COVID-19 has been front and center as we’ve recapped the girls high school volleyball season across the 50 these past few weeks (this is Part 4, with one more to come next Thursday). This insidious virus hit the volleyball community especially hard this week, when Chris Beerman lost his life to it on Sunday at age 53.
Beerman was my friend, a former Division I head coach, club director at Lexington United in Kentucky, product of the Ball State volleyball factory of coaches and volleyball dad to hard-hitting Kendall Beerman, whom I covered during her six-year varsity career at Tates Creek HS. She later played at Indiana.
On Saturday, I’d received word that Chris was watching college basketball from his hospital bed, responding to commands and initiating breathing on his own while remaining hooked up to a ventilator.
I was hopeful.
One day later he was gone.
His death hit me so hard that I cried for hours. And I wasn’t alone. Chris’ death had the same effect on other grown men and women around the country. He was that beloved!
I find myself incapable of writing more about him, so I’ll turn it over to John Critzer, himself a former college and club coach.
“To me he was an absolute titan of the game,” Critzer wrote. “I was at William & Mary and I watched him turn James Madison into a CAA powerhouse. The man was simply brilliant. It was like he had discovered a different game than the rest of us. Everything he touched turned to gold. And it never changed. Every kid, every team, every place he landed … they all were instantly better just because he was there. I was absolutely floored by the news today. Stunned is an understatement. You know me and you know I don’t do speechless. But today I am speechless.”
Chris (“Beerman” to know those who knew him) would insist that we go on without him. The game doesn’t stop, he’d probably say. And so, with him firmly affixed in my thoughts, I powered through, completing recaps from New Mexico to South Carolina. In honor of Chris.
On the day he died, Kendall Beerman posted a eulogy on Instagram. She closed like this (please excuse the profanity):
“Rest easy you fucking legend of a man. I’ll always know who I am because of you.”
Nickname: The Land of Enchantment
Capital city: Santa Fe
Population: 2.1 million
Year of statehood: 1912
New Mexico is one of several states attempting to play a girls high school volleyball season outside of its traditional fall slot. As it stands currently, the start date is February 15, with a state championship contemplated from March 29 through April 3.
Volleyball wasn’t always slated to be postponed from the fall because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In July, when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that “contact sports” would not be permitted during the fall at the high school level, only football and soccer were contemplated. The governor added at the time that volleyball and cross country were “under review” and would likely have their season starts delayed.
Sure enough, just a short time later, the New Mexico Activities Association revised its 2020-2021 athletic calendar. Volleyball would start October 5 and end in mid-December, a six-week delay from its traditional season.
In October, just a few days before volleyball was set to begin, the governor announced that her most recent public health order, which required practice limited to 10 or fewer and face coverings to be worn at all times, among other things, would not allow for fall sports to occur. The public health order was put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which had seen a resurgence in New Mexico.
Within the past week, Lujan Grisham has given the go-ahead for high school sports to resume. Football will start February 1. Volleyball, along with cross country, will start two weeks later.
Of course, another surge in COVID-19 cases could change all of that. According to reports, NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez told her board of directors last month that football has been pushed back as far as possible. She said that further delays would force the NMAA to begin canceling sports one at a time — starting with football and other fall sports.
Said the governor: “It’s just unfair. This virus is unfair.”
Nickname: The Empire State
Capital city: Albany
Population: 19.3 million
Year of statehood: 1788
On September 9, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association moved girls volleyball from the fall to March 1 along with other fall sports determined to be “high risk.” The decision was made to address concerns of its membership.
Low and moderate risk sports were authorized to begin practices in the fall, more than one month later than usual; but the NYSPHAA canceled all fall state championship events.
Gary Bynon, the legendary head coach at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, reported that the state association this past Friday afternoon approved “some kind of season” for high risk sports. A committee has been meeting since Saturday.
“Right now it is looking like a basketball season from February 1 through March 13 and a volleyball season from March 7 through April 30 will take place,” Bynon said. “This is section by section with no state playoffs.”
Nickname: The Tar Heel State
Capital city: Raleigh
Population: 10.6 million
Year of statehood: 1789
North Carolina has two distinct state associations that operate separately from one another and run their own state tournaments. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (“NCHSAA”) began in 1913 and is the much larger one. It governs public schools as well as privates. The North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (“NCISAA”) started in 1974. It has almost 100 schools, both Christian and college prep. The two associations often compete against one another in girls volleyball. In recent years, matches between North Raleigh Christian of the NCISAA and Green Hope of the NCHSAA have been legendary and have determined which team was the “best of the best” in the Tar Heel State.
Not this year, however.
The two state associations took different approaches to the coronavirus pandemic. The NCISAA delayed the fall season by just a month and was done with its state championships by early November. The NCHSAA delayed the season until mid-November and completed its state championships last weekend. Both associations made other COVID-specific modifications, including reducing the number of matches played during the season. But, because there was no overlap to the seasons, schools were not able to cross over to test themselves against schools from the other association.
So which team in North Carolina is the best of the best?
In the words of Kanye, “I guess we’ll never know.”
The NCISAA oversaw state finals in four classifications on Saturday, November 7. Streaks were continued in some instances. Championship pedigrees were created in others. All in all, it was an exciting day!
North Raleigh Christian captured its sixth consecutive large-class title. The Knights won three straight in 3A when it was the largest. They now have captured all three 4A titles with their dominating sweep of Cannon School.
