Wayne State has shown through the volleyball season’s first two weeks how potent its offense can be.

Six Wildcats are averaging at least 1.76 kills per set and they’re hitting .302 as a team, which ranks ninth nationally in NCAA Division II. The 8-0 Wildcats have dropped just one set through their first eight matches.

“We feel this is the deepest team we’ve probably ever had here,” said Wayne coach Scott Kneifl, whose team moved up two spots to No. 20 in the national poll. “We’re bigger and more physical at the net. But we’re also playing smart volleyball, knowing when to go for it and when not to.”

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The Wildcats, 22-9 in 2018, have a mix of experience and freshmen in their rotation. Back at middle hitter are senior Tarrin Beller and junior Jaci Brahmer. Beller is second in the country in hitting percentage at .536, while Brahmer is hitting .429.

Katie Stephens, a Papillion-La Vista graduate, and Alyssa Ballenger, who led the Wildcats in kills last year, also are back as outside hitters.

But a couple of freshmen also are in the starting lineup. Kelsie Cada, a true freshman from Wahoo Neumann, is second on the team in kills at 3.12 per set, while Rachel Walker from Lincoln Southwest averages 11.12 assists per set.

“Rachel has done a great job running the offense,” Kneifl said. “As a redshirt freshman, she still has things to learn, but she has a sense of calm out there and is a really smart player.”

Kneifl, though, knows keeping up those kinds of lofty numbers will be tough to do.

“We know it’s not going to go that easy when we get in conference play,” he said. “We feel we play in the best conference in the country.”

Northern Sun conference play begins this weekend, and eight of the league teams are in the Top 25. Wayne plays Saturday at No. 8 Northern State, one of four league teams in the top 10.

“It’s rare when there’s a week that we don’t play a team with a number in front of their name,” Kneifl said. “That can be frustrating, but we also know our program would not be where it’s at today if not for that competition day in and day out.”

Wayne also is in the tradition-rich Central Region, which includes the NSIC and MIAA. Twelve teams from the region are in the Top 25. Only eight region teams move on to the postseason.

UNK is ranked sixth in the national poll as it’s off to a 9-0 start. The Lopers play at No. 3 Washburn on Saturday.

In other Midlands notes:

  • The GPAC is one of the best volleyball conferences in the NAIA as it has five teams in the Top 25. Midland, Northwestern and Jamestown are tied for the league lead with 3-0 marks. Midland handed Concordia its first loss on Saturday, taking the fifth set 15-13.
  • Nebraska Wesleyan is second in Street & Smith’s preseason men’s basketball rankings for NCAA Division III. The Prairie Wolves return six of their top eight scorers from a 27-2 team that was ranked No. 1 most of last season before being upset in the second round of the national tournament. Omaha Creighton Prep grad Nate Schimonitz is a preseason first-team All-American, according to the magazine.
  • On Monday, Concordia women’s basketball player Philly Lammers was named winner of the Emil S. Liston Award, which recognizes academic and athletic excellence by junior basketball players. One male and one female NAIA player are awarded a $1,000 scholarship each year. Lammers, a Millard West graduate, will be a senior this season after she led Concordia to its first national title in March.

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