State semifinalists from last November hold down the top four spots in the Class 2A pre-season volleyball rankings.  Defending state champion Lyons checks in at number two behind state runner-up Yuma in the poll with Denver Christian and Meeker sitting in spots three and four.
Lyons topped Yuma 3-1 in last year’s state championship match and both teams return good talent but also feature some holes to fill from those lineups.
The top ranked Indians are in great shape up front as leading hitters Chasey Blach (453 kills) and Cody Robinson (356) both return and they will get plenty of support from Taylor Hansen (103).  The back row though saw the graduation of Kennedy Roth, Avery Whitehead and Kyle Rayl.  Roth led the team with 950 assists, Rayl had the most diggs (398) and Whitehead provided 100.
Stepping in at setter will be Reagan Nolin.  The junior was second in assists a year ago with 63 but received enough varsity time to finish third in diggs with 285.  Nolen also picked up 15 diggs, 4 blocks and 3 assists in the state finals last season.
#2 Lyons lost Player of the Year Sarah Stevelinck (526 diggs) to graduation but returns a candidate for the same award this year in Taylor Maguire.  The junior recorded 379 kills to lead the team including a team-leading 21 in the championship match, but she is the only returnee among the top four hitters from last year.  Maguire also finished second in aces with 72 and 264 diggs for the Lions.
Another key returnee for the defending champs is Kylen Christiansen.  She easily led the Lions with 977 assists and was third in aces with 53.
One more change for the Lions this year is a new head coach in Heather Evans.  She takes over for Mason Johnson who guided the program through a very long Saturday to win the championship last November.  The Lions had to fight past Wiggins in a one-game tiebreaker just to reach the semifinals after losing to the Tigers in pool play.
#3 Denver Christian won 23 matches and surprised many by reaching the Final Four last season.  Their season came to an end with a three-game loss to Yuma in the semifinals.  Top hitter Hally Herder graduated but the Thunder return Anna Kaemingk (240 kills) and Jacki Bogner (95).  They were second and fourth in kills last season.
There’s also flexibility in the back line as both Jenna Peters and Jena Haman return.  Peters led the team with 445 assists as a junior with Haman checking in second with 305.
Coach Greg Cravens guided #4 Meeker to the state tournament and a semifinal appearance in his first year with the program.  Expectations are again high in camp as the Cowgirls return virtually their entire roster including the top seven hitters, along with leaders in assists and diggs.
Along the net, Krissie Luce (317 kills), Julia Dinwiddle (250), Sydnie Main (143), Caleigh Morlan (142) all recorded at least 140 kills last season.  Kassie Luce totaled 908 assists last season and is back to direct the offense.  Also returning is Lila Klinglesmith who paced the Cowgirls with 480 diggs.  Krissie Luce added 293 and Kassie Luce had 236.
Meeker shared the league championship with Rangely as both finished with 11-1 records to unseat perennial power Paonia atop the Western Slope.  The Panthers were given the top seed in the post-season due to a head-to-head win over Meeker during regular season play, but the Cowgirls avenged that loss with a four-set win in the districts.  The Cowgirls also scored an impressive five-set win over Simla in pool play to reach the state semifinals where they lost to eventual champion Lyons (3-0).
The loss to Meeker prevented #5 Simla from getting into the Final Four but the Cubs have enough veteran leadership returning to make another run.  The hitting duo of Kegan Hamacher (193 kills) and Riley Maranville (190) should offset the loss of four-year starter Jerraldawn Rector at the net.  A bigger hole to fill is at setter where Chloe Duffy (729 assists) also graduated.  Her replacement could be Halle Lutz who picked up 33 assists in a backup role as a freshman.
Two other returnees to watch are Kaitlyn Rector (95 kills) and Taryn Warnecke (241 diggs).
The Cubs are again expected to land the Black Forest championship where they’ve won 16 of their last 17 conference matches.
Along with Meeker, #6 Swink may feature the most returnees among the ranked clubs.  The Lions return their top six hitters and defenders and two leaders in assists.  The group ended two straight years of frustrating early post-season exits to finally reach the state tournament.  They fell short there to both Meeker and Simla but will be favored for a return visit this Fall.
Leading hitters include Skyler Jones (217 kills), Brianna Denton (192), Brooklyn Mueller (189), Kyla O’Neal (186) and Alyssa Chavez (106).  Tierra Holland (444) and Jones (332) paced the team in assists while O’Neal recorded a team-leading 440 diggs.  Denton (295) was second in the category with Holland third (292) and Rylee Platte fourth (281).
#7 Dolores lost their first match of last season to John Mall (2-1) and dropped their final three contests at regionals and state but in-between grabbed 22 straight victories.  The overall mark of 22-4 was 13 wins better than their nine-win season in 2016.
More than enough talent returns for the Bears to win the league championship again and to make another serious run to the state tournament.  Because of the new post-season format, the Bears could have a more difficult trip to Denver.  League strength could prevent the Bears from landing a top 12 finish in the RPI which means they would be on the road in the regional tournament round.
