A little less than one month ago, I embarked on a project to recap girls high school volleyball across the 50 states and Washington D.C. for VolleyballMag.com. Five articles and more than 50,000 words later, I am done. Mercifully.
(Editor’s note: That’s what John thinks. This report is so comprehensive we’re actually going to break it into two parts. This story includes nine states, while the 10th — Texas — will post Friday).
In this final edition, which covers states from South Dakota to Wyoming, read about Musselman of West Virginia’s extraordinary efforts to get to play despite COVID-19 setbacks, Lovejoy of Texas’ push to remain relevant in the national championship chase and how Brentwood of Tennessee was able to honor its legendary but stricken coach with one final state title. These are just some of the countless compelling stories of triumph you will find below.
Soon, I will transition to covering the club scene. You can expect the same comprehensive, high-quality journalism from me that I’ve given you over the past four weeks. If you have enjoyed it, I want to encourage you (I’m not pleading just yet) to become a Sustaining Member of VolleyballMag.com. You know that big blue box you see whenever you come to the site? The one with the red “X” in the upper right corner that you click in order to get to the free articles? I encourage you to contribute to the cause of quality journalism. You can give as little as $10 for a year or as much as $120.
Give what you can but please give. It’s the ONLY way the folks who run the site will be able to pay for my continued contributions. Here’s the link: https://volleyballmag.com/sustaining-membership/
Now, I mentioned above that I am done with my work on high school volleyball recaps.
You, however, are not.
Remember that test I promised in the first article? It’s just FIVE questions long and you will find it at the very bottom. It shouldn’t take too long if you’ve been reading carefully. I will choose two winners at random on Valentine’s Day and they will get a whole bunch of goodies! Good luck!
Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State
Capital city: Pierre
Year of statehood: 1889
Northwestern defeated Warner in four sets to capture the Class B title, the ninth under head coach Nora Groft.
That Northwestern and Warner met for the Class B title should surprise no one familiar with South Dakota small-school volleyball.
Northwestern entered the match having won two of the last three titles and 11 overall since 1999.
Warner was making its eighth appearance in the championship match over the past decade and was in search of its fifth title.
In 2017, Northwestern defeated Warner in a four-set final to claim the title. In 2018, Warner turned the tables, also in four sets. In 2019, a season in which Northwestern went 42-0, the Wildcats ousted Warner in the semifinals.
This season, each team lost just one match heading into the state tournament. Northwestern’s loss came to Class AA champion O’Gorman in a tournament. Warner’s lone loss came at the hands of Northwestern, which registered an impressive home sweep early in September.
Northwestern, which had been dominant in its classification all year, stormed to the championship match on the strength of two workmanlike sweeps. Warner, on the other hand, needed five sets in its quarterfinal match, then four to overcome Chester Area, another longtime power, in the semifinals.
Powered by senior outside hitters Hannah Schentzel and Sydney Schell, who were playing in their fourth straight state championship match, Northwestern dominated the first set, 25-14. Warner responded behind Jennifer Aman, who finished the match with 28 kills to win the second. Although the Monarchs fought to the finish, Northwestern was just too tough. The Wildcats took the final two sets to clinch victory, capped by four straight aces from Schentzel for the win!
“Our servers executed our serving strategy perfectly to keep the opposition out of system,” Groft said.
Schell, the state’s Miss Volleyball recipient, finished the match with 22 kills, 20 digs and four blocks. Schentzel added 12 kills, 18 digs and five aces. Sophomore setter Brooklinn Halvorson joined her senior mates on the All-Tournament team by contributing 38 assists, 12 digs, 3 kills, and 2 aces. Joclyn Haven contributed 16 digs.
“We played to our strengths in the championship match, going to our experienced senior outside hitters,” Groft said. “These two worked the game plan of mixing up routes to the pin and quicks up the middle while hitting a variety of shots in each rotation.”
Northwestern finished its season 29-1. The Wildcats won despite the threat of COVID-19 being all around them. They used hand sanitizer by the gallon, wore masks faithfully, survived contact tracing (which caused the quarantine of a player and both assistant coaches) and played a reduced schedule.
“Our parents and community members really bought into doing whatever it took to save our season, and they all had fun, even with the ‘new rules,’ ” Groft said. “Parents even wore hazmat suits during the championship match! Our community received the Covid Crusher award at the state tournament for the community and team who took the most stringent precautions.”
“Winning the 2020 state title still just seems so surreal,” Groft added. “I still can’t believe we got to play our season and win the championship! When we watch the news, we see so many schools not even in session and so many people hurting. We know we are just so very fortunate to live where we do and to just be kids playing a kids’ game.”
Senior-heavy O’Gorman completed an historic season in Class AA. The Knights, who lost in the final a year ago, overcame a Game 3 loss to Huron with a Game 4 rally to capture their first title since 2014 and seventh overall. In so doing, they became the first school in the state’s highest classification to go through the season unbeaten in 29 years!
After O’Gorman won the first two sets handily, Huron fought back in the third and tied up O’Gorman at 10-10 in the fourth before the Knights finished on a 15-8 run to clinch victory.
