Official volleyball matches get started on Thursday and the opening weekend has some very attractive pairings. Maybe the best is in Kit Carson on Saturday where the Wildcats host 2A defending champion Wiggins along with traditional powers Fleming, Yuma and Simla. Also on tap are top 10 matchups of Cheyenne Mountain-Cherry Creek and Haxtun-Sedgwick County.
At Kit Carson on Saturday, Pool A will involve the host Wildcats along with Wiggins and Yuma. As mentioned, the Tigers are the returning 2A champions as they toppled Sedgwick County in the finals about three months ago. Ranked third to open this season, they return hitters Rachael White (147 kills), Lexi McCullough (136) and Tyleigh Fehseke (111) along with top defenders Avery Burdette (457 diggs) and Talyn Mese (247).
Yuma finished below five hundred for the season (7-9) but a late push gave them a trip to the state tournament where they lost to Wiggins in the semifinals. They are ranked fifth to start the campaign. Elle Roth led the Indians in kills (175) and digs (273) last year and returns for her senior season. She’s joined up front by Caddis Robinson (94 kills) and on defense by Lea Richardson (143 digs). Richardson was also the main setter in 2020 and finished with a team best 391 assists.
Kit Carson opens 2020 ranked 8th in Class 1A after finishing 10-6 and one win away from the state event last May. A loss to Briggsdale in the regional finals ended their run. Three top hitters return in junior Tess Johnson (111 kills), Kenzie Waggoner (108) and Stephanie Framel (99). The Wildcats though will look for a new setter as Allison Gekeler (201 assists) graduated and backup Sedonia Isenbart (178) moved over to the Stratton program. Jasmine Jacobs also succeeds Penny Isenbart as head coach.
Fleming, Simla and Akron will battle for top honors in Pool B. Fleming won the state crown in 2019 and reached the finals again last May but fell to Merino in a five-set championship thriller. The Wildcats also moved past Simla in the semifinals (3-1) so Saturday marks a rematch of that contest. Simla is ranked second in preseason polling and Fleming third.
The Wildcats also feature a new coach in Megan Chintala. The former state champion and all-stater returns to her alma mater for her first coaching position and looks to continue the great volleyball legacy for the Northeast school. They will be solid up front with returnees Kally Kirkwood (293 kills) and Whitney Chintala (234) back for their junior and senior seasons respectively. They combined for 44 kills in last year’s win over Simla. Madisyn Serrato (196 digs) and Lexi Schaefer (179) are two other top returners but the Wildcats must replace setter Kendyl Kirkwood who produced nearly 33-hundred assists as a four-year starter.
Simla may have the most to replace of any of the top clubs in 1A as Kaitlyn Rector (330 kills) and Halle Lutz (207) both graduated. That means Ryann Eurich may step up as option number one as she produced 35 kills as a sophomore. Ashylnn Howard (225 digs) and Jill Nippl (204) should help form a solid defense on Saturday.
Akron put together a 7-7 campaign last year which is no easy task as the league they play in (Lower Platte) generated two state champions in Wiggins and Merino along with a third finalist in Sedgwick County. Quincy Basler (133 kills) was second on the Rams in hitting last year and sophomore Addicyn Kessinger (83) should get more opportunities at the net. Janessa Shook split time at setter last year and finished with 128 assists.
Cheyenne Mountain (4A) and Cherry Creek (5A) are ranked second in their respective class. They collide on Thursday on the Bruins home court. The visiting Red-Tail Hawks are coming off a runner-up finish in Class 4A as they pushed Palmer Ridge to four sets in the state championship match. That loss ended a string of six consecutive three-game sweeps. Overall, the Hawks were 13-3 on the season. Top returnees include Karlee Pinell (192 kills), Sydney Morland (132 kills) and Jessie Duytschaever (546 assists).
Creek reached the round of eight in Class 5A last May but then were bounced by a red-hot Columbine club 3-1 in the quarterfinals. That loss was only the second all season but ended the Bruins state championship hopes. Carter Booth, with 199 kills and 59 blocks, is a dominating player on both sides of the net and she returns for a senior season. Kaegan Wherry (148 kills) also returns up front and Anna Van Wyk should again be the setter after handing out a team best 499 assists as a sophomore.
Haxtun is ranked 10th in Class 1A and Sedgwick County 9th in Class 2A. The two local rivals collide on Saturday with the Cougars serving as the host club. Haxtun (6-10) experienced ups and downs last year but returns their top four hitters for 2021. That list includes Allie Thompson (188 kills), Taylor Schram (154), Megan Walker (99) and Cassidy Goddard (86). Schram overall had a solid junior year as she also topped the Bulldogs with 236 diggs and 269 assists. Another key contributor back on the court this year is K’lyn Bornhoft (157 digs).
A bit surprised to see Sedgwick County ranked only ninth in the preseason. They won 16 matches last year and reached the state finals plus they return a significant portion of their team. The top four hitters are back including Gabrielle Powell (225 kills), Kierra Ehnes (191), Allison Woodhams (168) and Jensen Renquist (156). Key losses include Ashley Rahe (214 digs) and Whitney Walter (365 assists). Look for Woodhams to become the top setter as she produced 285 assists as a junior.
Several other highly ranked teams get on the court during this first weekend. The schedule includes two matches for #8 Hoehne in Class 2A. They open the season with a league match against Swink on Thursday and then tangle with Del Norte on Friday. #7 Springfield (1A) could get tested by Eads on Friday and #7 Montezuma Cortez (3A) looks to follow up their state tournament appearance by beating Telluride in their opener. That match is also on Friday.
There are some rivalry matches to be played as well including #9 Holy Family (4A) vs Broomfield on Saturday and #5 Coronado at Doherty on Thursday.
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