NRCA has arguably the best two players in the state in setter/hitter Riley Buckley (Missouri) and MB Arica Davis (Ohio State). Both contributed mightily to the win. Buckley amassed 22 assists, 11 digs and four kills while Davis, who stands 6-4, had seven kills and six solo blocks. Other contributors included Megan Murray, who added 24 digs to her state-leading total; sophomore transfer Brynn Covell, who had 10 kills and nine assists; and Kayla Hawkins, who had 10 kills, including the match clincher.
The win completed North Raleigh Christian’s season at 17-1, the lone loss coming to Florida 7A champion Lyman at the Nike Tournament of Champions conducted in the Sunshine State. Indeed, the Knights did not lose a single set to an in-state opponent in 2020. They are 157-15 overall during the past six years. Six of those losses were to teams from outside of the state. Another three came at the hands of Green Hope.
NRCA head coach Chris Murray said that the secret to winning state was the same as it has been every year:
“1. God, 2. Team, 3. Me.”
“Molding girls to have Christ-like character and working harder than our opponents has always been the game plan,” she explained. “Over the past decade I have been at NRCA we have built a legacy and set a standard that has helped to get us where we are. We pushed ‘excellence’ for many years and set the bar very high. Our thought process is if we set it high and we believe it, then they will achieve it.
“In our gym failure is as important as success. We not only encourage it, we celebrate it! We have seen what ‘playing it safe’ will do to these girls who come into our gym from other environments scared to make mistakes. We don’t want robots, never have. God makes each of us unique and we believe this beautiful diversity of talent is what makes us successful. Tapping into that talent and allocating it is our job as coaches. With females already so self-deprecating, we try to create an atmosphere of freedom to make mistakes because that’s when you start growing. We just want the girls to be the best versions of themselves on and off the court and the winning will follow.”
Murray said that the biggest disappointment in a difficult but memorable year was not being able to play the schools from the NCHSAA.
“It was very frustrating that playing or even scrimmaging public schools was not an option this year since they started their season as we finished ours,” she said. “We had to get creative bringing in former alumni, men and even scrimmaging club teams so we could keep it competitive.
“All the practicing and little play was tough for the girls but we adjusted. Not being in the same season as the public schools was also disappointing because it took away from several other quality matches as well as additional matches in general. Thankfully winning against nationally ranked teams in the Florida tournament allowed our national rankings to climb. We did our best to train and remain competitive to win states, which is always the ultimate goal.”
Megan Schreck had nine kills to lead Cannon, a first-time finalist, in the loss.
A few days before Asheville Christian Academy’s first state playoff game, a member of head coach Torri Render’s household got Covid. Render was forced to quarantine for 10 days. She coached through Zoom as the Lions advanced to the state title match. Her quarantine ended one day before the state final and she was present as ACA claimed its 11th state title all-time, and first since 2017, in thrilling fashion. Cary Christian led 10-8 in the deciding fifth set of the 3A final before ACA rallied for the 15-13 win.
It wasn’t the only comeback required on the afternoon for the victorious Lions. They also trailed 24-21 in the second set before rallying to win, 27-25, to take a two sets to none lead. Cary Christian, playing in its first-ever final, surged to wins in Games 3 and 4 to force the fifth set. The Knights were five points away from a dramatic win but could not sustain the momentum against a determined ACA squad.
Sophomore Katie Alexander starred in the win for the Lions. She amassed a whopping 50 assists to go along with six kills and a team-high 20 digs. Four teammates collected double figure kills, including Riley Shuman (17), Peyton Hightower (14) and Elizabeth Harrington (11). Avery Jackson, the lone senior frontcourt player, also had a big day, with 15 kills and 17 digs.
“In the year of COVID, my girls persevered through quarantines, masks, no fans, spaced seats, spaced bus rides, and no handshakes and hugs,” Render said. “As a coach, I will most remember these girls and their resilient attitudes. They loved each other well and did not take a single day for granted because they knew at any moment COVID could take it away.”
Brianna Frazilus was incredible in defeat for Cary Christian. The junior compiled 29 kills, 19 digs and eight blocks. Freshman Macey Boyer contributed 19 kills and 20 digs, while senior Chloe Cochran made her last high school match memorable, amassing 13 kills and 12 blocks.
Caldwell Academy won a battle of unbeatens for the 2A title. The Eagles swept Gaston Day to capture their second title overall and first since 2015. Caldwell Academy is 2-2 in championship matches over the past six seasons.
Sophia Plasman, Lindsey MacDiarmid and Gabby Black combined for 36 kills in the win for Caldwell Academy, which finished the season 20-0. Drew Brown’s 10 kills led Gaston Day.
Lee Christian won its first state title, sweeping two-time defending champion Kerr-Vance Academy in the 1A final. Lee Christian had been knocked out of the playoffs the past two seasons by KVA and the school’s five seniors were determined not to suffer the same fate in their final year. The Falcons held Kerr-Vance below 20 points in each of the three sets.
Senior Taylor Draughn starred in the win for Lee Christian. She amassed 25 assists, 20 kills, 19 digs and three aces in a transcendent performance. Emma Dubuc added 22 digs, while Kayley Rowland and Emma Lodge both reached double figure kill totals. Zoey Hodges also shined for the Falcons, with eight kills and 17 digs.