O’Gorman captured the title behind the sister duo of Raegen and Bergen Reilly. Raegen, a senior committed to North Dakota State, had 24 assists, nine kills and 11 digs. Bergen, one of the best sophomores in the nation, contributed 12 kills, 10 digs, seven assists and four aces. Brynn Askew and Emma Mckay teamed for 27 digs.
Huron, making its first finals appearance since 1999, got 20 kills combined from Brooke Schlitz and Brynn Gose. Tenley Buddenhagen added 34 assists, 10 digs and four aces. Bryn Huber finished with 23 digs.
Sioux Falls Christian won its fourth straight title, and ninth in 11 years, by sweeping Dakota Valley in Class A, a rematch of last year’s final. The Chargers (28-1), whose only loss on the season came at the hands of O’Gorman, dominating the match in every area, with the exception of 12 service errors.
Seniors Kelsi Heard (28 assists and six digs) and Abby Glanzer (19 kills) led the way for SFC. Junior Kylah vanDonkersgoed added four kills, four assists, 19 digs and three blocks.
Rachel Rosenquist led young Dakota Valley with eight kills, 12 digs and three blocks. The Panthers were playing in their sixth championship match this decade. They won in 2013 and 2016. All four losses have been against Sioux Falls Christian.
Nickname: The Volunteer State
Capital city: Nashville
Population: 6.9 million
Year of statehood: 1796
Brentwood captured its 16th state title this past fall over the 33 years that Barbara Campbell has been coaching the Bruins. Brentwood’s sweep of Siegel in the AAA championship match marked the eighth consecutive season that the team had lofted the winner’s trophy.
But suffice it to say, this was a year unlike any other, and not just because of COVID-19.
Six weeks into the season, Campbell suffered a stroke. She hadn’t been feeling well for some time before that, but the stroke, which required an extended hospital stay and a drain placed in her head for several days to relieve bleeding in her brain, finally sent her to the sidelines.
In her stead, assistant coaches Angie Noble or Cathy Cram took over, although Campbell’s influence was ever present.
With senior stars, like Shaye Eggleston, Mary Oldham and Haley Sanders, and standout junior Hollye Tate, Brentwood was heavily favored, before the season, to capture its eighth title in succession. And it played like that, even when Campbell wasn’t coaching from the bench.
Heading into the playoffs, the Bruins had lost just three matches: to Alabama large-class champion Hoover, perhaps the best team in Alabama history; to Class AA champion Nolensville, a team they also twice defeated; and to Siegel, a team they had also bested three times.
As expected, Brentwood swept its way into the championship match. Siegel, on the other hand, had to fight through the loser’s bracket after losing in the quarterfinals to Maryville. The Stars won four in a row, including two in five sets, to reach the title tilt opposite well-rested Brentwood.
Brentwood warmed up for the championship match, its players not expecting Campbell to be present. The gold crown, adorning the last seat on the bench as it had throughout Campbell’s absence from the team, was already in place. The players did not know that, an hour before the match, Noble had called Campbell. Campbell had decided not to attend, fearing she’d be a distraction, but Noble implored her to appear. Ten minutes before first serve, Campbell arrived, took her familiar spot at the end of the bench and it was on:
25-7, 25-18, 25-14.
It was a rout, a far cry from the five-set loss Brentwood suffered when the Bruins last played Siegel one month before.
Laura Howell had 23 assists and Brooke Gilliland, Taylor Sanders and Jaida Clark teamed for 21 kills for Siegel, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
Eggleston delivered a match-high 18 kills for the victors, including the final point that clinched the sweep. The Alabama commit added nine digs and three blocks. Oldham added five kills and five aces. Dylan Sulcer finished with 23 assists.
Brentwood’s five seniors — Eggleston, Oldham, Sophie Frolich, Reese Bailey and Mary Sanders – finished their high school careers with 170 wins in addition to those four titles.
Three weeks ago, Campbell, 70, delivered the news those who love her and Brentwood volleyball hoped not to hear: She was resigning after 33 years.
“This is torture to leave my program, but it’s in my best interest and it’s time to let go,” she told local media.
Campbell leaves with 1,765 wins against fewer than 300 losses. Her win total is second all-time nationally in the history of the sport.
She will be missed.
Nolensville, a school that opened only five years ago, repeated as Class AA champions. The Knights (37-4) got by Anderson County in four sets.
Middle blocker Jazmyn Jenkins delivered the clinching kill, one of her 12, for Nolensville, which also got 11 from Maggie Rickert. Libero Lauren Starcke added 32 digs and two aces and was named championship MVP.
Seniors Morgan McMurray and Matti Rowland combined for 29 kills in the loss for Anderson County, which won its only title in 1999 and has finished runner-up five times since.
Summertown (35-4) successfully defended its 2019 Class A title with a sweep of county rival Loretto. Loretto last won a title in 2018 but was no match in the championship final for the Eagles. Summertown’s victory was its seventh this year against the Mustangs in as many chances.
Miya Cole Brown was named MVP and Katie Burdette had 14 kills for the victors. Karly Weathers and Laney Weathers had six kills apiece to lead Loretto, which saw only juniors and sophomores play in the championship match.
