Final 2016 Volleyball Power Rankings

It’s time to put a cap on the 2016 high school volleyball season.

We’ll start this week with our final power rankings of the season, followed by a (way too early) look at how 2017 may shape up.

Looking back at my initial 2016 power rankings, there were some teams I hit on (Kickapoo, Eminence, Miller), some teams I missed on (Winona) and others (Wheaton, Sarcoxie, Bolivar) that came on to have strong seasons.

Here’s my take on the final power rankings for the 2016 season. Keep in mind, these are based on dominance by Class, not head-to-head.

I hope to publish All-O-Zone Volleyball selections next week.

1. Strafford (31-2-1 overall, Class 2) – Crazy, I know. But I still maintain Strafford had the best body of work of any team in the area. The Indians had only lost three total sets all season before their loss to Mountain View-Birch Tree/Liberty in sectionals. No one was beating St. Pius X (Festus) at state, but I think Strafford would’ve beaten Hermann and St. Paul Lutheran (Concordia) and at least made the finals. Liberty caught Strafford on the right day and played its best match of the season at the perfect time. Tough end for Strafford, which graduates hitter Rilie Vote (team-high 296 kills), in addition to middle Jessica Allen (team-high 53 blocks) and setter Gracie Morton (536 assists, 160 digs). Vote and Morton were all-state.

2. Eminence (29-12 overall, Class 1) – One point! It’s crazy to think how much Eminence’s fortunate turned in one sequence of round-robin play at state. The Redwings, sitting at 2-2, led Valle Catholic (4-0) 24-20 in the first set. Eminence was one point away from a crucial first-set win and taking the first step toward forcing a three-way tie for two spots in Saturday’s title match. Instead, Eminence couldn’t close the deal as Valle Catholic rallied to take the first set (27-25) then prevailed in the second set (26-24). But, making state is an accomplishment in itself. For my money, Eminence’s match with Wheaton in the sectional round was the best/most competitive match I saw all season – aided by the fact that about 600 or so fans somehow crammed into Hurley’s tiny gym to provide a raucous environment. Eminence graduates three seniors, and they’re good ones in libero Kimberly Rolen (337 digs), MH Savanna Conner (143 kills, 245 digs) and OH Madison Keeling (268 kills, 172 digs). Keeling was all-state.

3. MV-BT/Liberty (30-7-2 overall, Class 2) – Liberty’s up-and-down season trended up at the right time. The Eagles played their best volleyball in October, going 14-1-1 overall leading up to the state final four. Liberty, dare I say, overachieved. A few coaches I talked to in the preseason suggested it may be a “down,” season for Liberty – understandably so considering some of the talent Liberty’s turned out in recent years. But that obviously wasn’t the case as Liberty was a tiebreaker set away from reaching the state finals. St. Pius X (Festus) was the clear-cut queen of Class 2 this year, but Liberty definitely wasn’t overmatched against Hermann or St. Paul Lutheran (Concordia). The Eagles graduate a strong four-player senior class in DS Tori Terrill, OH Brenley Stearns (230 kills), setter Brook Conway (157 kills, 345 assists) and OH Makayla Elliott. Stearns and Conway were all-state.

4. Ozark (28-11-1 overall, Class 4) – The one team that played up to its caliber at state? Ozark. The Tigers settled for third, again, but they were feisty and competitive throughout. Unlike the other three local teams represented at state, I never got the impression that Ozark was intimidated or playing below its standard. The Tigers played with, by far, the most enthusiasm of any local team at state. Class 4 was just so, so good this year. Ozark’s depth in the height and hitting departments take a hit with graduation (Alexandra Johnston, Kaylan Smith). Ozark also graduates OH/DS Ryley Thixton and will enter 2017 needing a new libero (Molly Taylor).

5. Rogersville (33-8 overall, Class 2) – I’m still not sure what happened to the Wildcats in Cape Girardeau, and I imagine coach Tammy Miller and some of her players still wonder that same question on occasion. It was a very un-Rogersville like weekend for the Wildcats, who doubled their previous loss total (4) with an 0-4 showing at the Show-Me Center. Rogersville only won one set at state, an eventual 2-1 loss to St. Francis Borgia in the Class 3 3rd place match. Rogersville showed a brief flash of its potential by playing Pleasant Hill to a 28-26 loss in the first set of its final round-robin match, when the Wildcats were already headed for the 3rd place match and the Chicks needed a 2-0 sweep to earn a spot in the finals. But, Rogersville still had a great season. They lost to some of the best teams in Southwest Missouri (Kickapoo, Ozark) and a couple of powerhouses from Arkansas. Rogersville graduates an eight-player senior class, including starters Hannah Hendrickson (all-state), Ashley Pierson and Bay Ivie. Hendrickson brought versatility, Ivie’s defense (82 total blocks) will be missed and Pierson was the team’s libero.

