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Rapid City Stevens reached the top of the mountain last season sweeping Sioux Falls Washington in three sets to capture the State Class AA volleyball championship — the school’s fourth volleyball title overall and first since 2007.

And while losing a host of outstanding players — South Dakota’s Miss Volleyball player of the year, Elizabeth Schaefer, Phebe Rossi, a second team all-state selection, and setter Marlee Schneider. But coach Kylie Voorhees comes into the new season confident that the Raider cupboard is far from bare.

“Absolutely, we graduated a lot of good, quality players, but we have a lot of quality players coming back, and now it’s just a matter of putting things together,” Voorhees said. “The one thing we are lacking this year is experience working together. We have the volleyball talent and all the pieces, and I know things are going to come together. I’m very confident of that.”

Heading the list of returnees for the Raiders are seniors Kyah Watson, a 5-foot-10 hitter who tallied 177 kills, 173 digs and 45 aces last season, and Laura Petik, a 5-8 libero who led the team with 270 digs in 2018.

“We lost a lot of seniors, but we have everybody back who was in the same gym last year,” said Petik, whose back-row duties will once again be vital to Raider success. “All the juniors who were with us last year are back, so we will have a strong senior team this year. And winning last year has given more energy and confidence. And the drive to come back and do it again.”

With holes to fill in the Raider lineup, early season practices have been spirited as returnees and young up-and-comers strive to make an impression.

“I’ve seen a lot of competitive girls out there all fighting for a position since our lineups are not set right now,” Voorhees said. “I’m open to playing different lineups and seeing what the best fit will be and these girls have been doing a great job of competing for spots and challenging each other.”

Among those looking to help fill the shoes of last year’s graduating class is Sammi Sundby, a 5-10 senior, who will be moving from a right-side hitting spot into the middle hitting position.

“It will be a little different, but it should be fun,” Sundby said while taking a brief break from an early practice. “We are all just super excited because with winning last year makes us all the hungrier to win again this year. I think we are really underestimated by some this year and we are ready to come out and compete.”

While coming in as the defending state champions has a nice ring to it, coach Voorhees does not want her team dwelling upon past laurels. Or celebrating a legacy forged by last year’s team.

“I think the girls know now what it feels like to be successful and to win but the one thing you have to be careful about is to dwell on the past,” Voorhees pointed out. “You can celebrate what you did in the past, but to be honest, it’s a new season and I want these girls to have their own goals and I want this to be about them and this season not about what we’ve done in the past.”

CLASS AA GIRLS:

DEFENDING STATE CHAMPION: Rapid City Stevens

What to look for – Anybody’s guess coming into the season. the preseason media poll has Sioux Falls Washington, last year’s runner, as the team to beat though Brandon Valley knocked off the Warriors on Tuesday’s night. Watertown, the third-place finisher in 2018, will again be in the hunt. And though Rapid City Stevens lost a number of quality players, the Raiders hope to reload and earn a third consecutive trip the Class AA championship game.

RAPID CITY STEVENS

Last season – Class AA State Champions (32-1)

Returning varsity players – Haleigh Paz (senior defensive specialist), Julia Lee (junior setter), Sammi Sundby (senior hitter), Laura Petik (senior libero), Sydney Beasley (senior hitter), Grace Martin (senior hitter), Bailee Sobczak (sophomore hitter), Jayda McNabb (sophomore hitter), Katie Collins (junior hitter), Kyah Watson (senior hitter).

RAPID CITY CENTRAL

Head coach: Jeanne Deming (4th year)

Last season - 14-17 (lost in SoDak 16 to SF Roosevelt)

Returning varsity players – Starters Rhiannon Nez (senior outside hitter), Addison Young (senior outside hitter), Dani Seljeskog (senior outside hitter) and Ramsey Deming (junior setter), Also returning are seniors Tayah Ladson (senior outside hitter), Julia Russell (senior libero), Sydney Belitz (senior defensive specialist), and Par’es Jennings (junior middle hitter).

Coach’s comment – “This year’s group of juniors and seniors are dedicated to each other and push each other to strive to do their best. One of our main goals is to have a winning record, but also to get better each and every day. We have not made it to state for several years…our top goal is to be playing in the state tournament. I always expect the girls to work harder than anyone else, take care of the little things and to have fun!”

DOUGLAS

Head coach: Angela Estes (1st year)

Last season - 7-25

Returning varsity players – Sierra Kolve (senior setter), Sarah Vinson (junior libero), Victoria Somerset (junior outside hitter), Jessica Martian (senior outside hitter), Breah Mulvehill (senior middle hitter), Sarah Curry (senior outside hitter), Melissa Rothe (senior outside hitter).

