Tawa’s 2020 national fall HS review continues with Hawai’i through Maryland

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Blue Valley West celebrates winning the Kansas state title
National club and high school reporter John Tawa, who founded PrepVolleyball.com in 2003, has joined the VolleyballMag.com team. He started his review of the 2020 fall high school season last week (link) with recaps  of 10 states. Today, the second of five parts continues with Hawai’i through Maryland:

“Aloha” means both “hello” and “goodbye,” which is apropos because it remains unclear whether Hawai’i, The Aloha State, will say hello or goodbye to girls high school volleyball this academic year.

Last week, VolleyballMag.com began a rundown of girls high school volleyball in the 50 states, starting with the first 10 states in the alphabet. We focused on celebrating championship runs, for states that played a full season; and timetables for return to play for states that did not.

This week, we present the next 10 states, from Hawai’i to Maryland. The six states in this grouping that did play generated fascinating storylines. A team in Iowa won state though its city had been destroyed by rain and high winds just a few days before practice began. A Kentucky team from outside of Louisville won state for the first time in 26 years. Players on teams in Kansas returned after a year from the sport to lead state title runs. Read about those teams and before below. Remember to use a highlighter! As we stated last week, there will be a test at the end. 

HAWAI’I

Nickname: The Aloha State
Capital city: Honolulu
Population: 1.4 million
Year of statehood: 1959

Hawai’i moved girls volleyball to the spring and the Hawai’i High School Athletic Association still has a March-to-May season on its calendar, but it’s getting less likely to happen with each passing day.

In early January, the HHSAA announced that its March state championships — affecting air riflery, basketball, bowling, cheerleading, cross country, outrigger canoe paddling, soccer, swimming and diving and wrestling — would all be canceled because of COVID-19 and the desire for more schools to play a longer regular season if deemed safe by their respective leagues. Just four days later, the Oahu Interscholastic Association, which governs all public schools on Oahu, announced that it would be canceling all fall and winter sports for the 2020-2021 academic year. The OIA’s decision was based on a recent surge in coronavirus cases in Hawaii and wanting to focus on the spring sports, which did not have a season in 2020.

Lee Lamb, the head coach at Le Jardin, which plays in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, said that he does not see a path forward for girls volleyball this academic year.

“My understanding is that the ILH is trying to hold out hope and find ways to provide a sports experience for the kids, but I just don’t see it happening,” he said. “They’ve canceled basketball, soccer, and a number of other winter sports. Spring sports will follow. The ILH did hold out as long as they could before announcing the cancellation of winter sports so they might do the same for the spring sports, which includes traditional fall sports. If a ‘season’ were to happen, it would be nothing more than ILH teams arranging a couple of matches. Even that seems unlikely though.”

Idaho champion Tri-Valley

IDAHO
Nickname: The Gem State
Capital city: Boise
Population: 1.8 million
Year of statehood: 1890

The Idaho High School Activities Association announced early in August its intention to start all high school activities on time in the fall. And so they did! Volleyball teams played fewer matches and adjusted when entire teams or individual players were quarantined. Entire coaching staffs tested positive for COVID-19. School districts all made and implemented their own rules but the teams made it through a season and to the state championships, conducted at six separate locations on October 30-31.

In 5A, Skyview won its first state title in the highest classification, adding to the 4A titles it captured in 2016 and 2017. The Hawks defeated Boise in the championship match in a five-set marathon. Skyview swept its conference foe twice during the regular season and won the first two sets of the final. Boise battled back to win the third set in overtime, 26-24, and won the fourth as well, but Skyview dominated the fifth, 15-6, to take the title.

Eden Bower, one of seven volleyball-playing sisters, two of whom currently star at BYU; led the way with 25 kills and 17 digs. Leyah deSouza added 18 kills, Sydney Nay had seven kills and seven digs and Alex Bower had 11 digs. Seniors Katie Black and Kellan Hayes, who sparked Boise all season long, were named to the 5A All-State Team.

Lakeland swept Middleton for the 4A title. The Hawks started the season 1-3 but found their stride at the right time to capture their first-ever volleyball championship. Washington State signee Katy Ryan, a 6-5 southpaw, had a whopping 23 kills over the three sets, plus 14 digs and three blocks; to lead the way. Abbey Neff chipped in with 23 assists and 10 digs and Olivia Cooper had 11 digs and three aces.

Middleton, seeking its first state title in 15 years, got All-State seasons from Carissa Chainey, Macy McPherson and Casidy Fried.

Sugar-Salem won its second straight title and fourth in five years by dominating host Kimberly, 25-9, 25-13, 25-14, in 3A. Led by Katie Miller, Kimberly Pannell and Mardee Fillmore, the Diggers did not lose a single set in 3A all season long. Emma Jensen and Sydney Kelsey had All-State seasons for Kimberly.