6. Wheaton (24-7-4 overall, Class 1) – I was very impressed with Wheaton in its eventual sectional-round loss to Eminence. Wheaton was very strong at the net with its two senior middles. The Bulldogs were a state-caliber team, but Eminence was just a little better that day (25-23, 27-25). That was Wheaton’s only loss to a Class 1 team all season and ended the best season for Bulldogs Volleyball in at least a decade. Wheaton will have to reshuffle its lineup quite a bit next season. The Bulldogs graduate their three best players in MH Emily Killion, setter Adison Goostree and MH Karlee Mason.

7. Kickapoo (27-8 overall, Class 4) – At its best, Kickapoo was borderline state-worthy. The Chiefs were one of only two local teams (Willard being the other) to take a set against Ozark this season, playing the Tigers to a 25-19, 25-12, 25-15 loss in the Class 4 District 11 finals. Kickapoo was a pretty balanced team and had some good depth overall, but they’ll have to replace their leading attacker in Allison Long (214 kills), libero (Kamryn Artale, 455 digs) and one of the area’s best setters (Kaelyn Faria, 582 assists).

8. Fair Grove (28-7-1 overall, Class 2) – Disappointing end for Fair Grove, which didn’t get a chance to face rival Strafford for a district title once again thanks to an upset win by Ash Grove in the Class 2 District 12 tournament semifinals. Like clockwork, it was another season of around 25 wins for coach Tonya Peck’s squad. The Eagles played a lot of underclassmen this season, but do graduate a four-player senior class that includes starters Leah Wahlquist and Tori Fishback.

9. Miller (28-4-2 overall, Class 1) – After dominating Pierce City in the semifinals, Miller didn’t have quite enough left in the tank to defeat Wheaton in the Class 1 District 8 title game, falling 25-22 and 25-17. But the Cardinals, after some lean years earlier this decade, took a big step toward establishing themselves as a Class 1 stronghold. The 28 wins are the most the program’s had in quite a while; there was a recent strech where the Cardinals didn’t reach 28 combined wins over a three- or four-season span. They’ll need some new leaders next season with the graduation of co-captains Dalyn Hadlock (setter) and Caitlyn Nunez (OH).

10. Winona (21-12-1 overall, Class 1) – The second-longest final four streaks in the area, behind only Ozark, came to an end this season. Winona failed to reach its fifth straight final four after falling 25-22, 25-22 to rival Eminence in the Class 1 District 5 finals. When a “down” season is winning 20 games and reaching the finals in your district tournament, you’ve established a pretty strong program. Winona graduates four seniors, only two of which saw significant action in setter Madison Counts and all-state middle Kyndal Thomason.

11. Willard (29-5-3 overall, Class 4) – Three straight seasons of 25+ wins and a district championship now for Willard. The Tigers, who were really young with only two seniors, had a high ceiling but also low floor at times this season. The good: nearly beating Ozark on the road late in the regular season, demolishing a good Carl Junction team at home, and whipping Hillcrest in the district finals. Willard loses some hitting depth with the graduation of Kaitlyn Williams (134 kills) and also will need a new setter in its 6-2 with the departure of Lindsay Britton (242 assists).

12. Clever (23-10-3 overall, Class 2) – Class 2’s so good locally that Clever’s achievements may have been overshadowed, but the Blue Jays had one of the most successful seasons of any local team that didn’t reach state: an undefeated conference title, 20+ wins, a district title and a sectional-round victory. Clever would bow out in the quarterfinals against MV-BT/Liberty. The Blue Jays take some graduation hits in the hitting and height (Taylor Menzies, Emily Mendenhall), and back-row defense (Madison Newman, Gabby Cole) departments.

