The best Nebraska high school volleyball team ever?
That was the question posed at the state volleyball tournament shortly after Papillion-La Vista South captured its third consecutive Class A title. The Titans capped a 41-1 season, their only loss coming against nationally ranked powerhouse Louisville (Ky.) Assumption.
In the 10-plus years since I’ve been covering high schools, I’ve seen several outstanding teams. Some of the squads from Bellevue West, Papillion-La Vista, Omaha Gross, Lincoln Pius X, Omaha Marian, Columbus Scotus and Grand Island Central Catholic spring to mind.
The previous two Papio South teams also can be thrown into that mix, but this year’s Titans seemed to take their game to another level. While there were bound to be a few matches when the team came out a little flat — Papio South’s state tournament semifinal Friday against Millard West was one — coach Gwen Egbert’s squad remained focused on that championship quest.
To the team’s credit, the Titans also didn’t shy away from that triangular in late September that included Louisville Assumption and Torrey Pines of San Diego. Those three teams have been ranked in the top three nationally all season, and that sold-out event at Creighton’s Sokol Arena is something we may never see here again.
When the “best ever” question was posed to Egbert shortly after Papio South’s sweep of Marian in the Class A final, she paused for a moment to think.
“If it’s not the best team, it’s close,” she said. “It’s a historic group, and I’m excited to see them go on and do great things.”
The trio of Nebraska recruits — Kadie and Amber Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter — certainly was the backbone of this squad the past four years. But other Titans who tend to get overshadowed also deserve to be mentioned.
Senior Katie Kurtz was an effective middle blocker and Olivia Schonewise was a solid right-side hitter. Adyson Goodnight, Alyssa Gibbs and freshman libero Raegan Legrand also made solid contributions.
Was the 2012 version of the Titans the best Nebraska high school team ever? I’m tempted to say yes, though I’m sure some would disagree.
Suffice to say it’s going to be a long time (perhaps a very long time) before we see a varsity team this dominating. And, like Egbert, I’m eager to see those Papio South players move on and do great things in the future.
In addition to Class A champion Papio South, let’s take a closer look at the other five champs.
>> Grand Island Northwest, coach Diane Rouzee. The Vikings captured Class B after finishing as the state runners-up the past five years. Northwest really had to work for that title, outlasting Gretna in one of the most dramatic five-set finals ever.
>> Kearney Catholic, coach Kris Conner. The Class C-1 Stars won the title after finishing as the runners-up the past two years. Kearney Catholic ended the season as the only unbeaten team in the state, capturing its first title after a compelling five-setter against perennial power Columbus Scotus.
>> Hartington Cedar Catholic, coach Adam Kuntz. The C-2 champ won its first state title since 1989 by defeating two-time defending champion Norfolk Lutheran. The third-seeded Trojans beat second-seeded Hastings St. Cecilia before putting away the Eagles in the final.
>> Exeter-Milligan, coach Darcy White. The sixth-seeded Timberwolves had a tough road in D-1, starting with a five-set marathon in the first round against third-seeded Howells-Dodge. Exeter-Milligan then took out second-seeded Sutherland in the semifinals before knocking off top-seeded West Point Guardian Angels Central Catholic in the final.
>> Humphrey, coach Gary Bender. The Bulldogs kept their perfect record intact — two trips to state, two championships. With the help of dynamic middle hitter Alyssa Frauendorfer, the defending D-1 champ claimed its second straight title in D-2.
Fab freshmen: There’s always pressure to perform at state, so it always amazes me the way freshmen play in that situation.
Among the first-year players who made major contributions at state were outside hitter Halie McArdle (Gretna), libero Brittany Witt (Marian), libero Raegan Legrand (Papio South), outside hitter Katie Stephens (Papio), outside hitter Allie Davis (Lincoln Southwest) and middle hitter Maeghan Pieper (Columbus Scotus).
The 5-foot-9 McArdle was especially impressive, blasting 53 kills in three matches while helping the Dragons come very close to their first state title.
Crystal ball: We were able to predict four of the six state champions this year. That will set the bar fairly high for colleague Stu Pospisil, who will try to beat that number with his football picks.
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