’s going on, Anna’s always got the right mind frame.”
Riverton’s Jacy Thomasson clears 1,000 career kills; picks up Pittsburg State offer
Riverton’s Jacy Thomasson is one of Kansas’ best volleyball players during the last several years. Riverton took second in the Iola tournament Saturday. On Sept. 2, Thomasson had 47 kills in a 3-0 quadrangular against Erie, Southeast-Cherokee and Baxter Springs. She earned MaxPreps Kansas Player of the Week.
Riverton stands at 9-1 after a two-set loss to Paola in the Iola championship match. In the season’s first nine sets, Thomasson delivered 68 kills and hit .466. The 5-foot-10 junior carried a .381 and .349 average in her first two years. Thomasson has a 10-foot approach and a 9-6 block, both very strong marks. On Sept. 9, Thomasson picked up her first offer, from nearby Division II Pittsburg State.
Riverton reached the state tournament last fall with a 29-9 record. Becky Lipasek turned around the Riverton program that finished with only a few wins in 2016. Since then, Riverton is 36-4, 28-11, 34-7, 29-9 and 9-1. Riverton is eighth in 3A. Thomasson was an honorable mention all-state pick (top-21 player) in 3A by the Kansas coaches last fall.
Lansing wins own tournament
Lansing, which has been a nationally ranked top-25 squad, won its own tournament Saturday. As well, the Lions defeated Bishop Miege, 25-7, 25-10, 25-15 on Sept. 9 in its home opener.
The Lions lost to St. Thomas Aquinas in a matchup of top-25 squads to open the year. Aquinas beat Lansing for the 5A state title last fall. Since then, Lansing has not lost.
Lansing is loaded, especially with senior setter Caitlin Bishop, senior libero Kamyrn Farris, senior outside hitter Olivia Mae Van Der Werff and 6-foot-1 Iyannah Jackson. Bishop has committed to Division II University of Missouri-St. Louis. Bishop, Farris, and Van Der Werff were all members of the 12-player Class 5A all-state tournament team last year.
Plus, defensive specialist McKenzie Moburg has committed to play volleyball at Division I University of Missouri-Kansas City. Lansing is third in Class 5A.
Smoky Valley continues big start
Smoky Valley, ranked No. 1 in 3A, won the Southeast of Saline tournament Saturday. The Vikings defeated Beloit (25-23, 25-20), Hillsboro (25-19, 25-20), Salina South (25-18, 25-18), Abilene (25-23, 25-16) and Circle (25-21, 25-22). This marked the second straight year SES won the tournament.
Beloit is ranked fourth in Class 3A, Hillsboro is sixth in 2A, and Circle is fifth in 4A. Smoky Valley is the defending 3A runner-up to Sabetha, which marked the best year in school history. SV returns Abby Rose, the reigning 3A Player of the Year.
Smoky Valley is 11-1, has won eight in a row and taken 22 of a possible 24 sets. Rose has 87 kills with a .330 hitting percentage. Sophomore Hope Duncan is at 66 kills with a .180 average. Senior Madi Tolle has 54 kills with a .331 average.
Senior Aubrey Boldra has delivered 25 kills. Tolle easily paces the Vikings with 34 blocks. Rose, Duncan, sophomore Adrian Hazelwood and Boldra lead in digs with 63, 59, 58 and 53, respectively. Seniors Avery Vanderwege, Chloe Patrick and Laini Haigh are key players.
Nickerson off to strong start with first-year coach Payton Scheer
Nickerson went 3-2 at the Ellsworth tournament Saturday. The Panthers have first-year coach Payton Scheer, a Cheney graduate and Hays High assistant volleyball coach last fall. On Tuesday, Nickerson finished 1-1 with a win against Hays High and a loss to Smoky Valley. Nickerson stands seventh in 4A.
In the Smoky Valley loss, Ava Jones delivered seven kills, and Kieryn Ontjes had four. Josie McLean had 14 assists. In the Hays High victory, Jones had 15 kills with 23 digs. McLean delivered 26 assists. In addition to the big three, sophomore Kalyse Abernathy is known for her volleyball intelligence. Sophomore opposite Avery Hambrick and back row Destiny Ponds are solid.