West Side, making its first state tournament appearance since 2017, defeated District rival Bear Lake to capture the 2A title. The teams had met four times previously in 2020, with Bear Lake winning three of them. But Bear Lake’s last two wins, at the district tournament, both went five sets, causing West Side coach MeLinda Royer, who won a state title as a player for Bear Lake, to predict that her Pirates would see and defeat Bear Lake at the state tournament.

Not only did the teams meet, the match went to five sets before Abigail Fuller’s kill gave West Side its first title since 2011. Jessica Mariscal had a season-high 19 kills to lead the way. Kalisha Parker had 19 kills in the loss for Bear Lake.

Grace made its third straight trip to the state tournament a memorable one by capturing the Class 1A-D1 title, its first. Led by senior middle Maniah Clegg, junior outside Kylie Hulse and junior libero Sara Anderson, the Grizzlies downed Genessee, 3-0, in the championship match. Clegg had 14 kills, Anderson 21 digs and Courtney Donaldson 30 assists for the victors.

Tri-Valley held off Castleford in four sets to win the Class 1A-DII crown. Castleford, which entered the match undefeated on the season, won the first set before Tri-Valley captured the final three. Senior middle Zoe Ertell had 15 kills, 21 digs and seven blocks and junior setter Amanda Uhlenkott contributed 50 assists, 18 digs, six kills, three aces and four blocks to the win for Tri-Valley.

Tri-Valley head coach Jennifer Uhlenkott had worried that her players would remember 2020 as the year of COVID-19, but the championship changed everyone’s thinking.

“For that I am grateful,” she said. 

“These girls have been playing together for many years, like since second grade,” she added. “They know each other and are able to capitalize on each other’s strengths. All season you didn’t see them get rattled if we were behind. I’m not even sure if some of them knew what the score was. They just play volleyball.

“I will always remember when they realized that they had just won the state championship. They huddled up and all just started sobbing.”

ILLINOIS
Nickname: The Prairie State
Capital city: Springfield
Population: 12.6 million
Year of statehood: 1818

Boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls swimming … they all happened last fall in Illinois.

Football and boys soccer did not. Neither did girls volleyball. 

On July 29, the Illinois High School Association announced that those sports, because of COVID-19, would run from March 1 through May 1, with practices to begin on February 15. If defending 4A champion Benet Academy and defending 3A champion Sterling, both expected to be national powerhouses this academic year, wanted another season of glory, they would have to wait…

It turns out they may have to wait out the year. Phil Brozynski, the Illinois volleyball guru who runs www.illprepvb.com, doesn’t think a high school point will be scored until the fall of 2021.

“Personally, I don’t think Illinois will see any high school volleyball — girls or boys (who are supposed to go May until June 26) — this school year, even though volleyball is listed as a ‘medium risk’ sport,” he said. “As of Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the governor’s office still have not given the go-ahead to any sports, including basketball, which would bump right into volleyball unless they changed the schedule because basketball was supposed to have started already. Gym space would be a major issue.”

Brozynski said that he fully expected club volleyball to proceed as scheduled. And, if high school volleyball did get started this winter or spring, the IHSA has declared that simultaneous participation in club and high school volleyball would be allowed for this year only. So at least there’s that …

Yorktown with the trophy

INDIANA
Nickname: The Hoosier State
Capital city: Indianapolis
Population: 6.7 million
Year of statehood: 1816

If you pressed 2018 VolleyballMag.com National Coach of the Year Stephanie Bloom, you might get her to admit that Yorktown’s 2020 4A state championship was the most special of the four she’s experienced with the Tigers. She had a team that certainly wasn’t as talented as the 2018 team that went 34-0 and finished No. 3 in the nation, but Yorktown (28-0) had the intangibles that more than made up for it.

“Our team played with so much grit all year, which was driven by our seniors,” Bloom said. “They really had a will to win that gave us a leg up on so many teams,” Bloom said.

Yorktown’s path to the state title was anything but easy. The Tigers had to get by defending 4A champion New Castle (and superstars Mabry Shaffmaster and Laila Smith) just to get out of Sectionals. They won three more matches to get to Semi-States and were taken to the limit by Providence, the pre-season favorites. With Ali Hornung hammering away, the Pioneers won two of the first three sets and led 22-21 in the fourth before Yorktown found the courage to prevail.

In the championship final, Munster, which also was a top contender when play began back in August, smashed Yorktown in the first set. Yorktown regrouped and showed its grit. The Tigers won the next two sets without ever trailing and opened the fourth and final set on a 9-0 run on their way to their fifth title all-time, second in three years and third in five. The win snapped Munster’s 26-match unbeaten streak.

“They all feel pretty darn good!” Bloom exclaimed. “But I think this group winning it all with an undefeated season feels pretty special when you consider all the unknowns and adversity that came with this season.”