The NCHSAA conferred four state championships on Saturday. Only Fred T. Foard was a repeat champion. The Tigers swept first timer McMichael for the 2A title. The title was the eighth all-time for Foard, which has never lost in a state championship final!
Foard head coach Meredith Lombardi, at the helm for the past two titles, said that hard work was the key to her team’s repeat.
“It sounds cliché, but hard work pays off!” she exclaimed. “This team came in day in and day out working their tails off and got better every single day. A state title has always been a huge end goal of ours and we never gave up on working towards that goal. They are a special group and that showed with the way they performed this season.”
A blend of junior and senior stars led the way for the victors. Senior Michelle Thao contributed 11 kills and 12 digs. Junior setters Haley Johnston and Sarah Lingle teamed for 33 assists and 18 digs. Seniors Megan Dorsey and Jamianne Foster and junior Martina Foster combined for 27 additional kills, while junior libero Lyndsie Warren picked up 12 digs.
Foard finished the year with a 19-0 record.
“This team showed me how they could persevere during the uneasy times and never give up,” Lombardi said. “They are so special. Not a day went by where they didn’t lose sight of our main goal.”
McMichael, which had the best season in school history at 17-2, became the first school ever from Rockingham County to make a state finals appearance. This was the first championship match appearance for head coach Marty Woods, who has compiled 715 wins in her 43 years on the bench between McMichael and Madison-Mayodan. Senior Cassidy Tanton, an Auburn recruit, led the Phoenix with a match-high 16 kills
Let there be no doubt that Cardinal Gibbons is the most successful high school program in North Carolina volleyball history. The Crusaders won six straight NCISAA titles from 1998 to 2003, then switched to the NCHSAA in 2005 and continued winning! On Saturday, Gibbons swept Providence to win its second 4A title. The Crusaders now have 11 state titles all-time between 2A, 3A and 4A in the 16 years since joining the NCHSAA. That’s second only to Hendersonville, which has 12!
Cardinal Gibbons’ state title, its first since 2015, completed an unbeaten season.
Head coach Logan Barber said the team had a very good returning core, including a backcourt that arguably was the best in the state. Taking the next step happened because senior OH Emily Chrysogelos grew into one of the best attackers in the state.
“She really broke through this year and was a huge part of our success,” he said.
Chrysogelos led the way with 22 kills, two more than the entire Providence team! Celia Ryan helped out with 38 assists, while Megan Beaver had 27 digs and Cara Newell had 11.
“The most memorable part of this season will be how the team came together as a group and really played for each other more than themselves as individuals,” Barber said. “They worked very hard to bring out everyone else’s strengths and hide their weaknesses and it was great to watch these girls that I’ve known for years become greater than the sum of their parts.”
Providence, which was bidding for an undefeated season and its first state title since 2011, came into the final on a high after edging four-time reigning 4A champion Green Hope in the semifinals. But the Panthers played Gibbons without their head coach, Maggie Malone, who was ill; and Madison Cail, the team’s kill leader, who had 27 against Green Hope, did not have a single one. Ella Tassy and Gabby LaPata had six each to lead Providence.
D.H. Conley won its last 14 matches to capture the 3A title, its third all-time and first since 2007. The Vikings defeated Cox Mill in three deuce games, 25-23, 25-23, 25-23, handing the Chargers their first loss of the season.
Conley won despite seeing two players, senior A’riana Crumpler and sophomore Kylah Silver, sidelined due to COVID-19 contact tracing. Junior Maddy May was named MVP after contributing 10 kills and eight digs to the win. With Game 3 tied at 23-23, Sarah Dees delivered an ace to give the Vikings the only match point they would need. Ella Philpot’s stuff block provided the clincher.
Raven Cray led Cox Mill with 21 kills. Robin Rosser chipped in with 14 kills and Ava Douglas added 37 assists.
East Wake Academy downed Mountain Island Charter in four sets for the 1A title. The win gave the Eagles (13-1) their first NCHSAA title in any sport!
EWA trailed 21-12 in the fourth set and was staring down the barrel of a winner-take-all fifth set when it used the serve of senior Eilis Thomas to rattle off 12 straight points. Mountain Island Charter closed within one but no closer.
Krista Brantley had 27 kills and Kristen Seavy contributed 35 assists and four aces to lead East Wake Academy. Lauren Pledger had 20 kills and Anaiah Jones added 15 in the loss for MIC, which finished the year 18-1.
Nickname: The Flickertail State
Capital city: Bismarck
Year of statehood: 1889
When I learned that North Dakota was named “The Flickertail State,” I thought, “How quaint! The state is named after a bird!” The official state bird, however, is the western meadowlark. That struck me as fishy and sent me on this quest to find out just what a flickertail was.
Turns out it’s a rodent.
Yep! A flickertail refers to the Richardson ground squirrels which are abundant in North Dakota. Apparently, the animal flicks or jerks its tail in a characteristic manner while running or just before entering its burrow.
The more you know … (Cue the shimmering rainbow star).
North Dakota plays volleyball in two classes. Class A consists of 22 school teams. Class B has a touch over 100. In 2021, the volleyball season started on time and ended on time. Business as usual. Or as close to it as possible in these COVID times.
Because it was business as usual, it should surprise no one at Century was in the Class A final. The Patriots have been in the championship match every year for the past 10, with six titles during that span.
Century was stunned in the championship match a year ago by Fargo Davies but exacted revenge this year by sweeping the Eagles in the semifinals. The Patriots then overcame a first set loss to West Fargo, a first time finals participant, to win in four sets. The victory completed an undefeated season at 24-0 and gave Century its fifth title over the past six seasons.
