LINCOLN – Maybe it’s the fact that members of the Cedar Bluffs volleyball team have been playing together for a long time. Maybe it’s the bitterness of having a 14-match winning streak snapped in a 2015 district final that kept the Wildcats from a second-straight state tournament. Or, maybe, Cedar Bluffs just had a good weekend.
Whatever it is, though, was working for the Wildcats as Cedar Bluffs finished the two-day Nebraska Wesleyan team camp with the best record among the 15 varsity teams competing. Class D-1 Cedar Bluffs went a combined 12-2 (set record) in the two days with its only two losses coming in a 27-26, 21-18 loss to Class A Lincoln Northeast. Those scores are a little funky because sets were capped at 27 and matches had a time limit.
Lincoln Northeast and Syracuse each finished the camp with 10-4 marks while Bertrand, Bratrice, Sandy Creek and Clarkson-Leigh each finished at 8-6. Bellevue East finished eighth at 7-7.
Teams from Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, David City, Bancroft-Rosalie-Lyons-Decatur, Central City, Broken Bow, Bedford and Osceola also competed in the camp.
Here are some notes and thoughts from what I saw on Saturday:
I feel like I’ve been beating on the Emma Thomssen drum for a long time and, I guess, I’m just going to keep on doing it because every time I see her play I walk away more impressed. The Lincoln Northeast senior setter is – in my opinion – the best senior Class A setter in the state. She earned All-American honors for VCNebraska earlier this summer at the AAU National Championships in Orlando and she is committed to a nice Division II program at Southwest Minnesota State. Craig Songster is a great coach at Lincoln Northeast and maximizes what he has at Lincoln Northeast, but Thomssen generally is chasing her sets and has to rely on her athleticism more than most setters and still manages to make something out of not much.
Lincoln Northeast, to its credit, is on the rise based on what was on the court last weekend. After going 12-24 a year ago, I would expect that the Rockets will be around the .500 mark this season.
As mentioned before, Cedar Bluffs has been really good in Class D-1 the last last two years, making the state tournament in 2014 and going 27-5 before falling the in the district finals to Howells-Dodge in 2015. Despite the loss of versatile all-stater Mandi Stansberry, Cedar Bluffs brings back enough talent to eclipse 25 wins again and find its way to the state tournament. Maddy Roumph looked good over the weekend and is the Wildcats’ best full-rotation player – although they were all full-rotation players over the weekend with just six player. Emilee Klahn is, in my opinion, is one of the more intriguing players in Class D. The 6-foot junior looks much stronger than I have seen her in the past and while she is really raw yet in her volleyball development, her athleticism and potential is easily evident.
It might sound crazy, but sometimes you can really see in July when a team is on a mission for the fall, and Syracuse had that look about them at Wesleyan. That might sound strange for a team that went 8-23 last year, but that was just the vibe they put out. They had a lot of kids and lots of different kids played and they played well – as their 10-4 record indicates. The Rockets lose just one senior DS from last year and Meredith Clark – who was second-team all-conference as a freshman last year, looks like she will be one of the most dominant middles in Class C-1 this year.
When you think about the most dominant volleyball programs of this decade, you might not think about Bertrand, but you should. Part of that is due to the Vikings’ 4-6 record at the state tournament this decade with their best finish being the 2011 runner-up. But, consider that starting in 2010, Bertrand has gone a combined 167-25 – never losing more than six matches in a season and never winning less than 25. By going 8-6 against this level of competition, the Vikings are sending signals that they will be among the elite in D-1 again. She might only be 5-foot-6, but nobody was dropping the hammer harder at the net than Bertrand’s Halle Dahlgren over the weekend.
If you’re looking for a sleeper team in Class B that could make some noise this fall, look no further than Beatrice. Even though the Orangemen have finished under .500 the past two years, it’s a team could find a way into the state tournament this year. A 5-foot-10 junior, Michaela Jones was Beatrice’s best player last year and led the team in kills, but Beatrice loses its next three leading attackers. There’s a lot of young talent – a lot of talent – in the program and it showed at Wesleyan. If you’re going to get your lumps in against the Orangemen this fall, better do it in September because they are going to get good really quick.
I’ve got to be honest and say that I didn’t expect to actually watch much of Clarkson-Leigh before making the trip to Lincoln, but it turned out that the Patriots played so well I wanted to watch them as much as possible. How unlikely was it that the Patriots would go 8-6 in the camp? Well, the last three years the Class C-2 program was won a combined 22 matches. It is important to remember that scores can be deceiving in the summer, but at the same time what Clarkson-Leigh did was impressive. Other than getting throttled in a little bit of a head scratcher by Bellevue East 25-16, 25-13 the Patriots “beat” everyone else they played (winning point differential in the four matches they split and sweeping two others). Shelby Paprocki,a 5-foot-9 senior, was one of the best all-around players on the day for Clarkson-Leigh and 5-9 sophomore Hannah Kasik also impressed.
Sandy Creek has been a top-10 caliber team in Class C-2 each of the last two years and it would see the Cougars will again be in the hunt this fall. Sandy Creek impressed me with their size and over athleticism at Wesleyan in finishing with a 8-6 record. There were some moments of inconsistent play as a team – including beating Bedford 25-5 and then turning around and losing the next set 25-23 – but there is a lot to be excited about for Sandy Creek. Addison Kuta, a 5-10 senior, is back after leading the team in kills last year and a pair of juniors in Cambria Chohon and Coree Lipovsky both seem primed for big years and setter Kenzie Turman had the second-most assists in C-2 last year by an underclassman.
Since going to the Class A state tournament in 2011, Bellevue East has struggled to compete for a trip to Lincoln, going 36-101 in the four seasons since, so it was nice to see the Chieftains going 7-7 at Wesleyan and start the summer off right. I was actually thinking it might be more of a struggle for Bellevue East out of the gates this summer because the Chieftains do not return a player who had more than 30 kills last year and there were definitely a lot of fresh faces and young players on the court. It will be interesting to see how they progress over the summer and, to be frank, it’s going to take me another time or two of watching them to figure out who is who for the Chieftains.
On Thursday we will be at the Doane College team camp.