Bloom said that COVID-19 makes the 2020 season unlike any other.

“The chairs on the bench were six feet apart, the bench and coaches all wore masks, we didn’t switch sides after each set, there was no coin toss with captains to start warm-ups and we didn’t shake hands at the end of a match,” she said.  “All of that was different, but actual play felt normal and that was such a relief.

“These girls worked incredibly hard to maintain culture even through what was anything but a normal season.  We were quarantined the day before our first match and I was so incredibly proud of how our girls handled it and especially how our seniors led throughout that.  We weren’t overly talented, but their grit, determination, and work ethic set them apart and made them great.”

Ellee Stinson
, a 5-3 outside hitter, led four Yorktown players in double figure kills with 12. Jaylynn Dunsmore, Kaitlyn Judge and Ava Eakins added 10 apiece. Emilee Hill had 38 assists, 13 digs and six kills. Jenny Moray contributed 20 kills and two aces.

Stinson, a Northwestern libero recruit and one of three seniors who also played major roles on the 2018 title team, also delivered three aces and accumulated 31 digs, a state championship record for digs in a four-set match.

Munster, making its first state championship appearance in 43 years, got 14 kills each from Haley Melby and Lourdes Torres.

Bishop Dwenger, appearing in a state final for the first time in 41 years, rallied from a two-set hole to defeat Brebeuf Jesuit in 3A. The Saints overcame match point against in the third set to win in extras, 27-25, and fought off two match points in the fifth set before eventually prevailing, 17-15, on successive blocks from Eva Hudson and Olivia Clark. The title was the first in volleyball in school history.

Hudson, a junior, finished with 33 kills to set a state championship record 33 kills in a five-set match. Hudson, a Notre Dame recruit, added 22 digs, six blocks and two aces. Kristin Bobay contributed 17 kills, Olivia Tellez had 57 assists and Emma Lyons chipped in with 22 digs for Dwenger, which finished 33-2 on the year. Clark’s title-winning block was her team-high eighth.

Sydney Robinson had 23 kills and 10 digs to lead Brebeuf. Maddie Siegel added 18 kills and Naija Gadis had 53 assists.  

Barr-Reeve captured its second Class 2A title in three years with a dominating sweep of small-school power Wapahani. 

Anna Ballengee had 21 kills, 10 digs and five assists to lead the victors. Jasye Thompson’s kill on match point was the clincher.

Camryn Wise had 11 kills in the loss for Wapahani, which fell in the championship match for the second straight year.

Pioneer made its first Class 1A championship appearance in 2018, but lost in four sets to Barr-Reeve. Two years later, the Panthers captured their first state title, winning in four close sets over Loogootee. The win avenged a 2020 finals loss to Loogootee in girls basketball. Four of Pioneer’s starters also were a part of that team.

The set scored were 25-23, 27-29, 27-25, 25-22, underscoring how close this match was from first serve to the clinching Hailey Cripe kill. Cripe led the way for Pioneer (29-3) with 22 kills and 27 digs. Mackenzie Walker added eight kills, seven assists and 21 digs.

Makenzie VanHoy had a match-high 24 kills, plus 24 digs and 17 assists, to lead Loogootee, which has now made five finals appearances without a win. Three other Lions finished with double-figure digs: libero Jocelyn Strange (23), Asia Crim (23) and Kylie VanHoy (21). Kylie VanHoy also delivered 16 kills and 21 assists.

Osage goes after the Iowa trophy

IOWA
Nickname: The Hawkeye State
Capital city: Des Moines
Population: 3.2 million
Year of statehood: 1846

Xavier, from Cedar Rapids, had made the state tournament every year since 2016. The Saints finished third in 2016 and 2017, second in 2018 and fifth in 2019. With their four best players all back for 2020, head coach Austin Filer was certain that 2020 would be the year for Xavier, if his team could avoid the devastating injuries that had derailed state championship pushes in previous seasons.

That was before August 10.

On August 10 and 11, a derecho struck Cedar Rapids, bringing devastating winds, localized tornados, torrential rain and hail. The city suffered a near-complete blackout that lasted for weeks in some areas, widespread and severe property damage and an estimated loss of at least half of the city’s tree canopy.

“Many people don’t know what happened to our community,” Filer said. “It was left in complete destruction. Our kids were doing storm clean up to their homes for 17 straight days and then practicing.”

Xavier played its first match two weeks after the storm hit and started strong. Playing what Filer called the toughest schedule in the state, the Saints suffered some losses midseason, but did not drop a set in the playoffs and swept West Delaware, 25-19, 25-18, 25-18, to capture their first 4A title in school history.

The growth of the players towards the end of the season made the difference, Filer said.

“Our seniors became the leaders of this team that we knew they could become,” he added.