Nickerson is the only team to beat Smoky Valley with a 2-0 win on Aug. 28.
Cheney’s Walkup earns win No. 400
Cheney swept the Coleman Classic on Saturday with a 25-9, 25-13 win versus Garden Plain. It marked career win No. 400 for coach Sara Walkup, one of the state’s most respected coaches and beloved at Cheney. Walkup, a Caldwell graduate, was a Wichita State volleyball standout and has spent her entire head coaching career with Cheney. In 13 years, Cheney has four top-three finishes and reached the state quarterfinals last season. Cheney is second in 3A.
Hutchinson off to 9-0 start
Hutchinson has won its first nine matches, including 18 of a possible 20 sets. That includes multiple quality wins. The Salthawks opened the season Aug. 20 with a three-set win versus Maize South and a two-set victory versus McPherson. Junior Maliyah Johnson has 78 kills and a .386 hitting percentage.
Junior Mya Thompson has 57 kills with a .286 hitting percentage. Sophomore Rachel Tomac has 47 kills, and freshman Aliyah Green has 34 kills. Hutchinson carries a .265 average and has a error rate of just 12.7 percent. Tomac leads the Salthawks with 16 blocks.
Freshman Grace Posch has 64 digs, while Johnson, senior Kaitlin Yoder, junior Alex Harbold all have between 43 and 49 digs. Hutchinson ended a seven-match losing streak to Maize South. The Salthawks’ last series win came on Sept. 19, 2015. Before this year, Hutchinson was 1-11 in the last 12 meetings with McPherson dating back to 2007.
Hutchinson finished 20-14 last fall with an 8-0 start. Johnson and Thompson were first and third in kills last year with 254 and 156, respectively.
Hutchinson went from not ranked to seventh in Class 6A. Maize South is seventh in 5A, and McPherson is third in 4A.
Kiowa County off to big start
Kiowa County has opened 10-1 and won 20 of a possible 24 sets. The only loss was a two-set defeat to Spearville on Sept. 7. A key win was a three-set victory versus Coldwater-South Central on Aug. 28. That marked the first matchup between the schools since Aug. 25, 2018. KC was 1-3 in its last four meetings against South Central.
Kiowa also flipped a result against Kinsley. In 2020, Kiowa went 1-1 against the Coyotes with a two-set win on Sept. 8 and a three-set loss on Sept. 15. On Sept. 7 this year, KC won in two sets. Kiowa County won the 1A girls’ state track championship in 2019 and ’21. Senior Addi Heinson notably won four golds this spring. She leads the Mavericks with 76 kills and a .549 percentage through her first 17 sets. Sophomore Marley Little has 61 kills with a .485 average.
The Mavericks are junior/senior laden with seniors: libero Charleigh Friesen, setter Raygan Heft, right side/defensive specialist Addison Sherer, and juniors: Grace Thompson, Bear Alvarez, and Shelby Lingafelter. Kiowa County moved from ninth to fifth in Class 1A, Division I.
Wabaunsee remains perfect
Wabaunsee has opened 7-0 behind senior Lauren Schutter, an Illinois State signee. The Chargers have been top-3 at state, including a state title, in the last three seasons. Wabaunsee has four three-set victories: Rock Creek, Osage City, Centralia and Chapman. Schutter has 86 kills and a .431 average. Senior Kara Hafenstine, an elite softball recruit, has 37 kills. Wabaunsee is fourth in 2A.
Rock Creek is 4-2, Osage City stands at 7-4, Centralia is 5-2 and Chapman is winless.
Meade off to 10-0 start – hasn’t dropped a set
The Buffs have been a consistent winner with coach Leann Krier. Meade posted 33-10, 34-7, 24-16 and 32-3 records the last four years. This season, Meade returned the bulk of its key players. Senior Kylin Rudzik has 44 kills with a .302 average. Sophomore Carlie Martin has 22 kills with a .224 average. Senior Shelby Christiansen is at 21 kills with a .269 mark. Senior Allie Miller has 38 digs. Senior Kiana Unruh paces with 105 assists in the team’s latest statistical release. Meade remains unranked.