Goodpasture won its first state title in Division II-A and first since winning five in a row between 2012 and 2016 in Class A and Class AA. The Cougars avenged a sweep at the hands of Notre Dame one day before in the winner’s bracket final by downing the Fighting Irish in four sets in the state championship match.
Senior setter Miriam Fletcher’s 53 assists earned her MVP honors. Olivia Jones and Caroline Whitman added a combined 37 kills and 35 digs.
McKenna Brown had 20 kills and 15 digs and Mary Fillauer contributed 36 assists for Notre Dame, which came within 28-26 in the fourth of extending the match to a deciding fifth set.
Though Briarcrest Christian was the two-time defending Division II-AA champion, the Saints came into the state tournament filled with doubt. The team had played far fewer matches than usual – restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic to playing only teams in its league – and, in the two biggest challenge matches of the season, versus St. Agnes, had lost both of them, each in five sets.
In the two weeks leading up to the state tournament, Briarcrest Christian responded to the leadership and inspiration of head coach Carrie Yerty.
“We took it up a notch in our training and team bonding,” said April Jauregui, one of the team’s assistant coaches. “It was hard to bond this season with the limitations in place due to COVID. It was harder to push them on a daily basis with so much in flux and matches being canceled and rescheduled. We really didn’t know what our team was made of.”
In its first state tournament match, Briarcrest Christian edged Knoxville Catholic, rallying from down 13-9 in the fifth to score six in a row to pull out the stunning win. The Saints then twice swept Baylor. The second time — 25-18, 25-12, 25-18 — gave them their third title in a row, fourth in five years and fifth in school history.
“Our team rebounded and our team responded,” Jauregui said. “The best we have played all year was at the state tournament. We saw another level in our team. When we were down in the semifinal match and fought back to win, that was the moment we knew we could do this again.”
Senior Zykia Jones was named championship MVP after delivering 14 kills and five aces for Briarcrest Christian. Senior Chloe Bryan added nine kills and three blocks. Two underclassmen, Ava Grissom (eight blocks) and Ashley Pruitt (32 assists) also were instrumental in what Jauregui said was a team win.
“Without the play of our entire team, this championship is not possible,” she said. “Unlike the majority of the season, not everyone played at the state tournament, but every player helped prepare us to get there. It wasn’t without bumps in the road and it wasn’t without setbacks. We learned some valuable lessons about ourselves.”
Elaine Redman had nine kills, nine assists and 10 digs in the loss for Baylor, which was vying for its fifth title overall but first since 2017.
Nickname: The Beehive State
Capital city: Salt Lake City
Population: 3.2 million
Year of statehood: 1896
When Timpview head coach Charmay Lee took the job three years ago, she vowed to the administration that the Thunderbirds would win state in three years.
She was right.
In November, Timpview won state for the first time since 2014, outlasting Mountain View in five sets for the 5A title.
The two teams had split regular season matches and the teams were evenly matched through four sets, each winning two and losing two. Although Timpview lost the fourth set, its rally from down seven points to make it a deuce game gave the Thunderbirds all the momentum going into Set 5. Timpview bolted to a 4-0 lead in the deciding set, on the serve of sophomore setter Silinia Damuni, and pulled away for the win, clinching on a kill from sophomore Tailah Lee.
“Playing for each other; that’s what helped us win the state title,” coach Lee said. “We changed the culture, we changed the way we trained in the offseason and in-season, and we changed the way we approached each game. We taught our players to put aside their own wants for the benefit of the team.”
When Lee started, Timpview had a good core of upperclassmen to build around and a slew of great young players. They melded into a team that stared down all comers. The Thunderbirds scheduled top 6A teams during the regular season to get better, which helped them take down the top-ranked 5A team, Bountiful, in the state semifinals.
“We knew that by beating the No. 1 ranked team we had a good chance of winning the 5A state title and we did,” Lee said.
Damuni, the 5A MVP, posted 44 assists, 16 digs and four aces in the match for the victors. Junior middle Brielle Rueckert chipped in with 15 kills and four blocks. Lee had 11 kills, 16 digs and two aces. Sophomore libero Eunice Garcia contributed 44 digs. Senior Kesa Makasini had 12 kills and three blocks and fellow senior Tricia Tua’one had 12 kills and four blocks. All six players were named All-State, the first time in state history that six out of seven starters were named either First, Second or Third Team All-State.
Lee said the team wanted to win for its seniors, Makasini, Tua’one, Nani Hopoate and Grace Wilson.
“I will remember the joy on my players’ faces after we won state,” Lee said. “They were so happy, especially our four seniors. What a way to end your high school volleyball career! All four of them have been a part of the Timpview volleyball program since their freshmen year and to see them go from one of the last teams in our region four years ago to state champions was very gratifying. You are state champs and no one can ever take that away from you.”
Mia Lee, Lucy Perez and Julia Cavalcanti were standouts for Mountain View, which won state in 2019 after a 27-year drought.
From late August until last September, Lone Peak played just one volleyball match. Between players being sidelined due to COVID-19 contact tracing or other teams dealing with outbreaks or quarantines, matches could not come together.