Four seniors led the way in the stat sheet for Xavier. Setter Jazmine Yamilkoski, the 4A POY, had 34 assists, 13 digs and four kills.  Eve Magill, a 6-5 pin bound for Creighton, had 12 kills and two blocks. Pin Katy Garrison chipped in with 13 kills two blocks and two aces. And pin Elyse Winter finished with five kills, 14 digs and two blocks. 

Ava Hauser had eight kills to lead young West Delaware, which had just two seniors on its roster.

Ankeny
won the Class 5A crown in four sets over Iowa City Liberty. The title marked the first for the Hawkettes since 2009 and the first since the school split in two with the opening of Ankeny Centennial in 2013.

With Dave Whims coaching Ankeny, the Hawkettes were the Iowa large-class bullies in the 2000s, winning titles in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. After Centennial opened, the Jaguars took over, winning four titles in five years from 2014 through 2018.

Whims retired from coaching in 2014 just a few wins shy of 1,000 for his career, but was coaxed out of retirement in 2019. One year later, he led Ankeny (22-2) back to the promised land.

Key to victory was Ankeny’s veteran size. Seniors Phyona Schrader (40 assists, 23 digs) and McKenna Scheib (8 kills), junior Ava Reynolds (17 kills) and freshmen Aowyn Schrader (11 kills) — all of whom at least 5-11 or taller — powered Ankeny’s attack.

Cassidy Hartman had 18 kills to lead Liberty (24-3), which is only in its fourth year of existence.

Osage won its first Class 3A state title by downing defending champion Mt. Vernon in straight sets. The Green Devils made the 2A semifinals the year before but dominated in 3A, winning 33 of 35 matches, 31 in sweeps.

“We returned all seven starters from last year’s Class 2A semi-finalist team, so we were expecting big things for this year,” head coach Bryan Tabbert said.

Osage, which had been stymied in the semifinals not only in 2019 but also in the two seasons before that, squeaked by Assumption in four sets this past fall to advance to the championship match. That seemed to free up the Green Devils, because they blasted Mt. Vernon, 25-6, in the opening set.

“We were able to start strong in our first set and use that momentum the entire match,” Tabbert said. “We were known for our offense this year, but the girls played lights out defense this match.”

Danielle Johnson had 15 digs to lead four Green Devils in that category. Ellie Bobinet had 13 and Jaden Francis and Meredith Street had 12 apiece. Johnson also had a match-high 16 kills and Bobinet contributed 39 assists to the winning effort. The team hit .339 for the match compared to just .089 for Mt. Vernon. Lauren Schrock had 10 kills in the loss.

Tabbert said that his Osage team was determined to make 2020 its year.

“Our girls did a great job of pushing themselves as individuals during the spring and early summer, when we couldn’t be together as a team,” he said. “We played a pretty tough schedule this year, which prepared us to make a good run down at state.”

“It was a season full of emotions,” Tabbert added. “We know that we were very fortunate to have a complete season. The constant stress of COVID, the joy of big wins and then, to cap it off, the first volleyball state championship in school history. Our community was able to watch us at state and share in the experience. It was just a great way to end the season.”

Led by freshman twins Payton and Jadyn Petersen, Dike-New Hartford ran over conference rival Denver to win the 2A title, its 14th all-time. The twins, whose mother, Bobbi, is the head coach at Northern Iowa, are the second set of Petersen twins to play for the Wolverines. Lauren and Baylee Petersen helped spark D-NH to titles in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Payton and Jaydn could match or exceed that total.

Payton Petersen, who had a match-high 17 kills and also contributed 10 digs; was named tournament MVP. Jadyn Petersen chipped in with eight kills and nine digs. Madelyn Norton had 39 assists and Ellie Knock slammed home 10 kills.

Reese Johnson had 16 assists and 11 digs for Denver, which was making its first-ever state tournament appearance. The Cyclones had just one senior starter and could be back at State next year.

In a matchup of two teams seeking their first state titles, Burlington Notre Dame used strong offense to edge Gladbrook-Reinbeck for the 1A title. The Nikes (20-5) closed the season on a 14-match winning streak.

Katy Stephens had 22 kills and 10 digs to lead the way for the victors. Josie Bentz had 18 kills and 17 digs. Gabby Deery contributed 14 kills and three aces and Jenna Bentz hoisted 53 assists.

Saari Kuehl had 22 kills and a match-high 24 digs for Gladbrook-Reinbeck in the loss. Emma McClintock chipped in with 44 assists.

Central Plains celebrates winning it all in Kansas

KANSAS
Nickname: The Sunflower State
Capital city: Topeka
Population: 2.9 million
Year of statehood: 1861

Kansas modified its state tournament format this past fall to account for COVID-19. The five matches required to win, which would usually be played over two days, was reduced to one. Teams played fewer matches, travel was restricted and some teams had to quarantine after positive tests. But the state still conducted its championships on the last weekend in October and crowned seven state champions. It was almost business as usual.