Coach’s comment – “At this point I don’t want to point out a specific athlete on my team. All will be able to contribute to what they will be asked,” Estes said while listing team expectations as skills, focus, discipline and heart.

SPEARFISH

Head coach: Christine Skoglund (1st year)

Last season – 12-21

Returning varsity players – Ashtyn Reiners (senior setter/outside hitter, all-BHC), Grace Karp (junior setter/outside hitter), Halle Rogers (junior middle blocker), Ella Murray (senior defensive specialist), Lyric Williams (senior middle blocker), Dylan Reman (sophomore outside hitter), Ellie Greger (senior libero).

Season outlook – The Spartans return to Class AA ranks and Coach Skoglund will face the challenge with underclassmen moving into starting roles. Juniors and sophomores will carry the load on the front line, and the setter and libero positions will see new faces as well.

STURGIS BROWN

Head coach – Traci Fransen (3rd year)

Last season – 8-20

Returning varsity players – Sydney Shaw (senior defensive specialist), Makayla Keffeler (junior outside hitter), Kylie Shaw (senior outside hitter), Kayley Whatley (sophomore middle hitter), Eliza Gruba (senior outside hitter), Sarah Janz (senior outside hitter), Emily Gray-Smith (senior middle hitter).

Coach’s comment – “We have a good mix of returning varsity experience and young talent coming in. We look to build on last years' successes and will continue to work hard to improve our teams at all levels, on a daily basis.”

CLASS A GIRLS

DEFENDING STATE CHAMPION – Sioux Falls Christian

What to look for – Two-time defending champion Sioux Falls Christian earns the top spot in both coaches and media polls with Miller lead by standout Kadye Fernholz, a Kansas State commit, the second choice. A trio of Black Hills area teams — St. Thomas More, Rapid City Christian and Hill City — will be in the hunt as well.

ST. THOMAS MORE

Head coach – Scott Benson (3rd year)

Last season - 30-6

Returning varsity players – Ciara Benson (senior outside hitter, all-BHC), Kaci Cooper (senior middle hitter), Grace Brechtel (senior defensive specialist), Haleigh Timmer (junior outside hitter, all-BHC), Sarah Matthes (junior setter), Mairin Duffy (sophomore outside hitter), Skylar Sullivan (senior libero, all-BHC).

Coach’s comment – “We have three seniors and a junior and a sophomore that both started last year. We have some size and we are very athletic. With my daughter and Haleigh as hitters we will be pretty strong and probably give some teams problems at times. And we have a lot of different places we can attack from with a lot of good hitters and with that size, we have some good blockers as well. With Hill City and Rapid City Christian both looking to be very strong this year this region will be very competitive this year.”

BELLE FOURCHE

Head coach – Loree Schlichtemeier (17th year)

Last season – 10-19

Returning letter winners – Alexis Cherveny (senior outside hitter), Elena Wolf (senior defensive specialist), Taryn Stedillie (senior setter), Harley Fischer (senior libero, all-BHC), Aspen Braning (senior middle hitter), Hayley Wilbur (junior middle hitter), Kaylin Garza (sophomore outside hitter).

Coach’s comment – “Our varsity team is going to be young with varsity experience Amity Middleton joined the varsity last season before playoffs. We also have an enthusiastic group of upcoming underclassmen. The girls in our program are hard workers and I expect them to make big improvements as the season progresses.”

RAPID CITY CHRISTIAN

Head coach – Elizabeth Kieffer (1st year)

Last season - 25-12 in 2018 and Class A State Tournament (8th)

Returning letter winners – Rebecca Morgan (senior), Riley Freeland (junior), Abby Pierce (junior), Tori Altstiel, (junior), Abbie Goff (junior), and Olivia Kieffer (freshman).

Coach’s comment – “We are a very young team with only one senior but our expectations are high for the season. We felt blessed by being able to compete at last year's state tournament. We will continue to strive toward winning another berth for the 2019 state tournament using our team theme of family.”

HILL CITY

Head coach – Lindsy Wathen (3rd year)

Last season – 30-7

Returning varsity players – Shalie Weaver (junior libero), Kadyn Comer (junior defensive specialist), Hailey Wathen (junior outside hitter, all-BHC), Dale Schrier (junior middle hitter, all-BHC), Whitney Edwards (sophomore middle hitter), Emily Siemonsma (senior middle hitter, all-BHC), Marie Peckosh (sophomore outside hitter), Abby Siemonsma (sophomore setter), Allison Clemetson (junior outside hitter), Holly Peckosh (senior outside hitter, all-BHC).

