Vikings hoping to repeat

Northwest’s McKenzie Brown, the returning All-Heartland Super Squad captain, and her Viking teammates are ready to defend their Class B state title.

The Northwest volleyball team wants to accomplish the same thing it did last year.

The Vikings want to finish the 2013 season with a second consecutive Class B state championship.

Northwest may have the pieces to do that. With 10 letterwinners and four starters back from a team that went 35-2 and swept 23 straight matches at one point, they could make the state finals for the seventh straight year

Viking coach Diane Rouzee said she and the players are excited for their opportunity to defend their state championship.

"They have something to prove," Rouzee said. "The kids know they have the targets on their backs and I think they have handled it well. But I have a great athletic and competitive group that’s great to work with every day.

"They have a lot of passion for the game of volleyball and they have great chemistry with each other. They make me want to go to practice every day because they are such a fun group to have."

McKenzie Brown, the returning All-Heartland Super Squad captain in both volleyball and basketball and the 2013 Independent girls athlete of the year, returns for the Vikings. Brown did almost everything for Northwest last year in finishing with 226 kills with a .260 hitting efficiency with 264 digs.

"She is a special young lady that’s very talented," Rouzee said. "She is a very humble kid that works hard everyday. She’s an excellent leader. She looks strong, is smart and is very athletic. She’s gotten better in every part of her game every year and I think her passing has gotten even better throughout the course of the summer."

Katie Placke, Erin Sorahan and Angelica Carlini are also returning for the Vikings and should have big seasons as well. Placke had a breakout season with 193 kills, 349 set assists, 46 blocks and 195 digs. Sorahan was just as impressive with 141 kills and 123 digs.

Carlini was used mostly as a defensive specialist last year and finished with 246 digs.

Rouzee said she’s excited to see what those players can do as well.

"Katie just blew everyone away with her year last year," Rouzee said. "She’s a different kid that has so strength and confidence more than what I saw last year. Everything about her game is just so much better than last year. Erin is on a different level right now. She is pounding the ball a lot harder than she was last year. Her serving is coming along and she passes very well.

"Angelica is a player that has done whatever we’ve asked her to do," Rouzee said. "She is a kid that is in a different place as well. Her serving and passing is right on. She is showing great leadership and I’m happy for that."

Kennadi Keezer, who had 83 kills and 40 blocks, is another returning starter, but she didn’t practice much during the summer because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Rouzee said Keezer has been practicing very well and should be back in the lineup at the start of the season.

"She had knee surgery pretty late and she is looking very good," Rouzee said. "She is farther than what I could imagine after an injury like that. She’s going to help us as well."

Rouzee said Kenzie Burnham, Alyssa Martin, Allie Beckmann, Erin Schleicher and Allie Carlini will see significant playing time for the season.

"I think those players will play some significant roles for us this season," Rouzee said. "They have improved and come together. I think the more experienced players will help those players out."

Even with all of the experience coming back for the Vikings, repeating won’t be an easy task. Rouzee said teams like Gretna, which Northwest defeated in the state finals last year, along with Waverly, Lincoln Pius X, Elkhorn South and many others will have good teams coming back.

"There’s a ton of great teams in Class B this year," Rouzee said. "This could be one the most competitive Class B has been in a very long time. There’s probably around 10 to 12 teams that are going to be very good this year and have a chance to compete for a state title."

Rouzee said in order to have a chance to repeat and to be successful, one very important thing has to happen.

"We have to stay healthy," Rouzee said. "We don’t have a lot of young kids that can step in and fill in for those seniors. Hopefully we don’t have to run into that situation. That’s the key thing."

The Vikings open the season against Crete Sept. 5 at Northwest.

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