In Class 6A, Blue Valley West’s title was a bit unexpected. The Jaguars went 22-15 in 2019 and started 13-7 in 2020, not exactly the record you’d expect of a soon-to-be champion in this brutal classification. 

“I knew at the beginning of the season that we had the talent to do it but, as everyone knows, things have to fall in place just right and at the right time for that to happen,” head coach Jessica Hortick said. “This group hit their stride in mid-October and just kept getting better. They loved each other fiercely and worked hard for each other, and it was such a cool thing to witness as a coach. They were unselfish and happy for each other when their teammates did well.”

BVW’s championship Friday included a sweep of pre-season favorite Washburn Rural and two wins over Olathe Northwest, a team with six freshmen playing featured roles. The second win over ONW helped the Jaguars finish the season on a 14-match winning streak. The title was the third for the school and first since 2015.

Alyssa Miller, who sat out her junior year, had 24 assists in the two-set championship sweep.  The Dayton signee was named 6A POY. Taylor Stockman, a junior RS and one of three transfers, who helped on the court and with team chemistry, contributed nine kills. Brooke Leiker added 11 kills and Morgan Colangelo had 12 digs.

“I will remember the day we competed at state the most,” Horstick said. “The girls played their best volleyball of the year on the last day of the season. After coming out a little slow the first match of the day, they found their confidence and just took control the rest of the day. It felt almost magical. For it to happen in the midst of such a crazy year was so cool. I loved coaching this group!”

Horstick added that COVID-19 changed the way she and her team approached the season, saying:

“We eliminated some things that we normally do as far as team bonding and program culture go, but it also allowed us to really focus on volleyball and be thankful for every day we had together in the gym. We knew that at any moment we could get shut down and the season would be over. I think this really made us focus on the present. What could we do to get better right now? How can we take advantage of this time together before it’s gone? 

“As a coach, I also really shifted my focus to making sure the kids had a positive environment to play in. They weren’t having a ‘normal’ school year by any means, so I wanted to make volleyball as normal as I could for them. I also think I focused more on their mental and emotional well-being since it has been such a difficult time for all of us, and I think that really helped us form a bond that helped us win a state title in the end.”

Courtney Jackson, the lone senior playing for Olathe Northwest, had 19 kills and 10 digs to lead the Ravens. Freshman Skylar Pierce led the offense with 10 kills.

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas won its second straight 5A title, sweeping Lansing, 25-11, 26-24. Four-time All-State and four-time All-State Tournament pick Caroline Bien led the way with seven kills and 11 digs. Junior Ava Martin added nine kills and seven blocks. Freshman middle Tatum Grimes stepped up and contributed in a big way, with eight kills and four blocks.

“We were blessed to have many returning players from last year back,” head coach Sarah Ikenberry said. “We did have two positions to fill though that were critical to our success.  We had to replace both setters and middles from last year.  We were fortunate enough to have young players step into those roles, work hard, and get the job done for us.”

The title was the seventh all-time for the Saints but first for Ikenberry as a married woman. The former Sarah Cretors got married in February and coached in the finals while six months pregnant. She is expecting a baby girl any day now!

Bishop Miege won its second Class 4A title in three years, defeating Andale 2-0 in the final. The Stags have now won an astounding 26 titles overall.

Payton Verhulst, who will play collegiate basketball at the University of Louisville next year, served an ace on match point to clinch the title. Two other Miege seniors, Ella Martin (nine kills and eight digs) and Erin Garr (six kills and two blocks), joined Verhulst on the All-Tournament Team. Katelyn and McKenzie Fairchild had eight kills apiece to pace Andale.

Sabetha completed a 41-1 season by edging Smoky Valley for the 3A title, the first ever for the Bluejays. The set scores were 25-19, 25-27, 25-23.

Smoky Valley led 21-18 before Sabetha rallied.

Seniors Melinna Schumann (16 kills, 21 digs, three aces, three blocks), Leah Renyer (11 kills, 15 digs, four blocks) and Camryn Wessel (8 kills, nine digs, five blocks) led the way for Sabetha, which avenged its only loss on the season, to Royal Valley, barely, to reach the state tournament. Junior setter Emily Krebs added 35 assists.

Junior middle Abby Rose was a standout in defeat for Smoky Valley, which was 1-35 in 2017 but set a school record with 34 wins this season. The 3A POY had 18 kills, 12 digs and three blocks. Fellow middle Bri Franklin chipped in with nine kills and two blocks.

Heritage Christian Academy won its third 2A title in five years, downing Smith Center, 25-21, 25-14, in the championship match. The school, which opened only 10 years ago, finished 30-8 on the season.