Coach’s comment – “Most of the varsity roster is returning, all of whom lettered last season. Players who were on the varsity roster last year, but who will be playing bigger roles for us this season, include juniors Shalie Weaver and Allie Clemetson and sophomores Abby Siemonsma and Marie Peckosh.  We'll be expecting our returning seniors and juniors, Emily Siemonsma, Holly Peckosh, Dale Schrier, and Hailey Wathen, to continue to provide leadership and take our team into the post season as far as possible.”

HOT SPRINGS

Head coach – Tanna White (1st year)

Last season - 10-21

Returning varsity players – Kaitlyn Harris (junior middle hitter & letter winner), Kylene Baker (sophomore setter & letter winner), Julia Russell (senior outside hitter), Jadyn Walton (sophomore middle hitter), Tyler Warner (senior outside hitter), Brooke Harkless (sophomore setter). Also expected to contribute are freshman Jaylen Natchtigal and junior Jessie Schroeder.

Coach’s comment – “We are going to be a young team this year with many new players. Last year's team graduated a lot of seniors but we have a great group of girls who stepped up and are playing well. They really worked hard throughout the summer as young players to get more experience and touches on the ball.”

CUSTER

Head coach – Jill Hohn and Miranda Jaure

Last season – 9-24

Returning varsity players – Emily Meyer (junior setter), Darian Block (junior outside hitter), Kaitlyn Spring (junior outside hitter), Josie Wahlstrom (junior middle hitter), Heidi Moore (junior middle hitter, setter), Sydney Gaulke (senior hitter), Shelby Gramkow (senior outside hitter), Laney Carlin (junior middle hitter).

Season outlook – The Lady Wildcats will be junior dominated team, and with that up-and-coming and perhaps a year away from making big things happen. Improvement in 2019 will be difficult given the depth of quality teams in the Black Hills Conference this season.

LEAD-DEADWOOD

Head coach – Kim Hansen (4th season)

Last season - 12-14

Returning starters – Anna Campbell (senior outside hitter, all-BHC), Hannah Campbell (senior outside hitter), Raygen Mattson (senior middle blocker), Natalie Jannsen (senior middle blocker, starter in 2017, out last season with ACL), Blake Mehlberg (senior libero), Kailee Bertrand (junior setter).

Coach’s comments – “We are pretty full stocked this year. We are going to start six seniors and a junior so we will be a team with a lot of experience. This is my fourth year and we all know what’s going on and what to expect from each other. That’s the great part about being with these girls since they were freshmen. We have a really strong region, maybe one of the strongest regions in the state with a lot of good teams this year so it should be a really fun season.”

CLASS B GIRLS

DEFENDING STATE CHAMPION - Warner

What to look for – Perennial powers Northwestern and Warner (winners of 16 of the last 20 Class B state titles) top preseason polls though both teams will need to reload after losing valuable players to graduation. Faith will likely carry the West River hopes as the Longhorns will return experienced players from last year’s team that finished 3rd place at State.

EDGEMONT

Head coach – Susan Ostenson (8th year)

Last season - 12-18

Letterwinners returning - Jenna Ostenson (senior setter, 5 year starter), Elli Hollenbeck (junior middle hitter), Sarah Kate Barker (junior outside hitter), Morgan Peterson (sophomore setter), Peyton Ostenson (9th grader). New players: senior Sarah Carstons, junior Kali Schmidt sophomore Kaitlin Gerard, freshmen Sierra Morse, Liv Ellstrom, Bridget Nevielle, and Antje Rendon.

Coach’s comment – “We graduated four seniors last year, and for Edgemont, this is a big class!  We are heavy on the underclassman this year, with only one returning senior. Our first week of practice set the pace for hard work, growth, and working together as a team. We have seen talent on the floor as well as some very dedicated players. I’m excited to see where they will go this year.

KADOKA AREA

Head coach – Barry Hutchinson (9th year)

Last season - 28-5, lost to Kimball-White Lake in SoDak 16

Returning varsity players – Jade Hutchinson (junior outside hitter), Augusta McMillin (senior outside hitter), Abbi Roghair (junior outside hitter), Becca Shuck (sophomore outside hitter), Lavin Bendt (senior middle hitter), Eve Patterson (senior setter), Kaylee O’daniel (senior outside hitter), Kaycee O’daniel (senior libero), Sammi Stout (junior setter).

Coach’s comment – “We have several letter winners returning from last season but only three of them were starters from last season. We lost some real good seniors, but we should be competitive. We will have 5-6 kids that haven’t played much varsity become starters this season, but we feel like we can still compete. There are quite a few teams to watch in our area—Faith and Philip seem to be at the top the last few seasons.”

