This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in high school volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday until the last high school state championship in November:
• In most states, parochial, Christian and other private schools usually have the leg up on public school volleyball competition for myriad reasons, including earlier starts and the ability to draw from a wider area.
That has not been the case historically in Texas, where the public school league, UIL, has been consistently stronger than the private school leagues, led by TAPPS.
That may be changing.
Over the past few years, the privates have lured away successful public school coaches Ryan Mitchell (Lovejoy and others) and Mike Carter (Reagan of San Antonio) and they have transformed Prestonwood Christian Academy and Cornerstone Christian, respectively, into elite national programs with talent to compete at the very highest levels.
This is creating a backlash among the public schools in Texas that have enjoyed superiority for the almost 25 years I’ve been covering the sport.
Just last week, the McKinney School District near Dallas canceled Boyd High School’s scheduled match versus Prestonwood. Those teams played earlier in the year and Boyd (17-1) stunned the Plano school (14-3) in five sets. But the highly anticipated rematch was nixed before first serve.
“We wanted to schedule teams that are in UIL and follow UIL regulations,” Boyd coach JJ Castillo told the Dallas Morning News. “I think it’s because the rules are so different for private schools and public schools.”
• In the 32 years that Ron Kordes has been coaching Louisville Assumption, the Rockets have won Kentucky’s single-class state tournament a ridiculous 22 times; ridiculous, because of the presence of other highly competitive programs, like Mercy Academy, Sacred Heart, Notre Dame and St. Henry, to name a few. Indeed, during that span, Assumption has branded itself as perhaps the nation’s most successful program, with several mythical national titles to its credit.
But after winning eight titles between 2010 and 2019, something strange has happened in Kentucky the past three seasons: Assumption has not won a state title. Notre Dame won in 2020 and last season, with St. Henry taking the crown in 2021.
• On Saturday, Assumption took a step towards reclaiming its place atop Kentucky volleyball when it won the Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament, a prestigious 24-team event that featured powerhouse programs from Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and Florida, as well as the best of the Bluegrass State.
The Rockets finished the two-day event 5-0 and are now 16-1 on the year, but the winning wasn’t easy. After sweeping Henry Clay to open its Friday pool, Kordes’ team was pushed to the full three sets in its final four matches but managed to prevail in all of them. Assumption downed St, Ursula of Cincinnati in the quarterfinals, outlasted Chicago’s Mother McAuley in the semifinals and handed Notre Dame its first loss of the year in the championship match, 25-14, 21-25, 25-16.
“We finally played this past weekend according to the vision I had for us this season,” Kordes said. “Through the beginning of our season, I am not sure what was missing. Maybe too tight, but we struggled with consistency of play.”
Assumption’s lone loss on the season came in five sets late in August to Sacred Heart, which lost to Notre Dame in an LIVT semifinal.
“The Sacred Heart match we lost after winning the first two sets was so disappointing because we failed to fight back after the momentum changed,” Kordes said. “This past weekend reminded me of some of our Assumption teams of old. Although four of our five matches went three, we did not get down and continued to fight our way back into the match.”
• The Dave Mohs Orange County Championships this past weekend featured many of the best teams from Southern California. Fierce competition eliminated many teams ranked in the CIF State top 25, but left No. 2 Mater Dei of Orange County and No. 3 Cathedral Catholic to battle for the championship. The two teams had met once before, with Mater Dei winning, 28-26, 25-23, in the semifinals at Volleypalooza in Texas in August.
The rematch was as competitive, with Cathedral Catholic, last year’s undefeated state and national champions, winning, 15-10 in the third, after the teams split 25-18 decisions. Michigan-bound middle Jenna Hanes was named tournament MVP.
“Cathedral had an excellent final and we couldn’t slow Jenna down no matter how hard we tried,” Mater Dei coach Dan O’Dell said.
The Monarchs were hampered by the loss of junior setter Ayva Ostovar, who was injured the day before the tournament started. That left Mater Dei with having Julia Kakkis
setting a 5-1 rather than being able to also attack from the right in three rotations.
“Our offense became too predictable in the end as our middles were unable to help offensively,” O’Dell said.
For Cathedral Catholic, libero Maya Evens, pins Tiana Owens and Ayva Moi and setter Amanda Saeger also were catalysts.
Coach Juliana Conn said that getting the revenge win was sweet for her team.
“I’m just happy that we were able to play them again so quickly and come out on top,” she said. “We were just more consisting than the last time we played them and we were able to shut down their big hitters. Amanda made Jenna and Tiana shine at the net, while Maya and Ayva were anchors on serve receive.
I’m proud that we followed the game plan to a T and showed really good teamwork.”
• Wayzata has won three straight Minnesota large-class state championships and may be on its way to another in 2023.The Trojans currently sit 9-0 to start the season, thanks in large part to a 5-0 weekend in capturing the Southwest Minnesota Challenge in Marshall. Scott Jackson’s team dropped just one set, in the championship match to Champlin Park. Champlin Park is the last in-state team to defeat Wayzata, accomplishing the feat on Sept. 28, 2002.