Two freshmen, middle Cy Rae Campbell and outside hitter Rachel Van Gorp, combined for 19 kills to lead the Chargers. Senior setter Katrina Davis added 20 assists and three aces and junior libero Jessa Rose produced 11 digs. Juniors Ashlyn Long and Tallon Rentschler led Smith Center.

Central Plains won its third state title, sweeping by Lebo in two deuce sets in the Class 1A Division 1 championship match. The Oilers lost 11 matches on the year but finished on an 11-match winning streak.

“We play an insanely tough schedule throughout the season,” head coach Lisa Crites said. “All of the court time keeps adding to our experience and, while we break it down, we use each step to become better and better, both individually and as a team. This group of athletes understands the level of commitment it takes to be successful as well as the time they must dedicate to maintain that success.”

Before the season, Central Plains’ three seniors chose the motto, “Good is not good when better is expected.”

“I think it provided a perfect standard of how we attack a volleyball season and especially the mind set we took on down the stretch as the season wrapped up,” Crites said.

Junior Kassidy Nixon had 16 kills, 12 digs and nine assists to lead the way for Central Plains. Senior Ryenne Cunningham pitched in with four kills, 14 digs and three blocks.

Sophomore Brooklyn Jones had 10 kills and 16 digs to lead Lebo.

Hanover upended Attica to win its second title in Class 1A Division 2. The Wildcats won in a sweep behind 11 kills, 12 digs and two blocks from sophomore OH Ceegan Atkins. Sam Dark had six kills, 16 digs and seven assists to pace Attica.

Notre Dame after winning the Kentucky crown

KENTUCKY
Nickname: The Bluegrass State
Capital city: Frankfort
Population: 4.5 million
Year of statehood: 1792

It’s a pretty safe bet that Notre Dame Academy will not soon forget winning the Kentucky single-class state title in 2020 and not just because it marks the school’s first volleyball title in 26 years.

Since 1995, three Louisville schools, Assumption, Mercy and Sacred Heart, have held a stranglehold on state supremacy. Notre Dame, which is located across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in Park Hills, won the first state title in 1979 and seven more between 1982 and 1994. But since then the Pandas had been turned away in eight trips to the state championship match.

Notre Dame coach Molly McDermott was convinced that 2020 was the year her Pandas would break through. In April, she emailed me to share how talented her team should be. And the team played like that, losing only to Mercy, Sacred Heart and Ohio power Ursuline Academy heading into the playoffs.

Then everything went sideways.

McDermott tested positive for COVID-19 the last week of the regular season. That forced the entire varsity squad into a precautionary quarantine. Scheduled matches with Assumption and Ohio Division I champion Mount Notre Dame were scrapped. The junior varsity team had to play in the 35th District Tournament instead of the varsity and won both of its matches. The varsity’s quarantine ended less than three hours before NDA’s first 9th Region match against rival St. Henry. The Pandas, having not practiced for two weeks, won in three, then had to play and win the next two nights as well to make the state tournament.

On November 7, after winning three times at State, Notre Dame found itself across the next from Mercy playing for the state title. In their only meeting on Octobr 3, Notre Dame Academy lost the first set, won the next two, then lost the final two. The Pandas had not lost since.

In the final, Mercy won the first set, 25-21. NDA took the next two, 25-19, 25-22. Mercy rallied back to take the fourth, 25-22. Was history repeating itself?

McDermott admitted to worry heading into the deciding fifth set.

“I wasn’t sure how the girls would respond,” she said, “but they fought and clawed and stayed in it.”

Tied at 13-13, Notre Dame Academy got a very timely kill from senior Cate Scheper to earn match point. Mercy tried for the equalizer by setting Fallan Langham, who’d had 19 kills against just four errors to that point. Scheper and Abby Powers were there and teamed for the stuff block that sealed the historic win.

OH Anna Long was named tournament MVP after delivering 20 kills and 12 digs for the victorious Pandas. In the championship she led the team with 21 kills. For the tournament she hit .298 with 59 kills, 4 aces and 39 digs. Scheper had 10 kills and four blocks. Emma Grace contributed 10 kills and 16 digs and Emily Bentley had 57 assists.

“The biggest surprise for us in the championship was 6-2 sophomore middle Sydney Nolan,” McDermott said. “For the tournament, she hit .446 with 42 kills and only five errors on 83 swings. In the championship match, she stepped up big time, hitting .410 with 19 kills and only three errors on 39 swings. The road to the championship was definitely a team effort. We had multiple players in double figure kills and digs in different matches.”

Allison Holloway’s 20 kills and six blocks complemented Langham’s offense for Mercy. Eleanor Bevin had 22 digs and nine assists for the Jaguars, while Elena Scott capped a marvelous career with a triple double: 11 kills, 41 assists and 17 digs. It wasn’t enough, however, to deny Notre Dame Academy after so, so many years.