Four seniors played key roles. Outside hitter Julia Fitterer, a four-year contributor and future basketball player at the University of Mary in Bismarck, led the way with 19 kills and 22 digs. Megan Klein and Hattie Fitterer combined for 16 additional kills and six blocks. And libero Jocelyn Julson contributed a team-high 28 digs.
Century head coach Jamie Zastoupil said the key to the team’s undefeated season was getting the entire team to buy in.
“This summer, when we were told we couldn’t be in the gym until mid-July, we started our seniors in a leadership course where we met online,” Zastoupil explained. “They did a great job of utilizing this all season, both on the court and outside of the court. Our players also bought in to our training in the summer months and worked on getting stronger and faster. This carried us into the start of the season. We had a great group of athletes with tremendous work ethic. They weren’t going to take anything for granted and came to compete each day.”
COVID was part of Century’s day-to-day life, Zastoupil admitted.
“We had a few players test positive throughout the season but we were able to keep them as isolated instances that happened at the home,” she said. “We didn’t have any outbreaks on the team at one given time. Fortunately, we were not hit at tournament time with any illnesses or quarantines.”
Century got terrific work from several underclassmen in the championship match. Sophomore outside hitter Logan Nissley contributed 13 kills and 23 digs. Junior setters Delani Clarke and Abby Fletcher combined for 52 assists and 22 digs. Middles Macy Fridgen and Claire Bauman produced 13 kills and 12 blocks between them. The future remains bright for Patriot volleyball!
“I think the commitment of this group is what I will remember most,” Zastoupil said. “We had times when we had players/coaches in quarantine and they just stepped up and each transition was seamless at all levels. This group was very selfless and had big goals for the season. They got that focus going into each match.”
West Fargo finished the year with a record of 28-3. The Packers were led in the championship match by outside hitters Nadia Chwialkowski and Erin Binstock. Chwialkowski, a 6-0 junior, had 14 kills and two blocks. Binstock, a senior, contributed 11 kills and 23 digs in her final high school match.
The Linton/HMB Lions captured the Class B title with a sweep of Langdon Area/Edmore Munich in three tight sets (27-25, 25-20, 26-24). The win capped an undefeated season (25-0) and gave the Lions their first-ever volleyball title. Eight days before at the same Fargodome venue, the school’s 9-man football team also won a state title!
The first set sparked the Lion win. It was tied 11 times but Linton/HMB would not back down against the defending state champions. Knotted at 25 apiece, an ace by JayCee Richter, the coach’s kid, gave the Lions one final lead. Teegan Scherr’s kill clinched the win.
Scherr finished the match 20 kills, 18 digs and two aces. Richter had nine kills and ShayLee Bosch contributed seven. Sophomore setter Gracie Schumacher had a match-high 37 assists.
Cora Badding and Lexis Olson combined for 24 kills in the loss for Langdon/EM, which completed its season with a 22-3 record.
Nickname: The Buckeye State
Capital city: Columbus
Population: 11.7 million
Year of statehood: 1803
Mount Notre Dame was off to a 10-0 start to the 2020 season when it received devastating news: Michael Currin, the 19-year-old brother of senior libero Anna Currin, had been in an accident that would cost the University of Dayton student his life.
Anna Currin told a local paper that her brother said, “Keep going!” a lot when he was a basketball player at Moeller High in Cincinnati.
“That’s something we said on the court; keep going, keep going, keep going,” Anna Currin said. “Our word for this year was ‘persevere’ and I think we did just that.”
That perseverance was punctuated by a four-set win over Padua Franciscan for the Division I title, the first for the Cougars since winning three in a row from 2013 to 2015 and tenth all-time.
Head coach Chris Lovett, who has been coaching MND with Joe Burke for the past dozen years (they switched roles three years ago), said the entire season was one of perseverance. It started with COVID-19 protocols and some self-quarantining during the pre-season and included a stretch of two losses over three matches. Then there was Michael Currin’s tragic death and, 24 hours later, a severe asthma attack suffered by one of the team’s senior captains that turned into cardiac arrest (she would eventually make a full return to the court!). When asked how Mount Notre Dame was able to capture the state title, Lovett responded by saying this:
“I don’t think that we had any other choice.”
“With all that this team went through this year, I believe that this team was destined to persevere in the end,” he continued. “The team experienced three different seasons within one. The first was exciting as we got out of the gate very quickly with a 10-0 start. The second was time spent as family supporting one another while brushing the volleyball struggles away. The final season was when our girls decided that they were done mourning, done feeling sorry, and understood there was nowhere else to go but up.”
Mount Notre Dame spotted Padua the first set in the championship match. The same two teams met in the semifinal a year ago, with Padua, which was ranked No. 1 nationally at the time, prevailing in four sets. MND won in four this time to exact revenge, relegating the Bruins to runner-up status for the third year in a row.
Senior setter Megan Wielonski led the way with 36 assists, 10 digs and four aces for MND. Currin added 15 digs and two aces. Senior Ally Christman and Kristen McBride combined for 20 kills, which matched hard-hitting teammate Carly Hendrickson, one of the top juniors in the nation.
“As a team we served extremely aggressively with 11 aces,” Lovett said. “We had 9 blocks and hit .322 as a team (led by McBride, who had no errors on 19 swings). After the first set, which we lost 25-14, it was almost near perfect volleyball the rest of the way.”
