There is a lot of excitement in the air as we head into the final three days of the 2015 high school volleyball season in Nebraska as we prepare to crown six state champions on Saturday.
In the midst of all the excitement, however, there is a hint of sadness for those who follow volleyball in the state when it sinks in that we are watching the final matches in the high school careers of so many seniors. In particular, during the Class A tournament, be sure to take some time to specifically marvel at the ability and play of Papillion-LaVista South Raegan LeGrand and Omaha Marian’s Brittany Witt because it may be a long, long time before we see players like them again.
Both players will move on to the college ranks and compete at the highest of levels – LeGrand at USC and Witt at Creighton. Both players walked onto high school courts as freshmen at powerhouse programs and acted like they owned it from the very beginning. Both have state championship medals. Both have earned All-Nebraska honors. Both were recently named 2nd team All-Americans by AVCA. LeGrand was named one of the top seniors in the nation in the preseason by PrepVolleyball.com. Witt was a USA Today 1st-Team Preseason All-American selection. Both names are instantly recognized by the top college coaches across the nation.
Both will go down as being in the group of the greatest players in Nebraska high school volleyball history.
LeGrand would probably admit herself that she got a little spoiled her freshman year, playing on what is probably the greatest team in state history – the 2012 Papillion-LaVista South squad. She played fearlessly against national powers Torrey Pines and Louisville Assumption in a triangular featuring the top three teams in the country in Omaha. When the Titans won their third-straight state title that year with a 25-14, 25-16, 25-15 win over Omaha Marian, LeGrand tied current Husker setter Lindsey Hunter with 11 digs to lead the team and also chipped in an ace serve.
Across the net that day, Witt had to watch as the Titans knocked off her team and celebrated a state title. As the freshman libero for Marian, Witt had a match-high 14 digs in that state championship match and no doubt developed a motivation to get back to the state finals. And, now three years later, it’s Witt who enters a state tournament looking for a third straight championship to close out her career. Fittingly enough, should both teams win on Thursday in the first round LeGrand’s Titans and Witt’s Crusaders will square off to see who gets to finish their high school career playing for another championship.
LeGrand moved from libero to outside hitter as a sophomore for the Titans because, well, she’s extremely good at it. It says a lot about her ability that one of the nation’s top programs wants her as a 5-foot-10 libero, but she has the explosiveness and power that she has averaged 422 kills a year the past three season for the Titans. LeGrand enters the state tournament with 438 kills this year on .332 hitting. For her career she has what you could call a triple-quadruple – 1,267 kills, 1.029 digs and 1,122 serve receptions. LeGrand’s ability as a full-rotation player and simply being a “volleyball player” is unmatched today.
By staying at libero all four years, Witt either already has or will be rewriting the record books with her accomplishments. She enters the state tournament with a Nebraska all-class record 2,378 digs in her career. To put that into perspective, no other player in state history has ever had more than 2,000 in a career before Witt accomplished it. Her 738 digs last year is the Class A single-season record. Her 44 digs in a state-tournament match last season is tied for the Class A record. Her 16.77 digs per match last year is the Class A single-season record. In short, Witt is the new standard for libero excellence in Nebraska.
Perhaps the trait which most connects these two standouts the most, however, can’t be measure with a number but you can definitely see it. Both have the attribute that takes a great athlete and makes them elite – leadership.
Witt strikes you as a soft-spoken, mild-manner type but her floor general skills are obvious unless you’re deaf. Witt’s voice is loud, authoritative, confident and constant. At a position that requires incredible instinct, quickness and confidence, where Witt shines is in her calling of shots, positions and direct traffic in a manner that often leaves opponents wondering how the Crusaders cover so much floor space.
Similarly, LeGrand carries herself very much like her favorite athlete – LeBron James. The emotion of every point is clearly written on her face and make no mistake, if the Titans need a kill at a big moment this weekend, number 13 will be demanding the ball. That’s who she is. And when she connects, Lord have mercy on the Baden ball she pounds to the floor.
So, as we put a ribbon on this high school volleyball season in the next 72 hours, spend at least a few of those minutes taking in an appreciating the greatness of LeGrand and Witt because there is no telling how long it will be before we see players like them again.