“It was a season packed with unforgettable memories,” McDermott said.

Dominican finally broke through in Louisiana

LOUISIANA
Nickname: The Pelican State
Capital city: Baton Rouge
Population: 4.6 million
Year of statehood: 1812

“Driven.”

That was the theme for the 2020 season for the St. Mary’s Dominican volleyball team. It was born on November 15, 2019, the day Dominican lost to Mount Carmel Academy in the Division I championship match, the sixth time in school history it had reached the final without prevailing.

One year later, practically to the day, Dominican reached the top of the podium. The grit, the grind, the leadership and, above all, being driven carried Dominican (the school does not have a nickname) over Baton Rouge St. Joseph’s in four sets for the Division I title, the first in school history. 

“After an incredible season in 2019, the year didn’t end the way that we wanted it to,” head coach Jessica Chatellier said. “Some people would think that we were disappointed. Although we definitely wanted a different outcome that night, disappointed was not our feeling as a team. We were driven to capture this title for our school, our program and this team. We scheduled every tough team that we could get on the schedule so that we were battle tested, and this team never let any bump in the road take their focus.  This was the most balanced team that I have ever coached here at Dominican.”

Dominican finished the year 31-2. It defeated St. Joseph’s during the regular season. It also defeated the other four Louisiana state champions. Dominican’s only two losses came versus nemesis Mount Carmel. When St. Joseph’s upset the six-time defending state champions in the semifinals, the door opened for Dominican to win state without having to overcome the Cubs.

With junior setter Kate Baker and sophomore middle O’Neil Haddad setting the tone, Dominican thrashed St. Joseph’s, 25-13, in the first set. A 14-6 closing run, sparked by Haddad and senior outside Elizabeth Hardouin, broke an 11-all tie in the second and put Dominican one set win from the title.

Dominican led the third set, 19-16, before St. Joseph’s rallied. The Redstickers (Baton Rouge means “red stick” in French, making this one of the cleverest nicknames in the country) sent the match to a fourth set on a block from Anna Musso.

In the fourth, it was obvious that Dominican was driven to close out the match. The team raced to an 11-4 lead and was never headed. After St. Joseph’s cut the margin to two at 15-13, Dominican scored seven of the next nine points to build an imposing lead. Hardouin scored the championship clincher.

Hardouin, one of only two seniors who contributed in the state championship match, finished with 11 kills, 11 digs and two blocks. Baker, the MVP, had 28 assists, 14 digs and nine kills. Haddad delivered 14 kills and four blocks. Junior libero Brooke Couret had 21 digs and defensive specialists Gracie Ely and Sara Watermeier added 17 and 12 digs, respectively.  

“Our biggest strength was that a different person took the role of being the ‘go to’ each night,” Chattelier said.

Chattelier said that the team was very aware of the presence of COVID-19. That the virus could shut down the season at any moment drove them even more.

“Each week you would hear of teams being quarantined,” Chattelier explained. “It was a point of tension every day in the gym.  The fear of the unknown. Throw in several hurricanes and school cancelations, and it definitely made for some obstacles in the road.  When it came down to the end of the season, the fear of being quarantined anywhere in the last few weeks really hit home with our girls.  We were at the point that if someone got sick, we would be finished.  

“This team didn’t want anything to get in the way, so they made the choice to quarantine as a team. They ate lunch as a team every day and put their team first. I really do believe that, in the end, all of this adversity is what brought this team to the next level.  Dealing with obstacles and figuring them out as a team helped build a strong bond with this group.”

Chatellier added that there were so many things she would cherish about the season, from how the captains took charge to the feeling of euphoria when that final point was scored. Perhaps most special was that she was able to share the title with her daughter, Camryn Chatellier, a freshman right side who had three kills in the match.

“She was born in this program and was passed around the bleachers during a game when she was four weeks old,” Chatellier said. “Having the first championship for the program with us together is something that I will never forget.”

Worth noting, too, is that Chatellier’s husband, John, was the public-address announcer and was right there on the call when Dominican won.

For St. Joseph’s, which was seeking its 10th title all-time but first in seven years, the slow start proved the team’s undoing. Grace Toller and Morgan Perry combined for 21 kills in the loss. Simone Moreau had 17 digs. Erin Beene contributed eight blocks.

Tuerlings Catholic made it eight in a row

Teurlings Catholic won its eighth straight state title, defeating crosstown rival St. Thomas More in four sets for the Division II crown. Teurlings dropped the first set and were sharing points to start the second before taking control and going on for the win.

“We were very fortunate to have some exceptional athletes whose main sport is volleyball,” head coach Terry Hebert said. “They do not play other sports and it’s that concentration on volleyball training that helped carry us.”

