Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, MSHSAA has delayed the release of class and district assignments until after Sept. 11 when schools must declare whether they are playing fall sports in the regular fall or alternate fall.
Volleyball will be going from four to five classes, so there will likely be some big changes once the new classifications are released. Another big change this year will be matches moving from a best-of-three to best-of-five set format.
With that in mind, I will use the class assignments from last year for the pre-season power rankings.
Before I go any further, THESE ARE NOT A HEAD-TO-HEAD RANKING, BUT A RANKING OF DOMINANCE BY CLASS. I am not saying I think the Class 1 schools on this list could beat all the Class 3-4 teams ranked below them or not ranked.
1. Nixa (C4) – The defending state champion Nixa Lady Eagles get the top spot after being Missouri’s best team last year posting a 34-4 overall record. Nixa must replace a quintet of talented seniors including three all-state selections. Junior setter Sydney Golden will provide stability after posting 1,059 assists on her way to an all-state selection last year. For years, Nixa was the hunter chasing after Ozark and then Willard. Now, the Lady Eagles will have to adjust to being the hunted after last year’s stellar season.
2. Willard (C4) – The American Volleyball Coaches Association has Willard ranked No. 14 in the nation. The Lady Tigers are the only Missouri team ranked in the Top 25. They sit at No. 2 in these rankings because defending state champion Nixa resides in the same conference. Willard has everything it needs to be the best team in Missouri but must replace three all-state players. Enter Maddy Bushnell and Payton Van Veen. Bushnell earned all-state honors last season and is committed to play at Missouri State. Van Veen missed last season due to injury, but is healthy this year and gives Willard another high-caliber hitter to go to.
3. Miller (C1) – Miller has won at least 26 matches in four straight seasons. Last year, the Lady Cardinals won a district title before falling in the sectional round. Now, Miller is poised to carry the banner for the area in Class 1. Five all-conference players return for Miller this year headlined by junior Alli Mitchell who also earned all-state honors last year. Of Miller’s four losses last year, two came to Class 4 programs with a third coming against Class 2 Fair Grove.
4. Licking (C2) – Licking went 31-10 last year on its way to a third place finish in Class 3. The Lady Wildcats now have a new coach and return just two players that saw time in every set last season. The good news? Those two returning players are all-state selections Kamryn Barnes and Kylie Taylor. Barnes was the team’s top hitter while Taylor was the top defensive player. This duo have been a part of teams that won 24, 27 and 31 matches over the past three seasons.
5. Rogersville (C3) – Rogersville is another team in transition after longtime head coach Tammy Miller moved on to take the head coaching job at Rolla. Also gone is one of the best high school volleyball players the area has ever seen in Birdie Hendrickson. Emily Hutcheson, who played at Rogersville, takes over as head coach this year with four strong returning players in Samantha Thompson, McKinzie Thompson, Ashley Warren and Bri Linehan returning. The Wildcats have won eight consecutive district titles and 11 district titles in the past 12 years. Someone in Rogersville’s class will have to step up and beat the Wildcats before they can move above them in these rankings.
6. El Dorado Springs (C2) – Few area teams will be as motivated as El Dorado Springs this year. The Bulldogs had everything in line for a deep post-season run, but came up short in the district tournament. They finished with one of the area’s better records at 28-4-3. This year, the Bulldogs return their two all-state selections in juniors Tevi Gurley and Reese Schaaf along with all-conference selections Macie Mays and Dani Ogle.
7. Carl Junction (C4) – Carl Junction finished as district runner-up last year falling just short of a third straight district title. Two-time all-state selection Salma Lewis will be one of the area’s best hitters after putting down 466 total kills last year. Logan Jones, who is one of the best sophomores in the state, returns at setter.
8. Kickapoo (C4) – Kickapoo has posted five consecutive 20-win seasons. Last year the Lady Chiefs hit the 29-win mark, but a district title continues to elude them. Three players that earned all-conference honors last year return led by outside hitter Lauren Forbes and setter Lauren Faria. Kickapoo will be the favorite in the Ozark Conference.
9. Mt. Vernon (C3) – Mt. Vernon has not had a losing record in more than a decade. The consistent Mountaineers won 21 matches last year. Now they will look to make a run at the program’s first district title in more than a decade with a strong offensive attack. All-state setter Lacy Stokes returns. She will have plenty of options with each set with two all-conference hitters in Cameryn Cassity and Ellie Johnston returning.
10. Ozark (C4) – Ozark had its streak of 10 straight district titles snapped last year. It was also the first time in more than decade that the Lady Tigers failed to win 20 matches. This year, Ozark is ready to make a push back into the upper echelon of area volleyball teams with six seniors and two juniors leading the team.
11. Liberty (C2) – Shari Tune is among the elite volleyball coaches in southwest Missouri, and her team returns four all-conference players from a district runner-up squad. When Liberty returns that kind of experience, it is generally bad news for the area’s teams. Last year was just the third time in 11 seasons that the Eagles failed to win a district title. The program has won at least 20 matches every season since 2009 when MSHSAA started keeping records online. This might be the team to beat out in the eastern part of our coverage area.
12. Blue Eye (C1) – Blue Eye fell one set short of a second straight district title last year. The Lady Bulldogs must replace a trio of graduated seniors that included all-state selection Kohnnar Patton. The Arnold twins, Avery and Riley, will be the team’s top players after Riley earned all-state honors and Avery earned first-team all-conference honors.
13. Marshfield (C3) – Marshfield has won at least 23 matches in each of the past three seasons only to see each of those three seasons end in district runner-up finishes to Rogersville. This year, Marshfield will be led by an experienced group of nine seniors that will look to win a district title in their final try.
14. Strafford (C2) – Strafford returns just three players that players that saw significant action last year in Christa Duffel, Abby Chadwell and Emma Mullings. No other player on this year’s roster saw more than one set of varsity action in 2019. That graduated group of seniors took the leader for every statistical category with it. Still, Strafford has won six consecutive district titles with 30 wins in five of the past six seasons. The one season the Lady Indians didn’t win 30 was a 26-win campaign. They are a consistent force that just continues to reload.
15. Cabool (C2) – Cabool has been a consistent team since 2009 winning between 13 and 19 matches every season from 2009 through 2018. The past two seasons Cabool has won 26 and 28 matches. Now, the Lady Bulldogs are looking to take the next step and win a district title with an experienced roster returning. Four of Cabool’s five losses last year came to teams ranked above them on this list in Licking, El Dorado Springs and Liberty. Two all-conference seniors graduated, but that is it for losses from last year’s 28-win squad. Three other all-conference players return for Cabool.
OTHERS: Billings (C1), Catholic (C3), Clever (C2), Webb City (C4), Reeds Spring (C3), Skyline (C2), Greenfield (C1), Ash Grove (C2), Pierce City (C2), Bolivar (C3)