Nine days ago, Lovett and Burke met with the team to announce that they were resigning. It’s a decision they’d made in May. The 2020 season would be the last no matter what.
“Looking back at the season, I believe that it was meant to be,” Lovett said. “We were meant to be together one last time … for us to face adversity together as a MNDVB family.”
With the loss, Padua (21-1) was denied its elusive sixth championship of all-time. After winning in 2016 and 2017, the Bruins have lost in the championship match three years in a row, a mark of consistent excellence unmatched in program history. Amanda Leigh led Padua in the loss with 42 assists, eight digs and five kills. Ella Grasson had 21 digs. The trio of Maria Futey, Kate Mihacevich and Brooke Cirigliano combined for 37 kills. Jordan Chessar finished with five kills and four aces.
From 2008 through 2014, no team came so close to winning state without actually winning than Gilmour Academy. The Lancers were runners up five times during that seven-year stretch. The team finally broke through with a championship in 2015, but, since then, the team had reverted to its old ways, twice making the state semifinals without reaching the championship match or winning another title.
That all changed in 2020, when Gilmour Academy used 24 kills from Kathryn Randorf, including the final two, to edge Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin, 15-13 in the fifth set.
Gilmour (23-1), which ousted NDCL in regional play a season ago, lost the first set but won the next two. The Lions used momentum gained at the end of the third set to take the fourth and force a fifth set, which featured five lead changes. Gilmour rallied from down 12-10 by scoring five of the final six points to win it.
Ava Nestor complemented Randorf’s effort with 55 assists and 13 digs of her own. Sabrina Gremm had 14 kills and Jocelyn Carter, whom head coach Dan Coughlin said was “the spark plug for the entire playoff run,” contributed 15 kills and five blocks. Libero Emmy Klika had 22 digs.
“The absolute fight they went through from the regional semifinals on, they battled” Coughlin said. “Bishop Hartley; five sets. Perkins was a hard three sets. Tippecanoe a long four sets, and then to battle a neighborhood rival in a five-set match … The fight they had to endure to win this was absolutely amazing to me.”
Coughlin added that the pandemic taught his players how to sacrifice for a common goal.
“These kids have lived in the volleyball pod since August,” he said. “They lived School-Practice-Home (repeat) daily till the end. They sacrificed friends and social lives for each other. On game days it was hard in the beginning to find a rhythm to play, especially in a quiet gym, but they made it work and found a way.”
Huron won its fifth volleyball title in program history, downing Independence in five sets in Division III. After dropping two of the first three sets to the Blue Devils, who were state runners up in 2018 and 2019 as well; Huron rallied to win the final two sets to claim the crown.
It was the second five-set battle between the teams this season. Huron also won the regular-season match.
After four close sets in the championship final, the fifth set favored Huron from the start. The Tigers tore out to an 8-2 lead, widened their advantage to 10-3 and then 13-4 before winning 15-7 on a Claire Solberg tip. Solberg finished with 13 kills and nine blocks. Sophie Lee added 18 kills and seven blocks, Makenna Schafer contributed 16 kills and eight blocks and Izzie Cozzie chipped in with 25 digs. Georgi Moody was a standout at the setter position for Huron, delivering 51 assists along with eight kills and 22 digs.
Grace Smotek had a monster match for Independence in the loss. The senior outside hitter finished with 26 kills and 24 digs. Junior Callie Prokopius added 16 kills and 12 digs, while junior Abby Avila chipped in with 56 assists and 12 digs.
Calvert won its second Division IV title in three years with a four-set win over defending champion New Bremen. The undefeated Senecas, whose championships have come at New Bremen’s expense both times, avenged a 2019 regional playoff loss to the Cardinals in the process.
Emma White starred for Calvert, with 37 assists, six kills, four blocks and 20 digs. Hannah Miller contributed 12 kills and 20 digs, while Caroline Lanick amassed 12 kills and six blocks.
Claire Pape led New Bremen with 41 assists, 20 digs and six kills. Josie Reinhart, Elli Roetgerman and Kaylee Freund combined for 40 kills.
Nickname: The Sooner State
Capital city: Oklahoma City
Population: 4.0 million
Year of statehood: 1907
Bishop Kelley won the first set of the 6A state championship match versus Mustang and led big in the second. It appeared certain that the Comets, who came into the final riding a 24-match winning streak, would sweep to their record 19th state title since 1989 and their first in 6A.
Late in the second set, however, senior Audrey Buford went down with an ankle injury.
The crowd and players on Bishop Kelley’s team let out a collective gasp. The team had lost a senior starting outside hitter to injury two weeks before. Now this?
Buford wasn’t just any starter for the team. She was a setter and a hitter for Bishop Kelley, a four-year starter, captain, two-time team MVP and arguably the best player in the state. The Comets could not afford to lose her!
Buford had never rolled her ankle before and was scared. She watched from the sideline as Mustang, which had won seven titles in program history but none since 1984, dominated the third set.
In the fourth set, after she’d calmed down a bit, she told Bishop Kelley’s athletic trainer, “Let’s tape it up and see what you think.” She subsequently re-entered the game and, while she wasn’t 100 percent, she provided great leadership over the final two sets, a 27-25 set four loss and a 15-13 win in the fifth. Buford, who was named MVP, and finished with 13 kills, 28 assists and 11 digs. Longtime head coach Jerri Berna called it “a gritty performance.”