Said Jackson: “We had a number of players play well over the course of the week but one in particular shined: Olivia Swenson. Olivia carries a big load for our team. She is keyed on by our opponents often as they set up their defense, and she is asked to serve tough, handle a ton of opponent serves, and plays a big role in our defense. She’s an enormous part of our success.”
For the week, which also included a 3-1 win over Lakeville South (another team that defeated it in September, 2022) the senior outside hitter had 49 kills while hitting 0.324, passed a 2.22 on 50 receptions, served at 93%, and tallied 30 digs, 6 blocks, and 6 assists.
• Millard West of Omaha, the fourth-ranked Class A team in the state, won the 9hh Annual Kearney Invite over the weekend by defeating previously-unbeaten and Class B No. 2 Bennington in the finals.
Senior Kaelin Pribyl led the charge with 21 kills with only 1 error, hitting a blistering .488. Junior libero Sierra Pokharel led the defensive charge with 17 digs.
The Wildcats are 12-4 on the season.
• Papillion-La Vista South is the top-ranked Class A team in Nebraska. The defending state champion Titans are 12-0 to start the year, including a 2-1 win on Sept. 4 versus St. James Academy of Kansas.
Papio South is led by OH Lauren Medeck, S/RS Charlee Solomon, S Kyra Dyrstad and libero Kami Dyrstad.
St. James is 11-2 on the season and ranked second in Kansas’ 5A classification.
The Thunder leaders are S Reese Messer, libero Mya Bolton and MB Julia Headley.
• Papillion–La Vista South and St. James met for the first time ever in the fall of 2011 at St. James. It was such a big deal that the match was televised in the Kansas City area and throughout the state of Nebraska. Indeed, the Nebraska’s two leading high school reporter at the time, Ron Powell and Mike Patterson, made the three-hour drive from Nebraska to personally cover the match, which featured future Cornhusker stars Kelly Hunter, Kadie Rolfzen and Amber Rolfzen.
I also was there for the amazing event. Here’s what I wrote about the contest, edited for brevity (at least as much brevity as I can muster):
Nebraska power Papillion-La Vista South, the No. 2 team in the nation, remained unbeaten Wednesday night after twice rallying from a set down to defeat homestanding St. James Academy, the Kansas power ranked No. 3 nationally, in five sets before a raucous Thunder crowd in Lenexa, Kansas.
The difference in the marathon match, ultimately, was blocking. The taller Titans had 15 solo blocks and several more tandem rally snuffers. St. James had just five.
“When you block a ball, it’s an instant point,” noted Papio South coach Gwen Egbert. “We had more than one ball that was just spiked. That’s a huge thrill for our side and it’s like ‘oh crap!’ for their side. I think that flipped the momentum and gave us confidence.”
“They are a much better blocking team than we are and that hurt definitely,” agreed Thunder coach Nancy Dorsey.
The match featured a contrast in styles, as Papio South plays a power game behind three future Nebraska Cornhuskers, 6-3 twins Amber Rolfzen and Kadie Rolfzen, who play on the outside; and 5-11 Kelly Hunter, who sets and hits; while St. James is defensive minded, with a fantastic libero, Sheridan Zarda, who is also Nebraska bound, and two others, OH Annie Reilly and setter Paige Brown, who are among the best nationally on defense in their respective positions.
The match also was for bragging rights. Both teams finished the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the nation, Papillion South by both ESPNRise and MaxPreps, St. James by PrepVolleyball.com.
Papio South made the trip from Omaha the owner of a 22-0 mark and coming off of a Saturday sweep of Lincoln Pius X, the second best team in Nebraska. St. James entered the contest at 29-0 and on Saturday swept Bishop Miege, defeating the team considered second best in Kansas for the third time this season. In other words, this was a match up clearly worthy of a packed house, estimated at 1,200, in the Thunder Zone, as well as a live television audience both in Kansas City and throughout the state of Nebraska.
The first set was a blueprint for how the entire match would be played. A consistently spectacular defense, aggressive, error-free serving and opportunistic offense helped St. James race to an 18-9 lead.
Down big, Papio South rallied behind its block.
Having given up a nine-point lead, St. James needed to make a play to avoid a collapse that almost assuredly would impact the rest of the match. The Thunder got it when Reilly, who was a DS last year, hit high hands off the Papillion block for a kill. She followed with a killer top spin ace that had the frenzied student section bellowing “point St. James Ah!” even louder than usual. MB Katie Dulek, St. James’ tallest player at 6-0 “on a good day,” added a kill to extend the Thunder lead to three. Not even another Titan block, this one from Kadie Rolfzen, could change the end result, a 25-22 St. James win, achieved when 5-6 sophomore OH Arianna Person’s swing hit the net, caromed over the Titan double block and down.
The fifth set started with a questionable back row block called on Brown and continued with four more Titan points.
Down by five points, St. James mounted a rally behind four Reilly kills and Zarda’s stellar defense, getting to within two at 9-7.