“We were definitely doubting if the season would happen,” head coach Reed Carlson said. “We were extremely grateful to play out the season.”
On November 7, Lone Peak found itself playing in the final match of the season. Riding 17 kills from senior Lauren Jardine (Wisconsin), the Knights upended Copper Hills in four sets to capture the 6A title. Not only was the championship Lone Peak’s fourth over the past five years, it also provided a measure of revenge, as Copper Hills knocked the team from the playoffs a year ago.
Carlson said that the decision, later in the season, to commit to a 6-2 offense, with freshman Zoe Burgess stepping in to play a right side position, took a solid team to the next level.
“She stepped up nicely and gave us another dangerous arm in the system.”
Burgess’ sister, junior middle KJ Burgess, supported Jardine’s effort with eight kills of her own for the Knights, who also got 20 combined kills from Emeline Hudson and Kinley Swan. Hannah Hawkins and Sydney Steel had 45 assists between them. Grace Evans led the defense with 15 digs.
Carlson added that, in this unusual year, his team was inspired by Phil Jackson’s book, “Eleven Rings,” and a pre-tournament pep talk from legendary collegiate basketball coach Tony Ingle, who passed away two weeks ago from Covid.
Senior Asiah Sopoaga led Copper Hills with 11 kills and 11 digs. It marked the second consecutive year that the Grizzlies lost in the championship match.
Sky View overcame a Game 1 loss to defeat Snow Canyon for the 4A title. The win marked the Bobcats’ second title in three years.
State 4A POY Hailey McUne, a Utah State signee, had 24 kills for the victors. Kaitlin Smart added 19.
Katie Lanford had 22 kills and Angie Georgopoulou chipped in with 15 in the loss for Snow Canyon, which was seeking its first title since 2014.
Union won a second consecutive title in 3A. Behind 48 assists and three blocks from junior Kenisten Weaver, the Cougars outlasted powerful Morgan in four sets. Kinsley Drake (26 kills) and Trinity Duncan (18 kills) also were instrumental in the win.
Ellie Vaughan and Morgan Loertscher teamed for 27 kills in the loss for Morgan, which has lost in the finals for two consecutive years. The Trojans have won 19 titles, more than anyone in state history, including four straight from 2015 through 2018.
North Summit won its second title in three years by sweeping Millard in 2A. Jumping jack junior middle Marci Richins led the charge with 17 kills and five blocks while hitting .483. Senior Hadley Richins added eight kills while junior Samantha Richins chipped in with six kills and five blocks.
Aubree Lunt had 10 kills for Millard.
Valley won its first state title in 35 years, defeating top-seeded Rich in four sets for the 1A title. Libero Esther Cox was stellar defensively and Paige Harris scored the clincher for the Buffaloes.
Rich was bidding for its 18th title overall and first since 2016. Mckina Stacey had 23 kills and 32 digs in the loss.
Nickname: The Green Mountain State
Capital city: Montpelier
Year of statehood: 1791
Although Vermont was the last state to add interscholastic volleyball, first starting in 2016, its short history got a lot more interesting in 2020 when all matches were conducted outdoors due to COVID-19.
In the fall.
“Yes the entire season was held outside,” said Essex coach Jen Liguori. “We actually enjoyed playing outside when the weather was good, but it was terrible in bad weather.”
Essex, one of 18 schools statewide to sanction a volleyball program, is one of Vermont’s elite programs along with Champlain Valley. The Hornets began practicing, like everyone else, the second week of September. They played their first match at the end of September and went through the regular season undefeated at 7-0, the only team in the state not to lose a match.
With the season nearing its end late in October, athletic directors approved a plan to hold high school volleyball playoffs for the top four Chittenden County teams. This became a de facto state championship tournament – essentially the same teams that would have been playing for the state title if held indoors — although it was not sanctioned by the Vermont Principals’ Association.
Playing on the turf football field at South Burlington HS, Essex defeated Champlain Valley in the semifinals to reach the final against 8-1 Mt. Mansfield. The match was played in 34-degree, windy conditions, just the way the game was designed to be played! The players all donned sweatpants and long sleeves and played volleyball, with Essex winning 3-0.
Setter Molly Ardren, twice Essex’ team MVP, led the way in the win for the Hornets. Outside hitter Jessie Rose and middle blocker Jasmin Munson also were standouts.
Incidentally, the boys tournament was played in snow!
Nickname: The Old Dominion State
Capital city: Richmond
Population: 8.6 million
Year of statehood: 1788
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but no, Virginia, there was no fall volleyball, at least in the Virginia High School League.
Back in July, the VHSL pushed fall sports to the winter and spring (“Season 2”) because of COVID-19, which forced schools to remain closed.
The plan originally was for practice starting in mid-February, the first of 10 total regular-season matches beginning March 1 and a two-day state tournament April 23-24.
Within the last 10 days, however, that schedule has been revised. The start of practice is pushed back one week, matches will start March 9 and teams will play only eight matches before the playoffs. Regional championships would run the week of April 12, with the state championships remaining the same.
“They seem pretty confident that this is how it will play out,” Princess Anne head coach Craig Dooren said.