Two other Comets shined in the final in what Berna stressed “took everyone.” Senior Emma Frette (10 kills, 25 assists, five digs, three aces, three blocks) and freshman Curry Kendall (18 kills, five digs, two aces) joined Buford on the All-Tournament Team. The title was the second for BK over the past three seasons. The Comets lost to Victory Christian in the 2019 5A final.
Berna, who has presided over 15 of the titles in her 24 years at Bishop Kelley, said this one would be special for a lot of reasons, including COVID-19.
“We had a lot of adjustments to make early, COVID protocols, occasional postponements, cancellations and the like,” she said. “Tryouts were postponed and rescheduled three times. We opted not to utilize our schools’ strength and conditioning coach and program just to keep us together and in less contact with others. We limited locker room time, pushed social distancing in huddles, team meetings, wore masks always except when on the court, sanitized our hands like crazy, sanitized our balls after every practice and warm up, actually canceled scheduled events due to concerns about positive tests and potential exposure (only a few times), changed how we did game day meals and coolers for tournaments, limited fans and even had a couple of “no fan” events but made livestreaming available, traveled with smaller teams to follow bus protocols, and so much more…
“Probably the biggest thing affected was our team culture that we could not develop as we would normally do. We kept our teams more separate, didn’t do as much team building, didn’t do service projects together, just generally did not hang out as much together, etc.”
Berna said all of this contributed to the team’s 6-3 start. After losing to Arkansas large-class champion Fayetteville, Berna said her team “went to a different level mentally,” which spurred the season-closing winning streak.
“We didn’t just whip up on everyone but always found ways to win,” she said.
Victory Christian won state for the fourth straight year, downing Mount St. Mary in straight sets in the Class 5A final. The Conquerors finished the year on a 10-match winning streak.
Bella Wakley and Jessa Gilyard, both juniors, led the way for Victory Christian.
Mount St. Mary, which entered the match having won 13 in a row, was denied its third title since 2013. Hadley Moses led the way for the Rockets, who lost in the state championship match for the third time over the past four years.
Lincoln Christian won a third straight state title. The Bulldogs, led by their seven seniors, swept past Christian Heritage to claim the Class 4A crown.
Lincoln Christian, which lost 10 times, got hit early in the year by COVID-19, but the team’s seniors — Naya Ross, Abby Cunningham, Micah Clayton, Eva Trompler, Raena Marick, Bayleigh Smith and Hope Keltner – kept the team pointed in the right direction all the way to the end. The title was the fourth for the school all-time.
Community Christian School won its third title in six seasons, rallying from down two sets to one to defeat Heritage Hall for the 3A championship. The Royals, without a senior on the roster, rode Landry Braziel’s right arm to the title. The freshman finished with 35 kills total, including 13 in the final two sets when Community Christian needed them most.
Community Christian, which won the fifth set going away after bolting to a 7-1 lead, supported Braziel’s big night with 10 kills from fellow freshman Victoria Gray and six kills and nine blocks from junior Channing Apel.
Senior Daphne Matthews had 22 kills to lead Heritage Hall.
Nickname: The Beaver State
Capital city: Salem
Population: 4.2 million
Year of statehood: 1859
The state of Oregon is still trying to get high school athletics off the ground this academic year. Governor Kate Brown has recognized the importance of returning to in-person instruction and the need for scholastic athletic competition. Both can happen if hospital capacity returns to manageable levels rather than the overflow the state has seen recently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As things stand currently, teams are scheduled to begin practice in February 22 and play matches starting one week later. The regular season will be five weeks long with a culminating week to follow.
What will the culminating week look like?
Assistant Executive Director KT Emerson said that the Volleyball Contingency Group has discussed a lot of various options and all options remain in the discussions ahead.
“One of the main concerns that has been brought up has been regarding travel,” she added. “Remaining local/regional during regular season play and possibly during the Culminating Week Event for volleyball has been communicated as a priority.”
Do keep one thing in mind: just because there is a season tentatively mapped out does not mean that it will be played.
“There is not a definitive answer on what has to happen to be able to allow the current schedule to play,” Emerson stressed. “However, for a school to participate in indoor volleyball competitions, the school must be in a county that is below the Extreme Risk county level.”
Jesuit, the 2019 6A champions, has been affected the most by the disruption to the volleyball season. The Crusaders returned almost everyone (11 total) and were prohibitive favorites to repeat as champions.
“My players were a bit discouraged about not being able to play,” head coach Teresa Zimmerlee admitted. “We have five seniors who wanted the chance to defend their title, and the rest of the team ‘hungry’ to contribute.”
Zimmerlee added that whatever happens, her team will be ready.
“They have been motivated to stay in shape during the ‘off season,’” she said.
If volleyball plays as scheduled, high school and club will conflict.
“The CEVA (Columbia Empire Volleyball Association) has said they will work with the high school ‘season,’ ” Zimmerlee explained. “I am willing to work with all of the different club coaches to give the athletes a chance to play as much as possible. It should be about the players getting a chance to participate in the different games they love and play.”
Nickname: The Keystone State
Capital city: Harrisburg
Population: 12.8 million
Year of statehood: 1787
Clarion Area had gotten close the previous two years.
In 2018, the Bobcats lost in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals to eventual-champion Northern Cambria. Last year, Northern Cambria got them again, this time in the semifinals, on its way to repeating.