“After it was 5-0, I saw determination on our faces that we were not going to go out like this; that if we lose, we were going down swinging and playing our game,” Reilly said.
After an exchange of points gave the Titans six shots to win the match, the Thunder saved four of them on Reilly’s serve to get within 14-12 as the crowd went wild.
But coming all the way back was not in the cards for St. James. The Papillion South block, so big the entire night, rose up when it needed to most and intimidated a Thunder attacker into trying a shot she could not execute. When the ball found the net, Papillion-La Vista South had won the match of the year.
“It was really, really fun to play them,” Dulek said. “That was some good volleyball. I love playing at such a high level. That team is great. They pound the ball. Luckily we have a good defense.”
“I love playing teams that can challenge you mentally and physically,” Reilly added. “Credit to them. They played out of their minds and deserved to win.”
“We have not had a match like that all season,” said Hunter. “That match was intense every point and so much fun.”
“When we were down 4-0 and 10-1 [in Game 2], I was wondering whether we were going to compete,” Egbert said. “And then we started to make some plays. We had a lot of blocks. We had to do something because we weren’t going to match up with them defensively. I mean we were digging some balls, but not like they were.
“We haven’t played a team like this all year. It was a great match to be a part of.”
Amber Rolfzen and Kadie Rolfzen combined for 42 kills and Kadie had 30 digs to lead Papillion South, but after the match all agreed that the Titans’ well-distributed block was the difference in the match.
“A block is like a kill in that it gets you a point but it also does something to the hitter on the other side,” said Dulek. “A block can mess with people’s head. Before the match I turned to another hitter and said we are all going to get blocked but it’ll be okay. We’re going to keep going.”
“I was proud of our hitters, because when they got blocked they got blocked,” Dorsey said. “There was no covering that. But they kept swinging.”
Reilly led the way offensively for St. James with 25 kills. Person added 19, but had only three in the final two sets. Defensively, four Thunder players amassed more than 20 digs, with 32 from Brown and 25 from Zarda leading the way.
After the match, Dorsey, who is five months’ pregnant with a baby girl, was asked whether St. James won or lost that match.
“I would say both,” she responded. “Most thought they were going to roll over us with three Nebraska recruits. I actually had reporters from Nebraska calling and asking if my line up was accurate, like, ‘Is your left side really 5-6?’ I thought it was funny because the size difference is really astronomical. We talked to our team how that doesn’t matter and at the end of the day I don’t think it did.
“We’re a bunch of teeny tiny little things who have been underestimated and overlooked their whole lives. This was their opportunity to show people that they are legit and that the national championship banner hanging in their gym is legit. I think they did that.”
• Missouri Class 5 defending champion Lafayette is 10-0 to start 2023. The Lancers on Saturday won the Rockwood Classic, featuring some of the best teams in Missouri — Cor Jesu, Eureka, Jackson, Kickapoo, Liberty North, Marquette, Nixa, St. Teresa’s Academy – as well as St. James.
Lafayette’s run included wins over Kickapoo, Liberty North and St. James, the Thunder’s second loss on the season.
Senior Libero and UIndy commit Mia Moser for the victors, averaging over three digs per set and passing over a 2.2 on serve receive.
• This final Dot is an odds-and-ends one…
We wrote last week about the Missouri showdown between Kickapoo and Nixa before last Wednesday’s showdown between the two then-undefeated teams. Which team won? Nixa in revenge, 15-13 in the fifth!
Amelia White had 12 kills, 18 digs and three aces to lead Nixa. Paige Pearcy and Taylor Wood added 24 digs apiece.
Bella Faria had 16 kills, 19 digs and four aces for Kickapoo. Kya Johnson added 22 digs and four aces.
Coach Betty Wroubel, a wonderful ambassador for the game, recently collected career win 1,700 (not a misprint) for Notre Dame Prep of Pontiac, Michigan. Wroubel has been coaching at the varsity level for 35 years…
Senior MB Julia Hunt of Covington Holy Cross (KY) surpassed two huge career milestones this week.
On Saturday, the Washington recruit got her 500th block. She followed that up three days later with career kills No. 2,000, part of a 40-kill night in a reverse-sweep win …
Junior libero Aniya Warren got career dig No. 1,000 this week for Benet Academy in the Chicago area …
Louisiana’s Archbishop Hannan took third in the McGill-Toolen Catholic Cup in Alabama but was able to defeat the host school and defending 7A champion Dirty Dozen during the tournament. Hannan has two with outrageous career marks: senior setter Sarah Kirsch, with well over 3,000 assists and Senior OH Sophia Bonnaffee, with more than 1,300 career kills …
Lucy Beckham, a school in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is only four years old, but it is still making volleyball highlights.
This past week, 6-1 senior OH and team captain Maggie Elliott exceeded 1,000 career kills. She’s been on the team since her freshman year in 2020, when the season was cut short due to Covid. Beckham is a Florida State beach volleyball recruit …
Madison Quest, a 6-3 junior OH committed to Wisconsin, recently celebrated her 1,000th career kill for Milwaukee’s Divine Savior Holy Angels.
Until next time …