Dooren, who said he will have another contending team in his 23rd year with the Cavaliers, noted that there was a great deal of excitement locally when the superintendent of schools announced that no high school athletes will be permitted to compete if they also are competing on club teams. The superintendent reversed that decision two days later.
“I have been in contact with other local clubs and high school coaches to try to work together during this short high school season,” said Dooren, who also directs ECVC. “So far things seem to be ok between both parties.”
Virginia also has an independent schools association, the VISAA. Some schools in the VISAA played reduced schedules in the fall. Others are beginning practice and play now. It is not known whether the VISAA has plans to conduct volleyball championships this school year.
Nickname: The Evergreen State
Capital city: Olympia
Population: 7.7 million
Year of statehood: 1889
The state of Washington early on was a COVID-19 epicenter and the nation’s leader in coronavirus deaths. That may explain why Governor Jay Inslee and the WIAA have been cautious in returning to high school athletic competition.
When the state originally postponed the fall season, volleyball was contemplated to begin in March and end early in May. On Jan. 6, however, the WIAA Executive Board voted to amend its season schedule, moving traditional fall sports to Season 1. That means a Feb. 1 start date and March 20 end date, a season spanning seven weeks, including a regional culminating week, if desired.
While volleyball will happen in the state of Washington this school year, what’s not certain is where it will happen. The governor’s reopening plan requires a region to be in “Phase 2” in order to play.
“To my knowledge, only two of the state’s right regions qualified this week,” Olympia High head coach Laurie Creighton said.
“We are starting in pods of six on Monday and will stay in them until we reach Phase 2, where we can practice six on six and begin to compete,” Richland coach Bob Raidl said. “Entering Phase 2 is based on four Covid-related criteria established by our Department of Health. Our season will be compressed based on when we can get to Phase 2.”
Olympia, a 4A school, will play in a local 3A league this year to keep travel to a minimum. Local leagues/districts are being given great leeway on how they can conduct their seasons.
Among the COVID restrictions that will be in place once matches begin, the one that stands out is masks will be required at all times, even while competing.
Because high school and club will compete concurrently, both Creighton and Raidl said there will inevitably be conflicts.
“It’s very hard for two volleyball organizations which use the same pool of players at the same time to require total commitment, meaning perfect attendance,” Raidl said. “I am hopeful that volleyball will be a fall 2021 sport and that these conflicts will be behind us.”
Nickname: The Capitol of the World
Capital city: n/a
Year of statehood: n/a
In the middle of the fall, schools playing in the District of Columbia Athletic Association learned that the fall season had been shifted to the winter and spring due to COVID-19. The revised calendar contemplated a first practice on Feb. 1, with no more than 24 matches to run from Feb. 22 through April 16.
In the falls, schools prepared for the season by working out outdoors. That all got shut down on Dec. 7, when the mayor declared D.C. a “dead zone” because of the virus.
“In a way, the shutdown has been a blessing in disguise since we don’t have to have the girls outside in the middle of winter right now,” said Bill Pribac, head coach of defending champion St. John’s College High School.
Pribac said that the District is currently re-evaluating everything. He added that schools hoped to receive “good news” this week.
“Our school finished a new construction project last summer (we expanded the athletic center),” Pribac said. “So with all that going on and COVID, we haven’t been in our gym since November of 2019. It has been a little frustrating.”
February 3 update: The District extended the health emergency through March 17.
“What that simply means,” Pribac said, “is we need to decide if we want to play (which is a ‘Yes’) and then find some location outside the borders of D.C. that will allow us to practice.”
Nickname: The Mountain State
Capital city: Charleston
Population: 1.8 million
Year of statehood: 1863
Musselman won its seventh title since 2008, defeating George Washington for the AAA title. Over the past 16 seasons, either Musselman or GW has won state 12 times.
The 2020 final marked the fourth time over the past six seasons that the teams have faced off for the championship. Each has now won two.
For a long time, it appeared that the title would belong to George Washington. After dropping the first set to the Applemen, the Patriots won the next two and took a commanding 21-14 lead in the fourth, just four points from victory.
“As you can imagine, it was looking very bleak at that point,” Musselman head coach Shawn Martz said.
But not nearly as bleak as it was looking less than one week earlier, when massive determination and a stroke of good fortune helped put Musselman in position to get back on the court.
Let Martz tell you what happened:
“Our state has been using a COVID metric map based on colors and each county’s infection rate and positive percentage. If your county was in orange or red based on a seven-day average, you couldn’t play that following week; you had to be in gold or better color.
“Our county went orange three weeks before the playoffs. We couldn’t play a match for three weeks. Our orange status lasted into our week of sectional playoffs and into the weekend of the regional tournament.
“Our kids decided to fight to play. They put together a video to plead to our governor on behalf of all the athletes in our county, in hopes of swaying the Governor’s mind. The video got 12,000 views on Facebook, but with no movement at the Governor’s office, we decided to throw caution to the wind and me, my assistant coach and our three seniors loaded up in a van and drove to Charleston, the capital, on the other side of the state that Friday in hopes we could meet with the Governor or have our voices heard.
“We ended up getting into the capital and sitting down with our Governor’s top aide to plead our case. Although he was very sympathetic to our cause we didn’t leave the meeting with a ton of hope things would change.