In 2020, Clarion was not going to be denied, even after falling behind 8-2 in the opening set of the Class A final versus Marian Catholic.
The Bobcats had set lofty goals at the beginning of the season: league championship, district championship, undefeated season, state championship. Shari Campbell’s team had already accomplished two of those goals. The other two lay just three set wins away …
Clarion did not panic. Behind the serving of Aryana Girvan, the Bobcats matched Marian’s 8-2 run with one of their own. And the rout was on. Clarion won, 25-16, 25-14, 25-15, to cap a 24-0 season and secure the school’s second volleyball championship of all time and first since 2012.
“This group of amazing young women, they have the best work ethic I have ever seen,” Campbell said. “This team stayed focused on the task of winning a state championship. That made for a great environment for a team to succeed.”
Junior Korrin Burns, a star since her freshman year, led the way with 19 kills, seven digs and two aces. Senior Erica Selfridge, a transfer from Bainbridge-Guilford, also had a huge match, with 18 kills, 16 digs and seven aces. Senior setter Brenna Campbell, the coach’s daughter, ran the show to perfection to the tune of 39 assists.
The season was memorable for so many reasons, Coach Campbell said. She eclipsed 400 career wins, her daughter went over 3,000 career assists and both Burns and Selfridge reached 1,000 career kills, to name a few.
“This team was all in and every day in the gym was a gift,” Campbell said. “The team achieved every goal it set and they did it in such a definitive way, only losing one set. 26-24, to Maplewood in September. Personally, achieving this with my daughter, Brenna, was very special. She has watched so many great teams before her go after their goals and has been influenced by it all. It is very gratifying to see all the hard work come to fruition.”
Hard-hitting senior Alivia Kartchner led Marian Catholic, which was playing in its seventh state championship match.
North Allegheny had the setting and the hitting. But digging and passing had been inconsistent all season long. Only ball control could hold the Tigers back. It almost cost the Tigers in a five-set semifinal win over Hempfield. Would it be a hindrance in the final as well?
Firing on all cylinders, North Allegheny (18-0) stormed past Unionville, 25-13, 25-22, 25-20, to win the 4A championship. The title was the fourth in succession for the Tigers.
Paige Morningstar had 30 assists and Mia Tuman and Paige Miller teamed for 27 kills in the win. Caroline Curran had 16 digs.
Sophie Brenner led Unionville with 11 kills and five blocks.
Bethlehem Catholic won its second volleyball title all-time by sweeping first-time finalist Franklin Regional in the Class 3A final.
Big hitting junior MacKenzy Ruggiero led the way for the Golden Hawks with 13 kills, including the final two to close out the match. Jodi Hewitt added 10 kills, while Kyleigh Brown led a stout defense.
Trinity defeated Philipsburg-Osceola to claim its first state title, winning in four sets for the Class 2A title. One year after making the semifinals for the first time, the Shamrocks went all the way and finished undefeated to boot!
Lauren Trumpy had 19 kills and six blocks and Gracie Britten contributed 17 kills and 12 blocks for the victors.
Freshman hitter Reese Hazelton led Philipsburg-Osceola.
Nickname: The Ocean State
Capital city: Providence
Population: 1.1 million
Year of statehood: 1790
The fall came and went and cross country, field hockey, tennis and soccer all played and crowned champions.
Two other fall sports, football and volleyball, were deferred to “Fall 2,” the latter because it’s a sport played indoors. Fall 2 is slated to be played in between the traditional winter and spring seasons.
The problem is that COVID-19 delayed the start of the winter season. Basketball, hockey, et al. were just cleared to start competition last Friday, weeks later than their original start date. What that means for volleyball is uncertain.
“Due to this, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League has a number of logistical hurdles to clear to sort out Fall 2, but I’m nearly 100% confident we will have a six- to seven-week season, with hopefully 10-12 matches and a simple one week, quarter, semi and final,” said Brian Garrepy, one of the coaches for powerful North Kingstown.
“The fall sports did have championship competitions, and the winter sports are planning on some form of championship competition; therefore, I am hopeful we will, too. This would most likely run from the beginning/middle of March through the middle/end of April. Obviously, everything is subject to change.”
Nickname: The Palmetto State
Capital city: Columbia
Population: 5.2 million
Year of statehood: 1788
Just like North Carolina (see above), the state of South Carolina has two distinct governing bodies for high school sports. Unlike North Carolina, both of the state’s association, the South Carolina High School League and the South Carolina Independent School Association, played volleyball more or less on schedule last fall.
In the public school league, Wando was not considered a favorite to win the Class AAAAA title in 2020. The Warriors had been a force the previous decade. They made six straight appearances in the large-class state championship match from 2013 through 2018, with two titles, but last year’s squad lost 10 matches and in the state quarterfinals and head coach Alexis Glover thought the 2020 team was slated for about the same kind of year.
But Wando proved to be better than that and lost just once during the regular season. Still, the Warriors were not favored to win state, especially after Region 7-AAAAA Player of the Year Brynn Whitehair, a Marshall recruit, went down with a season-ending knee injury before the playoffs began. Still, Wando persevered and made its way to the final to face formidable T.L. Hanna. Senior dominated, Hanna had been knocking at the door the past several years but was making its first finals appearance.