Senior OH Cicily Hidalgo, the best player in the state, led the way for the Rebels. The reigning Louisiana Gatorade POY amassed 14 kills, 23 digs and four blocks in the championship match and was named tournament MVP. Paige Guidry added 18 kills and 18 digs while Reagan Richey chipped in with eight kills, 12 digs and three blocks.

St. Thomas More was playing in its first championship match since 2016.

Archbishop Hannan won the Division III title, its second all-time, to cap a most unusual season. The youthful Hawks started in September with four straight losses. Their first win came at home September 16 versus Cabrini, the same team they defeated for the title.

Sophomore Carleigh Breaux and junior Rylee Morris combined for 31 kills for the victors. Freshman Sophia Bonnaffee, daughter of head coach Rebekka Bonnaffee, added seven more.

Cabrini, which was seeking to repeat as state champions, started only two seniors. The Crescents also started the season slowly, winning just two of their first eight matches. They finished the year 14-10.

Sacred Heart-New Orleans won its 14th volleyball title but first since 2006 by taking down Pope John Paul II in four sets for the Division IV crown. Pope had been the dominant force in this division, winning the state title in five of the prior six seasons, but mistakes doomed the Jaguars.

Senior May Manning had 14 kills for the victorious Cardinals to take home MVP honors. Lindsey Magaw had 20 kills and Mary Catherine Mazzanti contributed 11.

Rachel Hartmann had a match-high 33 kills, plus 19 digs and three blocks, to lead Pope John Paul II. Kendall Battistella added 36 assists and 15 digs.

Junior Nia Washington delivered 19 kills in Metairie Park Country Day’s sweep of McGehee for the Division V title. Sophomore middle Ellie Schneider added 12 kills and 3.5 blocks for the Cajuns, who won their fifth straight title and 11th in the past 12 years. Senior setter Lauren Perlis added 35 assists and seven digs.

Jordan Felix had 10 kills and Joei Lee contributed 15 digs in the loss for McGehee, which was making its first championship match appearance since 2017. The Hawks entered the state tournament as the 11th seed, the lowest seed to make a championship match in 16 years.

MAINE
Nickname: The Pine Tree State
Capital city: Augusta
Population: 1.3 million
Year of statehood: 1820

In late August, it appeared that Maine was going to go ahead with regional volleyball matches in the fall, classifying the sport as “moderate risk” for COVID-19 spread. Subsequently the Maine Principal’s Association backtracked and, in late November, explained in writing that, “Volleyball and Wrestling will be looking at a modified season that will take place in the late winter/early spring.”

As of now, there is a potential start date of February 22, said Anne Scott, head coach of the Calais Lady Blue Devils. The start contemplates conditioning for a week and skill work for a week, followed by a five-week season, culminating with a regional playoff of some sort.

“We will most likely be restricted to county play, but Washington County has always been strong in volleyball so that is fine,” Scott said. “The hard thing is that basketball won’t be completed yet and we have kids who do both (and, of course, there is the fact that we have one gym). But after having sessions this fall on an old tar basketball/tennis/four square court, getting indoors onto the real court will be awesome.

“I’m hoping that we will be able to have the opportunity to play. There won’t be fans, but we will live stream games so folks can watch from home (or the parking lot). Even if it’s just a few matches and no playoffs, I think it’s important to have a season of some kind so as not to lose ground for the future.”

Falmouth is one team really hoping to play this academic year. Not only are the Yachtsmen the two-time defending large-class champions, they also have 6-3 senior outside hitter Annika Hester, a USD signee and the best player in the history of the state. 

“She played all fall and remains part of the team,” head coach Larry Nichols said. “She wants the season to happen as badly as anybody. It’s a real shame because she’s the best female player to step on the court in Maine. She is a great representative for volleyball in our state.”

MARYLAND
Nickname: The Free State
Capital city: Annapolis
Population: 6.0 million
Year of statehood: 1788

In August, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) postponed the 2020 high school fall and winter competition season during the first semester. One month later, the MPSSAA announced that all sports would be played in the spring. Two weeks after that came a reversal. Sports postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic could begin as early as October.

The MPSSAA gave counties two options for fall sports: start October 7 or February 13. All but two counties chose February.

“It is a county-by-county decision with probably no state championships,” said Westminster head coach Evan Frock. “Long postseason championships are not built into the schedule. There is one week at the end for a ‘culminating event’ like a county championship tournament or something like that. My county has started winter sports and are planning to start volleyball in February. Counties around us have completely shut down sports.”

“Some of the counties in Maryland played in the fall,” said experienced club coach Sam Danai.  “None of the urban areas played.  I know that Virginia HS volleyball is starting up again shortly, but I highly doubt that Maryland will play.  Maryland is much stricter about closing schools than Virginia has been.”

Contact John Tawa at jtawa@volleyballmag.com
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