“On the way out of Charleston, I got a call from one of our assistant football coaches. He told me that he got an email from a testing company in California, informing him that his personal COVID test was hung up at their lab because the National Guard (which was doing all the free testing in our county) failed to get a release form for his test.
“The number of negative tests were important in our county count because they brought down the positivity percentage and the map color was based on whichever metric was lower. He then asked the lab how many other people were in same boat, with their tests held up in California, and they told him several hundred. So we made a pit stop at the State DHHR headquarters to investigate this situation and make them aware of the situation.
“The next day the governor’s aide who met with us said he couldn’t stop thinking about our seniors, so he was personally going to check into the missing test situation on Saturday morning.
“The official color reading was to be announced at 5 p.m. that day. It was our last day possible day, because our section/regional ADs made arrangements for us to play the sectional and regional tournaments all in one day on Sunday, the following day.
“We all met for the announcement of our color determination, obviously on pins and needles. Five o’clock came and went and no announcement, other than to say it was delayed. We waited until 11 p.m. to finally receive the announcement that our county did indeed make it to gold. They counted the missing tests we discovered in our count for the week and our county made it by 0.2 percent.
“So, the next morning (Sunday), we had to get up to play both sectional and regional tournaments to decide who would advance to the state tournament. Having not played for three weeks, we went on to win both playoff tourneys and entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed (23-1).”
Musselman got by Morgantown in four sets in the semifinals to reach the final versus George Washington. The Patriots were defending champions, having defeated Musselman in the final a year ago, and were in search of their sixth title under head coach Missy Smith. With a 21-14 lead in the fourth, GW was so close to slamming the door on the Applemen.
That’s when Hannah Howard took over. The dynamic sophomore hitter helped Musselman go on a 5-0 run to get back in the set. The Applemen eventually won it, 26-24, to square the match, then won the fifth set going away to clinch victory.
“It was one of the most exciting comebacks of my 20-plus-year coaching career,” Martz said.
Howard led Musselman with 25 kills, 17 digs and four aces. Sadie Wright added 13 kills and two blocks. Libero Madison Faircloth had 19 digs. Caroline Shipley and Isabella Hutzler teamed for 47 assists. All are underclassmen.
Nyla Birch, Molly Grimm and Camryn Hughes combined for 41 kills to lead George Washington. Hughes also had 10 digs. She finished out her stellar four-year career with 1,273 kills, 804 digs and 234 aces.
Side note 1: After being COVID-free all season, three Musselman players tested positive the week after the championship final. Two from GW also tested positive, meaning that both teams were in quarantine over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Side note 2: One week after going to gold, the country returned to orange status and stayed that way for several weeks, knocking two county football teams, ranked in the top four in the state, out of the playoffs.
“We got extremely fortunate to get that one-week window to get our postseason in,” Martz said.
Shady Spring (25-2) snapped a 17-year title drought by sweeping Philip Barbour in Class AA. The Tigers, who finished as state runners up a year ago, avenged a regular-season loss to Philip Barbour, which hadn’t dropped a set to another AA team all season before the final.
The match may have been decided in the first set when Philip Barbour could not hold a commanding 20-15 lead. After a side out, Shady Spring’s Peydon Smith served nine straight points, including five aces, to finish off the 25-20 win.
Meg Williams led the way for the victors with 15 kills. Chloe Thompson added 10.
Alyssa Hill had 10 kills and Emily Denison contributed seven kills and seven blocks for Philip Barbour in the loss.
Senior Emmy Wyer had 18 kills, six digs and four blocks to help Wirt County sweep East Hardy and repeat as Class A champions. The Tigers now have a state-best 13 titles all-time.
The match was never in doubt. East Hardy managed only 37 points over the entire match. Ten of those came on Sierra Miller kills.
Katie Frazier complemented Wyer’s performance with a match-high 21 assists, plus three aces for Wirth County. Libero Jordan Hickman had 18 digs. Freshman Izzy Rios was credited with 14 blocks.
Nickname: The Badger State
Capital city: Madison
Population: 5.8 million
Year of statehood: 1848
When Hamilton head coach Traci Buhr wrote me in 2019, her Chargers were just coming off of a 24-21 season. But with so many returning players, the team had promise.
“We have not been a state contender in I don’t know how long,” she said then. “This is the first time we are preseason ranked in the top 10; first time we have been in top 10 ever I believe.”
The 2019 team went on to finish 31-14. It lost to Division 1 champion Arrowhead two matches short of reaching its first state tournament since 1986.
Kills leader Sarah Schrader graduated after last year and went on to UW-Milwaukee. Nevertheless, Buhr was bullish on Hamilton’s chances.
“With so many good seniors spread out across the state, this was a year anybody could win,” she said. “Our team believed it could be us. We had seven seniors who led that charge.”
The Chargers suffered COVID-19 adversity early in the season, when three players vying for rotation spots missed two weeks because of close-contact exposure. Still, Hamilton got off to a good start, edging tough Brookfield Central (and superstar Mckenna Wucherer) in five to close out a 4-0 opening week.