St. James Academy and Blue Valley North split meetings this week
On Sept. 9, Blue Valley North beat St. James Academy in two sets. Two days later, SJA defeated BV North in two sets. That marked North’s first loss of the fall and dropped the Mustangs to 9-1.
Freshman Logan Parks has delivered a huge season with 56 kills and a .306 average. Senior Jasmine Dulan has 49 kills with a .233 average. Other seniors include: Clara Benskin, Morgan Debow, Emery Shaw and Mandy Gibbs.
Before the victory, North had lost two in a row and five of six versus the Thunder. Blue Valley North is ranked second in 6A, and SJA is second in 5A.
Other top performances
Credit to the Twin Valley League and Northern Plains League for having a joint volleyball tournament. Loaded Hanover, the defending Class 1A, Division II state champions, won the competition. In the team’s latest statistical release, juniors Ceegan Atkins and Massey Holle, and seniors Madison Bruna, Allison Jueneman and Avery Behrends are key players.
Atkins, Behrends and Bruna were each first team all-state picks in 2020, and Jueneman was an honorable mention selection.
Eureka is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A and stands at 11-0 after won its home tournament for back-to-back years. Eureka has enjoyed strong seasons from junior Maggie Miller, who has 40 kills with a .259 average. Sophomore Ashley Singahateh has 27 kills and a .610 average. Junior Taylor Palmer has delivered 16 kills and a .625 average in the team’s latest release.
Senior Gracie Walden paces with 39 digs, and senior London Hilton has 88 assists. Two seniors, 5-foot-11 Brooklyn Ptacek and Abby Singahateh are also key players.
Top-10 in each statistic, according to MaxPreps, unless otherwise noted (all stats entering the weekend)
Addi Heinson, Kiowa County .549
Marley Little, Kiowa County .485
Jacy Thomasson, Riverton, .466
Kristen Stover, Neodesha, .463
Ava Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas, .457
Keeli Knobbe, Sylvan-Lucas, .453
Lauren Cary, Wichita Trinity Academy, .446
Lauren Schutter, Alma-Wabaunsee, .431
Vivian Hill, Bishop Seabury, .430
Lily Gray, Sterling, 98
Kayley Shanfelt, Wichita Classical, 97
Ava Testrake, Olathe West, 92
Kennedy Bryan, Royal Valley, 92
Sammie Saunders, Hillsboro, 88
Abby Rose, Smoky Valley, 87
Campbell Stark, Osage City, 87
Lauren Schutter, Wabaunsee, 86
Livia Schultz, Wheatland-Grinnell, 84
Ladson Alysa, Royal Valley, 84
Bennie Horsch, Sterling, 237
Ella Suderman, Hillsboro, 218
Raygan Heft, Kiowa County, 207
Adrian Hazelwood, Smoky Valley, 205
Aubrey Young, Pretty Prairie, 197
Kaitlin Yoder, Hutchinson, 189
Anna Humphreys, Hesston, 184
Amber Allen, Olathe West, 178
Kenisyn Hottenstein, Humboldt, 172
Mia Kuehn, Rose Hill, 156
Maliyah Warren, Olathe West, 49
Lily Gray, Sterling, 47
Lauren Schutter, 41
Addy Scheve, Olpe, 37
Grace Coughlin, Olpe, 37
Madi Tolle, Smoky Valley, 34
Fisayo Afonja, Baldwin, 33
Bennie Horsch, Sterling, 32
Rachel Joann Hermreck, Olathe West, 28
Abby Singahateh, Eureka, 25
Amber Allen, Olathe West, 25
Kali Briar, Sterling, 120
Hannah Jones, Yates Center, 115
Makenna Linden, 112
Eden Punches, 110
Macy Wecker, Olpe, 109
Harley Ferralez, Hesston, 105
Abby Koontz, Newton, 101
Callyn Miller, Yates Center, 99
Macy Nachtigal, Great Bend, 94
Natalie Nitz, Atchinson County, 93