1. The Race To the Finish Line
The conversation starts with Assumption most seasons when it comes to the national scene.
The Rockets ran the table in 2018 and graduated five starters but still figure to be among the best in the country with players like Anna DeBeer at outside and Rylee Rader in the middle back. Assumption, ranked No. 1, challenges itself by traveling to Indiana, Nevada and Illinois to play tournaments, plus one in its’ hometown, the Louisville Invitational. The Rockets could encounter some of their biggest threats to being the best in the final ranking of the season, as they could see No. 2 Redondo Union, No. 4 Mater Dei, No. 11 Torrey Pines and No. 12 Marymount at the Durango Fall Classic, No. 4 New Castle at the Avon Invitational or No. 10 Marist at the Asics Challenge.
Of course, if any aforementioned team can put up an undefeated season this year, it’s probably going to be the national champion. It could get very interesting if these aforementioned schools all ended up with losses.
One team Assumption or the others won’t see is No. 3 Plano West, which will stay and prove itself in the mighty state of Texas. Considering the teams – No. 22 Lovejoy, No. 8 Flower Mound and No. 16 Prosper – Plano West is going to face this season, the Wolves will have an adequate chance of proving themselves, just like the rest of the top teams in Texas.
Any team from Texas running the field this season would elevate itself into national championship picture as well. And should all the Texas teams finish with losses, and the aforementioned teams outside of Texas finish with losses, then it could get messy.
The race to the national championship would seem to follow one of these two routes, through Assumption and its travels around the country or through Texas. Mercy, out of Michigan and ranked No. 7, with stud outside Jess Mruzik, could sneak in should it run the table, but that’s another conversation for much later in the season.
2. Chasing Another State Title
Defending state champions from the Top 50:
· No. 1 Assumption: The Rockets have claimed the one class state title the past two seasons in a row.
· No. 5 New Castle: The Trojans are seeking their third straight 3A championship in the state of Indiana.
· No. 4 Mater Dei: The Monarchs brought home the school’s first California state championship last season as they look to defend their Open division triumph.
· No. 8 Flower Mound: Flower Mound rose up and shocked everyone by winning the Texas 6A state title in 2018.
· No. 9 Skutt Catholic: Winning the Nebraska Class B crown again this season would make for five in a row for the SkyHawks.
· No. 10 Marist: The Redhawks are chasing history, seeking to become the first school to claim three 4A titles in a row in Illinois.
· No. 13 Sterling: The Golden Warriors are the defending 3A champs in the state of Illinois.
· No. 21 Grand Rapids Christian: The Eagles are coming off their first state championship in school history and are aiming to repeat in Michigan’s Division 2.
· No. 26 Ursuline Academy: The Lions are going for their third straight Division 1 title in the state of Ohio.
· No. 33 Millard North: The Mustangs finished on top of Nebraska’s Class A state championship last season and could make it two in a row this fall.
· No. 38 Eureka: Eureka broke through for Missouri’s Class 4 title last season and the Wildcats figure to be back in the mix to defend it.
· No. 40 Iolani: The defending Division 1 champs will have to fend off Kamehameha in order to repeat in Hawaii’s top division.
· No. 45 Walton: The Raiders have taken home four consecutive Class 7A trophies in Georgia but have some work to do to make it to number five.
· No. 48 McIntosh: The two-time defending Class 5A champs in Georgia are poised to add a third in a row.
· No. 49 Green Hope: The Falcons are going for their fourth consecutive North Carolina 4A state championship this fall.
3. Redemption Song
Teams in the Top 50 which lost in the state final last year:
· No. 18 Eagan: Falling to Champlin Park in last year’s Minnesota Class AAA state finals, the Wildcats are the favorites to finish ahead of the pack in 2019.
· No. 20 Cedar Falls: The Tigers’ only loss in 2018 came in Iowa’s 5A state finals and they start off the team to beat this fall.
· No. 22 Lovejoy: The Leopards advanced all the way to the Texas 5A state finals before falling to Kingwood Park.
· No. 25 St. Thomas Aquinas: The Saints were on the cusp of winning 5A last season and will look to prove they are the best in Kansas in 2019.
· No. 29 Padua Franciscan: The Bruins moved up to Division 1 for the first time last season and finished runner up to Ursuline Academy in Ohio’s top division.
· No. 32 Chaparral: The Wolverines were stopped short in the Colorado 5A state final and will be right back in the running this season.
· No. 35 Mercy: Two years in a row the Jaguars have finished behind Assumption in the Kentucky state final.
· No. 37 Althoff Catholic: The Crusaders were the runner ups in 3A in the state of Illinois in 2018.
· No. 43 Kamehameha: The Warriors made their 16th consecutive Division 1 final in falling to Iolani last fall.
4. Last out, First In
Two programs that just missed making the Top 50:
Rampart (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Last year’s record: 17-8
Key players: Riley Simpson, Jr OH; Anjelina Starck, Jr S/OH; Grace Wilkinson, Sr Lib
Outlook: The arrival of Anjelina Starck from Bishop Gorman in Nevada instantly boosts Rampart. The Rams did not advance from regional play last season but with Riley Simpson having another year of experience and teaming with Starck, the Rams are going to be difficult to deal with in 2019 and could wind up in the Top 50 before too long.
Nation Ford (Fort Mill, South Carolina)
Last year’s record: 46-7
Key players: Sophie Fischer, Sr OH; Emily Lammers, Sr OH; Ally Thees, Sr Setter; Grace Scott, Sr Setter
Outlook: The Falcons lost just one set on their way to capturing the 5A state championship last season and return a slew of talent to make another charge in 2019. Among those back are the top two kill leaders in Sophie Fischer and Emily Lammers. In fact, Nation Ford returns its top four kill leaders plus both setters from a season ago, so the offense should keep clicking.