Omaha Skutt volleyball coach Renee Saunders knew she needed a setter for this season, and there was one obvious choice:
Senior Alex Banker, who had played primarily outside hitter during her three previous years on the varsity.
“It was kind of a no-brainer in my mind,” Saunders said. “She's a good all-around athlete and she's a very intelligent player, so I knew it was something we needed to try.”
Always the team player, the 5-foot-8 Banker was responsive to the idea. She had done some setting on her club team and learned more while attending camps this summer at Creighton and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“I liked the idea of setting,” Banker said. “It gives me more control out there and more of a chance to be a leader, which is something I wanted to do.”
Judging by the SkyHawks' performance at the season-opening Bellevue Invitational, the switch has paid off. Banker helped Skutt win five of six matches, losing only to Millard North for the championship.
It was the first time in the 30-plus years of the tournament that a Class B team had reached the final.
“We weren't really disappointed after that loss,” Banker said. “I think we were all really proud of the way we played.”
Along the way to that final, Skutt — one of two Class B squads in the 16-team field — defeated four ranked Class A teams. Saunders said that success didn't come as a surprise in part because of the SkyHawks' senior leadership.
“I've got a really good feeling about this team,” she said. “They worked hard over the summer to get ready for this season, so I can't say our performance was unexpected.”
In addition to Banker, there are five other seniors on the squad — Julia Faltin, Clare Snyder, Natalie Prucha, Maria Hruby and Taylor Holz. Juniors Claire Knust and Kierra Harder are returning starters and sophomore Alyssa Woodman also will be a key player this season.
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In the match against the Mustangs, Banker had 22 assists and Woodman had a team-high 10 kills in the final against Millard North.
Banker said another component to the SkyHawks' early success has been the team chemistry.
“Everybody gets along, and everybody wants what's best for the team,” she said. “I think that's definitely going to take us a long way.”
The SkyHawks didn't get as far as they had hoped last season, losing to Gretna in the district final. That setback kept Skutt from reaching the state tournament while the Dragons went on to finish as the Class B runners-up.
Whether that season-ending loss has any effect on this year's squad depends on who you talk to.
“I'd rather look ahead than look in the rear-view mirror,” Saunders said. “This is a new season and a new team, so I'm a lot more concerned about the future.”
Banker, however, isn't quite so willing to forget the past.
“It's definitely a motivation for me,” she said. “I felt like we had the talent last year, but it just didn't come together for us.”
Banker, who carries a 4.3 grade-point average, will attend Augustana on a volleyball scholarship. Before she begins her collegiate career, she is hoping to make her senior season something special.
“I've been a part of this team for a long time,” she said, “and I know this is it for me. I believe we can definitely do great things this season if we all pull together.”