By Chris Parker
These power rankings are a measurement of dominance within class and not a strictly head-to-head comparison.
NOTE: All individual stats are as found on MaxPreps
1. Willard (C4 – 17-2)
Willard swept Nixa in three sets on Tuesday to solidify this top spot in these rankings. The Tigers have lost just two matches all year to Springdale Har-Ber and Jefferson City. Both of those losses came in a tournament setting. Willard beat Jefferson City in pool play before losing in the title match. That pool play victory is also Jefferson City’s only loss on the season thus far. Willard suffered a big loss when junior and Missouri State commit Payton Van Veen sustained an ACL injury just 17 sets into the season. Maddy Bushnell and Ashley Lasher have led the offensive attack for Willard this year with 128 and 109 kills, respectively. Emily Terry brings a devastating serve to the table with 41 aces to go with her 89 kills. Ashton Wildermuth has put Willard’s attackers in great position all season long with 378 total assists. A daunting COC schedule still awaits Willard with eight conference games to go along with the home Lori Endicott Invitational on Oct. 12.
2. Nixa (C4 – 10-2)
Nixa is a deep and balanced team that is basically 1A in the area, but gets this No. 2 spot after falling to Willard on Tuesday. The Eagles’ other loss was to Ft. Smith Southside in the Springfield Tournament. Their resume includes two wins over Kickapoo and a two-set sweep of Rogersville. Balance is the key word with Nixa, as Taylor Golmen, Jaycee Fixsen, Kenzie Hines, Lauren Weber and Jordan Collard all have between 63 and 80 kills. Golmen leads that group with 80 kills and an incredible .477 hitting percentage. Sophomore Sydney Golden has accounted for 326 assists. Lexie Gregory has been one of the area’s top defensive players posting 172 digs and 165 serve receptions. Nixa’s schedule has been difficult so far, but it is about to go to an extreme level. Tournaments at Blue Springs South and the Ozark Grand Slam remain on the schedule. In addition, league matches with Carthage, Joplin, Branson and Webb City remain. All but Carthage have two or fewer losses right now. To top it all off, Nixa will travel to Jefferson City on Oct. 25 to face Jefferson City and perennial power Helias Catholic.
3. Rogersville (C3 – 9-3)
Rogersville slips from the top spot in the preseason to No. 3 after taking losses to Nixa, Willard and Kickapoo. All three are Class 4 contenders. The Wildcats are about to get into the meat of their schedule with six wins at the Winnetonka tournament last weekend comprising half of their matches so far. Tournaments at Willard and the Ozark Grand Slam are on the schedule. Both could offer an opportunity to avenge regular season losses to Willard and Nixa, respectively. Reigning Gatorade Player of the Year Birdie Hendrickson has been unstoppable with 162 kills through 27 sets for an average of six kills per set. She also leads the team in digs with 125. Samantha Thompson has set Hendrickson up for many of her kills with 257 assists.
4. Strafford (C2 – 9-3)
Strafford just continues to take care of business. The Lady Indians have lost three matches this year, but they were to Class 4 schools Branson (17-2), Rockwood Summit (9-3) and Carthage (12-5-1). They have been dominant outside of those three losses winning 18 of 19 sets with that one set loss coming to a quality Class 3 squad in Marshfield. Madalynn Ward and Abby Chadwell have been executing the two-setter system to perfection with 126 and 125 assists, respectively. That has led to four different Strafford players posting kill totals between 43 and 67 so far. Two-time all-state selection Mica Chadwell has the 67-kill total. Strafford gets a chance to establish dominance among schools of a similar size this weekend at its home tournament.
5. Miller (C1 – 10-1)
The young Miller Cardinals picked up a statement three-set victory over Billings on Sept. 12 to firmly establish them as one of the biggest threats in the area to make a run to the Final Four in Class 1. The sophomore trio of Kaylee Helton, Claudia Hadlock and Ashten Kingsley along with freshman Haylie Schnake have all put down between 39 and 47 kills. Alli Mitchell has accounted for 161 of 167 total assists for Miller so far in her sophomore year. An Oct. 5 tournament at Mt. Vernon will give Miller some of its best competition of the year with many larger-class schools scheduled to attend.
6. Kickapoo (C4 – 15-3)
Yes this is the third Class 4 squad in the Top 6, but that is just how deep the area is in Class 4 this year. It has been a long time since the Ozarks has had this much quality in a single class. The Chiefs have taken three losses this year with two coming to Nixa and one coming to Ft. Smith Southside. Kickapoo avenged the loss to Southside this past weekend with a straight-set sweep in the Springfield Classic. Ultimately, Kickapoo shares a district with Nixa, so the Chiefs will have to beat the Eagles if they are to advance to the Class 4 State Tournament. Tayte Kozlowski continues to be one of the most versatile players in the Ozarks. She leads Kickapoo in kills (159), aces (21) and serve receptions (131) while being second on the team in digs and assists. Her squad is the clear-cut Ozark Conference favorite. The toughest remaining tests appear to be the Blue Springs Tournament on Oct. 5 along with a road trip to Jefferson City to face Helias Catholic and Jefferson City to finish the regular season.