Buhr said the key to her team’s success in the beginning and all season long was its unique two-setter offense featuring seniors Janelle Stuempfig (Winona State) and Katelyn Lefler (Illinois State).
“We had two six-rotation setters running a modified 6-2, 4-2 offense,” she said in coachspeak. “I’ve been working on this the last couple of years. Both were healthy and could attack or set. Other teams didn’t know if we had a back row or front row setter. They had one mind. We were never out of system, which was huge for us. Having two middles who could run slide (Lakyn Graves and Ella Chevalier) also was wonderful.”
On October 1, Hamilton lost in five at home to Divine Savior Holy Angels, 15-12 in the fifth set. That would be the Chargers’ only loss all season long in a challenging regular season that included non-conference wins over traditional powers Lake Country Lutheran and Oconomowoc.
When the playoffs started, Hamilton did not let up. The Chargers beat highly regarded Pewaukee on their way to a regional title, then knocked off DSHA and Brookfield Central back-to-back to qualify for the state tournament.
“We just plugged away,” Buhr said.
The state tournament in Division I was reduced to four teams (from eight) and one day because of the virus. Any team wanting to win state would need to win two best-of-five tests back-to-back.
Hamilton dispatched Sauk Prairie in three to get to the final opposite Burlington, a team that had captured four state titles over the past decade. The teams traded lopsided wins over the first two sets before Burlington raced to a 16-9 lead in the third set. The lead was still six, 22-16, before Hamilton started to rally. The Chargers scored seven in a row on Stuempfig’s serve, sparked by a huge presence at the net that produced blocks or hitting errors. Hamilton (18-1) went on to win that set, then broke a 16-16 tie in set four with a 9-4 run to claim the title. It was not only Hamilton’s first-ever volleyball championship, it marked the first team sports championship, boys or girls, for the school in almost 40 years!
There were heroes aplenty for the Chargers. Graves, one of four seniors on varsity since her freshman year, led the offense with 16 kills, while hitting .500! She also had five blocks. Lefler added 10 kills, 12 digs and 23 assists. Stuempfig contributed 24 assists, 14 digs, four kills and two aces. Megan Hawthorne, a libero turned hitter, chipped in with seven kills, three aces and a team-high 18 digs. Sophomore Sylvie Zgonc, the only non-senior in the lineup, produced 10 kills, 12 digs and three blocks.
“She was that missing link for us,” Buhr said about Zgonc. “Losing Sarah, we knew we needed to fill her role. Maybe not be her, but be ‘good enough.’ Sylvie just blew our minds. She came out of her shell and became an all-conference player for us.”
Buhr also lauded the team’s back row, Hawthorne, Zgonc and Clara Hoeksma, who had 10 digs in the final, were the team’s “unsung heroes,” she said.
Burlington finished the season also 18-1. Lydia Biggin and Camryn Lukenbill had 33 kills combined, Victoria Van Dan dished out 47 assists and Molly Berezowitz had a match-high 21 digs for the Demons in the loss.
Luxemburg-Casco repeated as Division 2 champions. The Spartans swept Lakeside Lutheran, which was vying for its second state title since 2017. They won 15 matches in 2020 and not only did not lose a match; they did not drop so much as one set! That’s pretty remarkable, considering that the team had to quarantine for two weeks right before the playoffs.
“We had an extremely talented team coming back from last season with some great leaders,” head coach Jeff Frey said. “In a year like no other, having such strong leaders was never more important and I believe it was one of the driving factors in our team’s success this year.”
Setter Emma Johnson led the way for the victors with 33 assists. Senior outsides Kenzie Hanson and Grace Holschuh combined to add 21 kills and 23 digs. Jillian Lynts added 11 digs of her own.
“It was probably the most balanced team that I have coached,” Frey said. “We had five legitimate offensive weapons and additionally had some girls on the bench that could have stepped in. Our biggest strength was probably in the serve and pass game. Anytime that is one of your strengths, you know you are in a good position to be successful night in and night out.”
Payton Kuepers led Lakeside Lutheran with 13 kills, nine digs and three aces. Kylee Gnabasik added 17 assists, 18 digs and four aces. Kaylee Raymond contributed 26 assists and seven digs.
Howards Grove joined Luxemburg-Casco in going back-to-back. The Tigers completed a 21-1 season in Division 3 with a four-set win over Waterloo.
Mack Holzwart had 26 digs for the victors, who now have three championships over the past five seasons. Josie Halbleib and Karissa Kaminski combined for 25 kills. Halbleib also was stout at the net with six blocks, matching teammate Jacquelyn Yancy.
Brook Mosher had eight kills and 16 assists to lead Waterloo, which was after its first title since winning two in a row from 2014 to 2015. Joslyn Wolff also had eight kills, while Michaela Riege and Rylie Duessler teamed for 26 digs.
Catholic Central (22-0) completed an undefeated season by sweeping three close sets from top-seeded McDonell Catholic in Division 4. The Hilltoppers, who lost to Clear Lake in last year’s final, have now won two of the last three titles and seven in the past 14 seasons.
Sammie Seib led the way in the win with 17 kills and 17 digs. Ella Shaw added 27 assists and three aces.