13. Nevada (23-13 overall, Class 3) – I wasn’t sure what to expect of Nevada in our district volleyball preview due to its lack of games against local teams. Turns out, Nevada’s good. The Tigers ran the table in the Class 3 District 12 as the No. 4 seed, knocking off No. 1 seed Aurora and No. 2 seed Seneca in the same night to punch a ticket to the state playoffs. The bad news: Nevada will have a lot to replace. The Tigers graduate a stellar seven-player senior class. Megan Hold (284 kills, 252 digs), Ellie Smith (200 kills, 199 digs, 423 assists), McKinley Ellis (324 assists) and Margaret Cavener (254 digs, 56 aces) played large roles in Nevada’s success.

14. Carthage (28-9 overall, Class 4) – Quite the run for Carthage and its senior class. The Tigers won their first district title since 1983 and reached 20 wins for the fourth straight season. Unfortunately, you only get four years of high school volleyball and Carthage will now say goodbye to a senior class that’s helped it win a lot of games over the past few years, despite a couple of heartbreaking district losses. Carthage’s seniors include Kiley Tiller, Lynae Collier, Marley Hensley, Savannah Downing, Madison Burt and Brooke Guidie. Tiller goes out owning school records for kills in a career and single season (400+).

15. Aurora (20-10-1, Class 3) – Who needs a big senior class? Aurora only had two, one being the injured Emily Parker, and it won 20 games and went undefeated in Big 8 play. The quest for a district title was cut short by Nevada, but Aurora will have almost everyone back next year to make another run at it.

Knocking on the door: Liberal (22-5, Class 1), Marionville (25-6-1, Class 2), Sarcoxie (24-7-3 overall, Class 2), Hillcrest (25-7-3 overall, Class 4) , Carl Junction (18-12-1 overall, Class 4)

 

2017 Outlook (Top 10)

1. Ozark – I’m a big fan of their current sophomore class, who will be juniors next season. Ozark could use another hitter or two to pair with Macey Putt, but they’ve got some options in Sid Branson, Kinadie Wilcox and Kaitlyn Vorhies. They have the deepest DS/L/S stable in the area. Lafayette Wildwood – winners of sixth straight Class 4 state titles – is a juggernaut, but the Tigers are close to finally getting over that state 3rd-place game hurdle and making the finals.

2. Strafford – The Indians lose some hitting prowess, but a healthy Chloe Rear should help bridge the gap for some of Strafford’s varsity newcomers next year. Sophomores like Kentessa McMillen, Allisann Nichols and Victoria Shoen had major varsity roles this season.

3. Winona – Winona doesn’t graduate as much star power as Eminence does, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see another changing of the guard (again) between the two Shannon County schools next year. Winona will return four hitters who registered 100 or more kills, four of its top back-row players, and one of its two setters.

4. Rogersville – They’ll have arguably the best player in the area (sophomore-to-be Birdie Hendrickson), so that’s a good starting point. They’ll remain the best Class 3 team we have. The Wildcats will need some sophomores and potentially freshmen to fill in the gaps because they only had three juniors on varsity this season.

5. Aurora – The gang’s all back next season, led by a strong senior-to-be class that includes Emily Moore, Jacy Heller ,Kaylee Huffman and Rachel Negre.

6. Kickapoo – The Chiefs will need a new setter and a new libero, but they return a promising group of hitters led by Azyah Green and Madison Bowles, along with defensive specialists Leah Vokolek (Missouri State commit) and Emily Cockell.

7. Eminence – It’s tougher for the Class 1 teams to reload when graduation comes to star players, but the Redwings should still be strong with returnees like setter Sydney Williams, MH Mariah Smith and OH Wendy Smith. The Smiths will take on a lot of the hitting duties.

8. Fair Grove – Alana Findley will continue to terrorize teams at the net, and Fair Grove will continue to win around 25 games and contend for a district title.

9. Willard – Four players in the top five for kills and four plays in the top five for digs are back next season, along with one of two setters and the team’s top blocker.

10. Sarcoxie – The Bears had a really young team this year – their top middle, libero and setter were all sophomores – and still managed to win over 20 matches.

Knocking on the door: Glendale (C4), Nixa  (C4), Carl Junction (C4), Clever (C2), MV-BT/Liberty (C2), Miller (C1)

Update: I forgot to add Miller to “Knocking on the Door.” The Cardinals should be pretty good again next year