Last year, Fleming won its sixth state title in a period of 10 years, downing Kit Carson 3-0 in the championship match. Those two schools would also meet in the state basketball title game, with Kit Carson returning the favor. According to the preseason rankings, they are expected to meet up in yet another championship contest, as Kit Carson opens #1 and Fleming at #2.
Kit Carson rolled into the championship contest last year with an unblemished record, behind a roster that was comprised heavily of underclassmen. The Wildcats, coached by Penny Isenbart, return all but one member of the core, as only second team all-stater Shayla Bogenhagen graduated. Leading the Wildcats will be junior Tess Hornung, a first team all-state performer last year. Hornung recorded 357 kills last season, hitting at a .287 clip. Also back from that squad is fellow junior McKenzie Smith who was second team all-state last year. The trio of Isenbart sisters: Micayla (senior), Olivia (junior) and Reyna (sophomore) all return, as well.
Fleming lost a pair of first team all-staters to graduation, including the player of the year, Shaylee Johnson. Also gone is Kalyn Serrato who will be playing basketball at Northeastern Junior College. However, Doug Kammery brings back two other first team all-state players, seniors Alli Keisel and Bailey Chintala. Keisel led the team with 328 kills, while Chintala was third with 243. The duo combined for 83 aces and had just 58 errors on 920 serves received between them. Junior Jenna Lengfelder was second on the team with 486 digs. Chintala was tops with 653.
Prairie (#3) and Weldon Valley (#5) are expected to push Fleming in the North Central, as they did last year. Weldon Valley won the district championship, but lost to Prairie in regionals. Prairie must replace Emily Kaiser and Madison Pollart, a pair of first team all-state players, but they bring back a second team performer in sophomore Hannah Kinnison. Kinnison led the team with 378 kills and was second with 763 serves received. She will be joined by junior Mandy Carmin, who led the Mustangs with 932 serves received and 189 digs, and fellow sophomore Mikayla Baker who tallied 298 assists.
Weldon Valley was paced all of last season by Anna Sanchini, an exchange student from Italy. The second team all-state performer has returned to her native country and the Warriors will look to the duo of Kirsten Wood (junior) and Britney Filter (senior) to help pick up the load on the offensive attack. Wood was second on the team with 180 kills and Filter finished fourth with 108. Senior Karissa Schulte is back after recording 901 assists, as is junior Kaybree Keating, who tallied 472 digs and 546 serves received.
With three of their top four hitters back from last season, McClave (#4) hopes to make a return trip to the state tournament. The Cardinals will be without Tatum Chase (honorable mention), but senior Alli Nidey, the team leader with 236 kills is back to lead a talented squad. Sophomore Ryely Smartt was third on the team with 179 kills as a freshman, and junior Jordan Parker tallied 163.
Perennial powers Flagler (#6) and Otis (#7) both have some big holes to fill if both are to return to the state field. The Panthers saw four of their main rotation players graduate, including two of their top three hitters. Junior Kodie Niebur-Hasz is back after pounding 165 kills and posting a team-best 56 blocks last year. Devan Stegner should help on the attack and Erin Marzolf returns after leading the team in assists as a junior.
For the Bulldogs, they must replace two honorable mention talents, Hanna Stallings and Essence Tolson. Bonnie Wallin-Kuntz is used to that process, leading the program to three state titles and two runner-up finishes in the last decade. Juniors McKenna Metzler and Ruby Halcomb will carry much of the offensive load this season. Metzler finished second on the squad last year with 139 kills and Halcomb was third at 114. They will be aided by Sydney Reynolds and Rachel Patterson, who finished first and second on the team with 264 and 256 digs, respectively.
La Veta (#8) was knocked out of the state tournament last year by Prairie (3-1), snapping a 26-match winning streak. Kaylee Corsentino earned second team all-state honors after recording 315 kills with a .662 hitting percentage. The now-junior also served up 88 aces. The Redskins also return their next two top hitters in senior Kinley Coe and sophomore Kaelin Coe, as well as other key rotation members Sonia Vallejos, Shaylee Andreatta, and Nya Sciacca.
The last two spots in the preseason poll are filled by teams that met at the state tournament last year. Springfield, the #9 squad, saw its season brought to a close last year by Kiowa (#10) with a 3-1 loss to the Indians in pool play. The Longhorns saw three key members graduate last year, including Tatelyn Lasley (honorable mention) and Ally Loflin. Those two combined for 252 kills, 83 aces, and 740 digs. Trying to offset those losses will be a pair of seniors, Brenna Shettron and Jayci Westphal, and junior Tatum Hall. Shettron led the Longhorns with 248 kills and 114 blocks, while Westphal was second with 172 kills. Hall finished with 98 kills and 90 blocks.
Kiowa must fill a void left by the departure of second team all-stater Melanie Deering. The recent graduate was one of the state leaders with 492 kills. The Indians lost seven other seniors from a roster that made the state semifinals. That leaves a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Esther Janes, who is the only member of the squad with more than 35 career kills. Maddy Martell will help at the net, as she recorded 38 blocks last season.