Maggie Craker paced McDonell Catholic with 19 assists and 13 digs. Kait Ortmann and Sidney Rice combined for 15 kills. The Macks won their only title in 2009.
Nickname: The Equality State
Capital city: Cheyenne
Year of statehood: 1890
Kelly Walsh was the three-time defending Class 4A champions. Since the start of the new millennium, the Trojans had been mainstays in the state championship match, with 16 appearances netting eight titles.
Laramie last played for the state title in 2018 but hadn’t won one in 26 years. The Plainsmen were 19-17 a year ago.
Hardly. Laramie overcame a set-one loss and rode 28 kills and 22 digs from junior Alexis Stucky to capture the state title in four sets.
“We all trusted one another and we peaked at just the right time, “ Laramie head coach Jill Stucky said.
Laramie came into the match undefeated, comparatively rested and favored, having beaten Kelly Walsh three times previously. Because of COVID-19, the state tournament was condensed to just one day. A team wanting to take home the title would need to win three best-of-five matches, playing once in the morning and twice in the afternoon.
Laramie reached the finals after two four-set wins. Kelly Walsh needed comebacks and five sets to overcome both Evanston and Cheyenne East. The Trojans were tired and, with no seniors on the roster, inexperienced.
Kelly Walsh promptly took the first set, as Laramie started tentatively.
Coach Stucky did two things before the second set began:
1) She moved Alexis Stucky to the right side to slow Kelly Walsh’s effective outsides; and
2) She gave her team a pep talk.
“In our huddle leading up to set two, my message to the team was that the hard work and the shared sacrifices put into this match would be worth it!” Stucky said. “I told them that the match would be ours if we’d be willing to ‘do the work’ on every point until we got to 25.”
Laramie took the second set, 25-20, and the two after that, clinching the title on an Anna Gatlin kill. The Plainsmen won by passing the ball exceptionally behind libero Taylor Tyser and pins Alexis Stucky and Halley Feezer; and the offense, run deftly by freshman Maddy Stucky, mixed up lefty dumps, feeds to Gatlin and Morgann Jensen in the middle, and back sets to Alexis Stucky for thundering kills.
“All the fatigue, the aches, pains, and the emotions were worth the tremendous outcome that was waiting for us,” Coach Stucky said. “The girls rallied and we won the next three hard fought sets for an amazing State Championship title.”
Gatlin complemented Alexis Stucky’s big afternoon with 12 kills and four blocks of her own for Laramie (24-0). Feezer contributed five kills and 16 digs, Tyser had a team-high 25 digs and Maddy Stucky produced 45 aces, eight digs and three blocks.
“My favorite moment of the entire year was after a huge kill late in the state championship match from our middle blocker Anna Gatlin,” Coach Stucky recalled. “She was so passionate about earning that point that I knew without a doubt that we were going to win!”
Expect more winning into the future for the Plainsmen. Laramie’s production came exclusively from underclassmen!
Kelly Walsh (18-7) returned to the championship match despite returning just two players from a year ago. The young Trojans were paced by Peighton Dedic, Peyton Carruth, Abi Milby and Logann Alvar.
Mountain View swept by Worland to capture the Class 3A title, its first since head coach Diana Tims was a sophomore on the team back in 1997.
The Buffaloes were not the tournament favorites. They’d lost four times on the year to top-seeded Pinedale but escaped playing them a fifth time when Worland pulled off the four-set upset in the semifinals. Mountain View had twice defeated Worland during the regular season, each time in four sets, and needed only three to secure the title.
Senior Alli Rinker had a match-high 14 kills, including the clincher, in the win. Sophomore Ashlee Tims added nine kills with 10 digs. Kamri Hutchings produced 33 assists and three aces. The defensive duo of Kaycee Bugas and Emalee Bugas combined for 31 digs.
Mountain View will be heard from again next year. The Buffaloes will return their setter, top defenders and two of their top hitters in the fall.
Denali Jones and Darla Hernandez combined for 15 kills and 21 digs for senior-dominated Worland, which was seeking its first title since 2015.
Sundance won the final two sets by 25-23 scores on its way to a sweep of Riverside in the Class 2A championship match. The title marked the second straight for the Bulldogs and third in the past four years.
Senior outside hitter Sherry Negaard had 20 kills and two aces to lead the victors, whose Game 2 win included a rally from down 13-2 to start. Ty Holloman added 10 kills and six blocks, Aftyn Marchant contributed 13 digs and four aces and Cana McInerney and Bailee Heaster teamed for 39 assists.
Cokeville won its fourth straight Class 1A title, earning a hard-fought victory over Meeteetse in four sets. The title was the Panthers’ 24th all-time, which is tied for fourth nationally.
“We captured the state title because of tradition and just a wgood work ethic that has been established,” head coach Bill Thompson said.
Tana Teichert, Michea Petersen, Rylee Teichert and Demi Harmon led the way for Cokeville, which hasn’t lost to a Class 1A opponent since 2018.
Senior Lexi Allen had 14 kills to lead Meeteetse. The Longhorns were making only their second finals appearance and first since winning it all 44 years ago.
Friday: Texas and The Test