Becky Easton’s Yellow Jackets did not play like first timers at all. After dropping the first set, T.L. Hanna dominated the next two. Glover thought Wando might not be able to come back, but the players scrapped to a 25-22 Game 4 win and took the fifth, 15-11, thanks to strong defense and timely attacks from the right side.
“The team vowed that we would win it all for Brynn and they did,” Glover said.
Senior setter Ava McCarthy led the way for Wando with 45 assists, 14 digs, five kills and two aces, but she was hardly the only Warrior to shine in the championship match. Senior libero Chandley Thompson amassed 37 digs, sophomore RS Emma Sanders hit .412 with 12 kills and four blocks and sophomore Hasting Witt contributed 11 kills and 12 digs.
That’s not all, however. Underclass middles Emily King and Aurie Fisher teamed for 20 kills and seven blocks, junior DS Ella Hudock had 14 digs and sophomore Hannah Togami contributed eight kills and was a stalwart in serve-receive.
“The team ended up having no star player,” Glover said. “At the end of it all, it was six to eight girls with a common goal to win the state for their senior Captains Brynn and Chandley. They just worked together, supported each other through tough plays, lifted up each other when they made mistakes, helped the younger player keep focus. Chandley, our senior captain and libero, just kept a total positive attitude with the players and helped them stay confident.”
Glover said that COVID-19 certainly impacted the season, from preparation to staying safe to staying positive. The team persevered through it all.
“The team was ready to be normal,” Glover said. “In the gym, volleyball was their normal.”
Four seniors led the way in the loss for Hanna. Bella Easton, coach Becky Easton’s daughter, had 40 assists, 16 digs and five kills. Libero Kate Curtis amassed 17 digs. Rylee Moorhead led the offense with 18 kills, 14 digs and three blocks. Megan Vickery had a strong all-around game, contributing 13 kills, six blocks and three aces.
At Hilton Head Island, head coach Garret Talarczyk watched as four fall teams at the school went into quarantine due to COVID-19. If the Seahawks were going to win in Class AAAA, they had to avoid a similar fate. Teams had been knocked out of the playoffs because of the virus. It would only take one Covid case and their season could be through.
“This year with Covid, we knew if we wanted to win a state championship, we would need to stay healthy,” Talarczyk said. “This team had the right recipe for a state championship: talent, depth and selflessness. All players and coaches were committed to putting the team first. What that meant was everyone needed to practice social distancing, even at home.”
Hilton Head Island stayed healthy throughout the playoffs and captured the AAAA title in four sets over Pickens. It was their first title in that classification and second overall after winning Class AAA in 2015.
Junior Ady O’Grady was the catalyst for the Seahawks, putting up 31 kills. Fellow junior Mckenzie Ryan contributed a double-double, with 15 kills and 18 digs. Sophomore Makenna Mason put up 56 assists.
Powdersville won its third straight AAA title by sweeping Oceanside Collegiate. Powdersville captured its first title in 2018 when it stopped Bishop England’s 18-year run. The Patriots haven’t stopped since, aided by four seniors who helped build the program.
Seniors Olivia Knutson and Grace O’Neill were catalysts in the win. Taylor Hills had 13 kills and libero Jordan Bartemeyer was her usual stellar self on defense to lead Oceanside, which lost in the Class AA finals in both 2018 and 2019.
Chesnee won its first volleyball title, defeating Andrew Jackson, 25-7, 25-12, 25-17, in Class AA. The Eagles ran through the playoff without dropping a set and did not trail in the championship match until early in the third set.
Kaitlyn Barrett had 16 kills and nine digs, A.C. Yelton added 11 kills, 11 digs and three aces and Holly Hines contributed 33 assists and five aces in the win.
Southside Christian returned to the state championship final for the first time since winning it all in 2010 and did it again. The Sabres swept Bamberg-Erhardt to capture the Class A title.
Southside Christian was led by a talented senior class – Claire Speaks, Hannah Fuller, Kennedy Key and Grace Rothman – which was determined to put tough playoff losses the past three years aside and win in their final year.
The SCISA championships were highlighted by a thrilling rematch between Porter-Gaud and Cardinal Newman for the Class AAA title. Porter-Gaud (17-5) swept the Cardinals a year ago to capture its ninth title over the past 10 seasons and were looking to win again behind 6-4 MB Marianna Singletary, one of the nation’s top juniors. Newman, however, came into the match with the shinier record, 32-1 (its lone loss to T.L. Hanna) and revenge on its mind.
The match was incredibly close. The teams split 25-23 results before Porter-Gaud surged to a 25-16 win in Game 3 to gain momentum. Cardinal Newman recovered in the fourth and opened up an 18-12 lead before hanging on to the deuce win, which set up the final set to 15 for the title.
The fifth set was tied at 12-12 before Newman scored the final three points, on consecutive kills from Ashlynn Watkins, Erin Allert and Anna Logan Gillens, to clinch the win.
Gillens finished with 21 kills to lead the Cardinals, who are underclass dominated. Logan Watson added 43 assists and 13 digs. Allert had seven kills and six blocks.
Singletary had 29 kills, eight digs and four aces to lead Porter-Gaud. Alex Hairi added 15 kills and 16 digs.
Spartanburg Christian Academy won its fifth straight Class 2A title with a sweep of Northside Christian. Abigail Breeden starred for the Warriors and Emmie Lancaster delivered the title-clinching kill.
Newberry Academy won the Class A title for the first time in program history, rallying past Patrick Henry in four sets.
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