Jordan Elder (322 kills) and Tatum Majors (161) were the top hitters for the Bears and both return in 2018.  Depth at the net is a concern as the next best three hitters all graduated.  Abby Jones topped the team with 683 assists and she returns to the lineup as well.
#8 Wiggins improved their win total by 12 games in 2017 finishing at 20-9 and nearly reaching the state semifinals.  The already mentioned one-set tiebreaker loss to eventual champion Lyons ended what was a tremendous turnaround season for the Tigers.  It was just their second winning season since 2007 and number three is more than likely here in 2018.
All-state standout Chloe Baker is back to direct the Tigers attack.  She posted 1,053 assists against just 18 hitting errors as a junior.  She also contributed 266 diggs and 30 aces.
Up front, the Tigers graduated leading hitter Tori Jordan (339 kills) but the Hansen sisters both return.  Tanna was second on the club with 251 kills and Tasha provided 126 as a freshman.  Another key hitter back in the lineup is Lexi Steinbar (88).  Bre Gilliland paced the Tigers with 45 aces as a freshman and also returns.
#9 Limon missed a state tournament bid with a five set regional loss to Simla, but a veteran group returns for the Badgers.  And most of them played important minutes in helping the girls’ basketball team make the 2A state bracket and that experience should carry over to the volleyball court this Fall.
Anna Weisensee (277 kills) and Sidney Hines (178) were 1-2 in hitting last year and both return.  Amy Weisensee (236 assists) and Lauren Stang (252) provide a strong duo at setter while Brooke Younger (269 diggs) also returns after a strong freshman season.  Incoming freshman Trista Marx could also contribute immediately as she will suit up for both the volleyball and softball teams this season.
#10 Hoehne must find new faces to take over the first and second options at the net.  The Farmers lost both Shaelyn Walton (358 kills) and Brittanie Hill (213) to graduation.  Combined they had nearly 15-hundred career kills.  Averie Navarette, with 117 kills, is the top returning hitter and Kamryn Baca-Cordova (89) will get many more chances this season.
Tiffany Montoya may be the most important returning player.  She led the club in assists (426) and was second in both blocks (113) and diggs (206) last year and will provide steady leadership as the new faces find their roles.
Outside the rankings, Paonia, Dayspring Christian, Fowler, Ignacio, Rangely and Del Norte all received at least seven points.  Paonia lost their top two hitters but returns the tandem of Poppy Lightfoot (251 assists / 59 kills) and Taralee Mautz (57 kills).  Carly Horn is also back after picking up 240 assists.
Dayspring Christian must replace the dynamic duo of Katie Kurz and Megan Roberts who combined for 1,046 kills.  The rest of the squad had just 101 so the Eagles must find new faces to step up rather quickly.  Talia Donoho picked up 891 assists last year but she has transferred to 1A Briggsdale leaving another big absence in the Eagles lineup this year.
Fowler lost leading hitter Elizabeth Hagerman (280 kills) and leading setter Lexi Van Sickle (401 assists) but returns Kaitlyn Smith (99 kills), Emily Bell (89) and Tressa Reed (87) and Avery Bouldin (393 diggs) along the back line.
Ignacio won just nine matches last year but hopes to push Dolores for the San Juan championship.  The Bobcats have juniors Makayla Howell and Morgan Herrera returning.  Plus, the team may lean on state tournament experience gained by the basketball team the last couple of seasons.
Rangely picked up 22 wins to reach the state tournament last year.  But they lost their top three hitters leaving Marlena Miller (65 kills) as the top returnee.  Kassidee Brown is back after earning 618 assists last year.  She also was third in diggs with 255.  Skylar Thacker was second in diggs (326) and also returns.
Del Norte may be favored to land the Southern Peaks championship.  The Tigers return their top 10 hitters including Lacie Jones (231 kills), Kiela Madrid (163), Myka Glover (142) and Syana Coville (103).  Other returns including Brianna Gallegos (396 assists) and Mackenzie Owsley (133 assists).
Holly did not receive a pre-season vote but the Wildcats could make a push in the Santa Fe conference.  The Wildcats went 1-1 at the 1A state tournament last year and return all-stater Kallie Cathcart.  She led the team with 271 kills, 189 blocks and 485 diggs and is a very good all-around player.  Saedee Davis is back for her junior season after picking up 139 kills last year.
NOTES:  The 2A post-season undergoes a major change this year as district tournaments and wildcard berths to state have been eliminated.  League champions automatically qualify but all together, the top 36 teams in the season ending RPI will earn spots in the regional round.  Twelve three-team regional events will be conducted with the winner of each advancing to the state tournament.  The top 12 teams in the RPI will host regional events.  The format follows what’s been in place recently in Classes 3A-4A-5A.
The state tournament is also quite different this year as CHSAA is moving from pool play to a double elimination tournament to determine state semifinalists.  Once the Final Four is set, the event then becomes single elimination.  The state tournament also stretches from two to three days with the new format.