7. El Dorado Springs (C2 – 6-0)
El Dorado Springs is a bit of an unknown at this point. The two-set win over Class 3 Nevada was quality, but otherwise they haven’t played a squad above .500. Sophomores Reese Schaaf and Tevi Gurley are playing a two-player offensive game right now with the duo accounting for 89% of El Dorado Springs’ assist and 74% of the kills. Some of the mystery will be lifted from El Dorado Springs this weekend at the Strafford Volleyfest. It will be a great measuring stick against a host of quality teams.
8. Licking (C2 – 11-2)
Licking has kept the momentum from last year’s historic season rolling this season with an 11-2 start. The two losses were to Class 3 power Blair Oaks in the Cabool Tournament. The Wildcats didn’t take a set from Blair Oaks, but did push them to a 30-28 decision in the second set of the title match. The biggest remaining regular season challenge for Licking will likely come in its home tournament with just two regular season matches remaining with teams currently above .500.
9. Branson (C4 – 17-2)
Branson has made an incredible leap this year going 17-2 in its first 19 games. Last year Branson won 17 matches all season long. The Pirates opened the season with a loss to Rogersville before going unbeaten in their home tournament. Marshfield beat Branson in the Camdenton Tournament on Sept. 21 for the second loss. The biggest win of the season came on Tuesday as Branson won a three-set victory over Ozark. MSHSAA records only go back to 2009, but since 2009 Branson had lost 13 straight matches and 26 consecutive sets to the Tigers. The attack has been incredibly potent for Branson with Annie Graber, Morgan Leblanc, Jordyn Schwartz and Jaden Moore all posting between 99 and 133 kills. Branson has nine regular season matches remaining and eight of them are against COC squads. The Pirates will also play in the Mt. Vernon Tournament.
10. Marshfield (C3 – 13-5)
Marshfield has been tested in the first month of the season with tournaments at Hickman and Camdenton to go with quality non-conference opponents. The Blue Jays have a high-quality win over Class 3 contender Blair Oaks. They beat Blair Oaks in two sets at the Hickman tournament to hand them their only loss so far this season. Marshfield also is one of two squads to beat Class 4 Branson. Matches at home with Mt. Vernon and Rogersville next week will go a long way in deciding the Big 8 East title.
11. Nevada (C3 – 11-2-1)
The defending Big 8 West Champion Nevada Tigers have largely taken care of business in the early schedule. The two losses are to unbeaten El Dorado Springs and Odessa. This weekend’s Carl Junction Classic will give Nevada ample opportunity to improve its resume and prepare for conference play. They share a pool with Carl Junction and could see a host of strong Class 3 & 4 schools in bracket play.
12. Blue Eye (C1 – 9-3)
Blue Eye lost some key players from last year’s district championship squad, but the Bulldogs have continued to roll anyway with a 9-3 record. The three losses are to Class 3 Reeds Spring, a one-loss Berryville (Ark.) squad and one-loss Class 2 Skyline in the Forsyth Tournament pool play. Blue Eye came back to hand Skyline that one loss in the title match. The Oct. 14 match at Billings will be one to watch.
13. Cabool (C2 – 10-2-1)
Cabool picked up a three-set road win over Liberty on Tuesday which will be key in both the SCA race and for district seeding. It was just Cabool’s second win over Liberty in its last 27 tries. The two losses have come to a Licking squad that Cabool shares a district with. They could get one more shot at Licking before the postseason in the Licking Tournament. The win over Liberty has given Cabool the inside track to an SCA title.
14. Springfield Catholic (C3 – 15-1-1)
The schedule hasn’t been incredibly stacked for the Lady Irish, but they get this spot thanks to posting the best turnaround in the Ozarks. Last year, Catholic finished 6-23. This year the Lady Irish have started 15-1-1. To add to it, their head coach left in July leaving a lot of questions for this team heading into August. Longtime Glendale coach Stephanie Bates stepped in and took over. She has won her 600th career match in the process of quickly turning around the Lady Irish. The schedule stiffens up here with the Strafford Volleyfest this weekend and upcoming conference play featuring fellow Class 3 schools Marshfield, Mt. Vernon and Rogersville.
15. Skyline (C2 – 13-1)
Skyline is won its first nine matches of the season before falling to Blue Eye in the Forsyth Tournament Championship on Sept. 14. The Tigers are 4-0 since then. This weekend’s Strafford Volleyfest will provide a great measuring stick for Skyline. They share a pool with Class 3 Mt. Vernon , Class 2 conference foe Clever and Class 1 Osceola. Bracket play could offer a wealth of good matchups for the Tigers.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR: College Heights (C2 – 11-0), Mt. Vernon (C3 – 10-4), Webb City (C4 – 11-1), Carl Junction (C4 – 8-4), Winona (C1 – 9-5-4), Billings (C1 – 5-3-2)