Don’t be surprised if the 2017 Class 2A volleyball season ends up very close to what happened in 2016.  That’s because nearly every top contender from a year ago returns a strong nucleus and appears primed to make another state tournament and championship run.
The list includes defending state champion Dayspring Christian and runner-up Yuma.  The Eagles, which ran through last season unbeaten at 29-0, get back their top two hitters in Katie Kurz and Megan Roberts while Yuma has four juniors that played significant minutes in getting the Indians into the championship match for a third straight year.
Dayspring Christian knocked off Yuma 3-1 as Kurz (28) and Roberts (24) combined for 52 kills.  They together registered 44 kills in the semifinal win over Colorado Springs School and finished the season with 434 and 329 respectively.  Getting those two the ball near the net will likely be Talia Donoho who finished her freshman season with 207 assists while backing up older sister Kelsi (696 assists) who graduated last May.  The Eagles must fill in around their top three but there’s enough firepower to win another state championship.
The same can be said for Yuma.  The Indians won the championship two years ago (2015) and nearly went back-to-back despite being very young and suffering a key injury in the state tournament.  Luisa Hernandez led Yuma as a senior last year with 334 kills but missed the state finals due to an ankle injury suffered earlier in the day.  Despite her loss, Yuma pushed Dayspring Christian to four sets before settling for the second place trophy.
Back for another run are juniors Chasey Blach, Cody Robinson, Kennedy Roth and Kyle Rayl.  Black (316 kills overall) and Robinson (292) combined for 32 kills in the state championship and Roth dished out 32 assists.  She finished her sophomore season with 901 assists which is tops among all 2A players returning in 2017.  Rayl was second on the team with 41 aces last season and could see even more court time this fall.
Returning semifinalists Hoehne and Colorado Springs School are also in the Top 10 to begin the season with the Farmers #5 and the Kodiaks #8.  The Farmers are easily one of the teams that should push Dayspring Christian and Yuma again this year as they return five hitters with at least 100 kills a year ago and two setters who combined for nearly 800 assists.  That’s not the case for the Kodiaks as the top four hitters, four of the top five servers and top three ballhandlers from last season’s 25-3 club all graduated.
Hoehne topped Wray and Fowler in pool play last November and then were eliminated by Yuma in a three set semifinal.  Hoping to build on that experience are top returnees Shaelyn Walton (333 kills), Brittanie Hill (2060, Katelynn Low (118), Averie Navarette (110) and Kamryn Baca-Cordova (105).  Jaylynn Totorelli (476 assists) and Tiffany Montoya (312) will also likely continue sharing the setting duties.  With all the experience returning, Hoehne remains the favorite to win another Santa Fe League championship as well.  They went 13-1 there last year to win the regular season crown and captured the district title.
Following the graduation of a talented senior class that carried the program for the last three years, Colorado Springs School is in rebuild mode.  Players who totaled all 45 kills, including 31 from first team all stater Laney Swan, in the thrilling five set semifinal loss to Dayspring Christian have graduated.  That leaves Natalie Richardi as the top returning hitter and ball-handler but she managed just 16 kills and 11 assists in limited duties a year ago.  Another player to watch is Molly Bigbee as she served up 35 aces in 2016.
With CSS looking for new faces to step up, #9 Simla could be the team to beat the Black Forest this year.  Coming off a state tournament appearance and the top two hitters returning, the Cubs likely could have been ranked higher to start this season.  Jerraldawn Rector heads into her senior season looking to make a push for a state championship.  She’s had at least 340 kills every year in high school including a team best 390 a year ago.  She’s joined up front by junior Kegan Hamacher who was next in line with 244 kills.  Riley Maranville (324 assists) and Chloe Duffy (303) also return in the setters role.
#3 Lyons and #7 Union Colony Prep will again look to push Dayspring Christian inside the Mile High League.  The conference has seen great improvement of late as it placed four teams in state tournaments last season.