NEW UNDERWOOD

Head coach – Brandi Ballard

Last season – 18-9

Varsity players returning – Jaden Crowser (junior outside hitter), Mikala Olic (sophomore setter), Lexi Ballard (junior middle hitter), Chloe Miller (junior outside hitter), Avery Heinert (junior outside hitter), Audra Derr (junior outside hitter), Portia Wiebers (sophomore outside hitter), Emma Madsen (sophomore outside hitter, setter), Cerington Jones (junior middle hitter), Hollie Smith (junior outside hitter).

Coach’s comment – “We are returning all but two seniors. Our team has lots of varsity experience coming into the season. We have great hitters and need to fill a backrow position. As long as we defend well our offense will be effective. Last year we ended up above .500, and we are looking forward to bigger and better things this year. We are hoping for a SoDak 16 appearance this year because we just fell short last year.”

OELRICHS

Head coach – Katie Frieden (2nd year)

Last season – 8-23

Returning varsity players – Osheanna Mousseaux (senior outside hitter), Baylie Her Many Horses (senior outside hitter), Jada Rouillard (junior defensive specialist), T’lea Rouillard (senior setter), Patricia Carlow (junior defensive specialist).

Coach’s comment – “I expect to see a lot of growth this year, both on and off the court. We have a young team with a lot of ambition. New players to look for: Amelia Her Many Horses and Mabel Janis.”

PHILIP

Head coach – Ella Smith (6th year)

Last season – 27-6

Returning letterwinners – Joey Carley (senior middle hitter), Josie Rush (senior setter), Jaida Haynes (junior setter, defensive specialist), Cooper Lurz (sophomore outside hitter), Arly Spry (junior outside hitter), Mallory Vetter (junior outside hitter), Allison Williams (sophomore defensive specialist).

Coach’s comment – “Our overall goal is to make it to the state tournament.  Leading up to that end goal, I always want my team to throw it all out on the court and give each team they play their absolute best.”

WALL

Head coach – Dani Herring (9th year)

Record last year – 18-13

Returning varsity players – Letterwinners: Jenna Elshere (junior outside hitter), Lillyanna Wagner (junior middle hitter), Abby Moon (senior setter), Ava Dinger (sophomore outside hitter), Samantha Deutscher (senior setter, defensive specialist). New players: Charlie Heathershaw (junior setter), Abbianna Weinzetl (Junior defensive specialist).

Coach’s comment – “We are going to be looking to rebuild after a large senior class graduated last year. There will have to be a lot of changes to our team, and we are looking for some underclassmen to step up into varsity positions this season.”

FAITH

Head coach – Mandy Lemmel

Last season – 31-2 and a 3rd place finish in Class A State Tournament

Returning letterwinners – Allix Vance (senior defensive specialist), Sydnie Schauer (senior setter), Megan Drum (senior libero), Jaydon Delbridge (senior outside hitter), Kirston Delbridge (junior outside hitter), Sidney Hanson (junior defensive specialist), Ariah Engle (junior outside hitter), Aiyana Byrd (junior middle hitter).

Coach’s comment – “We would sure like to make another run at the state tournament.”

HARDING COUNTY

Head coach: Tammy Bruha (16th season)

Last season - 16-15

Returning varsity players - Brooklyn Williams (senior libero), Tessah Hewson (senior outside hitter), Gracie Hand (senior hitter), Karissa Rasmussen (senior defensive specialist), Logan Kautzman (junior setter), Jaclyn Jensen (junior middle hitter), Abby Fox junior outside hitter), Sammi Comes(junior outside hitter) Karlin Teigen (sophomore libero), Hadley Pihl (sophomore middle hitter), Emily Comes (sophomore middle hitter).

Coaches comments: “We may be small in number this year, but we have a great group of young ladies who have a lot of potential. Every year is exciting to watch a group of athletes step up and play at a high level. With hard work, perseverance, and communication, we can make this a very rewarding season.

NEWELL

Head coach – Tysha McDonald

Last season – 5-20

Returning varsity players – Braidy Nelson (junior outside hitter), Kyla Emmert (junior middle hitter), Kassidy Weeldreyer (junior middle hitter), Jessica Heil (senior setter), Sydnee Kjellsen (sophomore setter), McKaLee Mahaffy (junior libero).

Season outlook – Irrigators have only one senior on the team’s eight person roster and will depend upon five juniors, all of whom have a nice blend of size and experience to improve upon last year’s mark. Might be a learning year for the youthful laden squad.

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