Lyons worked two five sets matches in pool play as they beat Denver Christian but lost to Colorado Springs School which cost them a shot at the Final Four, but they should be in that mix again this year with the return of several key players including Taylor Maguire who reeled off a team best 322 kills as a freshman.  Jayla Harding was second on the team last year with 167 kills and was expected back but she transferred to Silver Creek which sits in the 4A Top 10.  Plenty of depth also returns including Kylen Christiansen (143 kills) and Ixchel Leeuwenburgh (128).
Christiansen’s hitting numbers may go down a bit this year as she could take over full-time duties at setter.  She dished out 434 assists last season while sharing the role with the now graduated Maddi Maguire (460).
Union Colony topped Simla (3-2) in the pool round but could not advance farther thanks to a 3-0 loss to Dayspring Christian.  Jayden Aske, with a team high 191 kills and second best 231 assists, returns to lead the roster which also includes Mayson Fago (124 kills) and Kelsey McWhorter (98).
#10 Denver Christian (19-7) was the fourth member of the Mile High to reach the 2A state event.  The season marked their most wins since MaxPreps began totaling stats in 2007 and the first time with more than 13 wins since 2012.  Team leader Britany Anton (396 kills) graduated but Hally Herder (309 kills) and McKenna Muller (118) return as do the next seven hitters from last year’s club.  Jenai Haman had 387 assists as a part-time setter last season and should take over the full-time role in 2017.
#4 Paonia and #6 West Grand represented the Western Slope at the state tournament last year and while both are in the top 10 to begin this season, both have holes to fill.  Paonia graduated four of their top five hitters and veteran setter Emily Pieper (636 assists).  Needing to step up are the likes of McKenna Palmer (244 kills / 48 aces) and Poppy Lightfoot (90 assists).
West Grand meantime lost Peyton Bodemann (269 kills), Gabbi Wilson (120) and Ashley Matney (699 assists) to graduation but returning to the Mustangs are Sydney Ritschard (166 kills) and Hailey McNichols (108).  McNichols is also the only returnee with an assist last year but she managed only one all season.
Outside the Top 10, Fowler gained the most votes with 16.  The Grizzlies, who are second all-time in the number of state championships with 13, won 20 matches a year and have back Elizabeth Hagerman (357 kills) and Gabrielle Leone (257.  Kassidy Lotrich, who missed 1,000 assists by just 25 last season, was lost to graduation.
Other teams that gained some strong pre-season consideration were Ignacio, Wray and Del Norte.  Ignacio won just seven matches a year ago but return the tandem of Morgan Herrera and Avionne Gomez who combined for 162 kills last season.  Wray has shown massive improvement as a program.  They won just one match in 2012 and two in 2013 but reached the state tournament last season.  They welcome back Parker Jones (218 kills) and Paige Brown (163).  Bridgette Redden also had 127 assists as a sophomore.  Del Norte graduated their top two hitters Devin Dallas and Bailey Jones (combined for 508 kills) but returns Lacey Jones (166 kills) and Brianna Gallegos (639) and could remain favored to win the Southern Peaks.
Elsewhere, Ridgway (20-4) lost top hitter Saren Robinson and top setter Ara Norwood to graduation but Emerysen Gentry is a player to watch.  She recorded 195 kills as a freshman.  Byers (14-11) and Limon (10-15) could battle for the Union Pacific crown.  Byers returns Lauren Martin (163 kills) and Arica Herman (132) up front.  Limon is a year older as sisters Anna Weisensee (186 kills) and Amy Weisensee (125) are now a junior and sophomore.  Sidney Hines is another sophomore with 107 kills a year ago.
Merino (9-11) and Swink (11-12) are two clubs looking to push past five hundred this season.  The Reams welcome back their top five hitters including Lydia Stagner (131 kills), Harley Gentry (103) and Larissa Fritzler (101).  Swink does not have a returnee with more than 90 kills so it may be difficult for them to catch up with Hoehne and Fowler in the Santa Fe.