The 2019 high school volleyball season will open on Friday for five teams in the Northern Plains League. This year could be one of the most unpredictable years in recent memory on the volleyball court when it comes to which teams will finish at the top of the league. The mainstays like Sylvan-Lucas, Thunder Ridge and St. John’s/Tipton will all certainly challenge for the top spot, but teams like Lakeside, Osborne and Lincoln are looking to take that next step this year and make their mark.
The Thunder Ridge Lady Longhorns won the NPL Tournament a season ago and came a match away from qualifying for 1A State, falling to Otis-Bison in the Sub-State championship. They went 34-4 overall in their one season under coach Bruce Hardacre. Thunder Ridge has their third coach in three seasons now, as Hardacre made way for last year’s assistant Allison Cole to take over the program. Cole is a 2010 graduate of Northern Valley and played collegiately at Highland (KS) Community College and Southwestern Oklahoma State. She takes over a team that lost four contributing seniors including first team all-league middle Elizabeth Hardacre. Top returners include Jaden Boden and Brennan Kirchhoff among others. Cole feels things are going well early this season.
Thunder Ridge opens their season Friday against Natoma and Chase in Natoma. Chase is coming off of a 6-19 season and Natoma did not field a team last year.
Sylvan-Lucas had an outstanding season in 2018, going 33-4 and 11-0 in the NPL, but bowing out in the Regional semis against Otis-Bison. The Lady Mustangs will look completely different in 2019, though, as 10 of their 12 varsity players were seniors, which included first team all-leaguers Delaney Herold and Taegan Walter. Linda Haring is back as the head coach and will look to lead a new group to success.
Despite going 33-10 a season ago, St. John’s/Tipton was the only NPL team that made it to the 1A State Tournament. From that team, they lose their two middle hitters/blockers in Kara Eilert and Elle Eilert, both of whom were first team all-league selections. The Lady Jays do return 1st team all-league setter Caitlin Strong for her senior season, which will be important as their head coach Marcy Kee explains.
St. John’s/Tipton opens their season at Osborne on Friday afternoon.
Osborne has a new head coach in 2019 as Stacy Rietzke takes over the program. The Lady Bulldogs went 15-15 last season, an eight-win improvement from 2017. Second team all-league hitter Rhyann Brown returns to lead Osborne this season as they have a total of 20 girls out for volleyball.
Another team looking to get back toward the top of the league is Lakeside. The Lady Knights went 15-16 last season, but played a lot of young players. They lost just one senior in setter Megan LaRocque. Grace Grady, who got significant playing time her first two seasons, missed last year with an injury, but is back as a Senior. Lakeside coach Michelle Brummet likes the experience she has back.
The Lady Knights will open their season next Tuesday against Osborne and Pike Valley in Scandia. Pike Valley went 10-21 last season and has a new head coach this year in Cherish Reeves.
Lincoln also has a new coach. 2015 Beloit High grad Shaylyn Krone was an assistant coach last season and takes over for Debbie Breneman. The Lady Leopards saw an 8-win improvement last season, going 18-20. They did lose 2nd team all-league setter Mikayla Breneman, but return some height at hitter with senior Carson Walter and sophomore Tana Hayworth. Many coaches in the league have expressed that Lincoln could make another jump in the NPL ranks this season. Lincoln opens next Tuesday against Tescott and Chase in Chase. Tescott went 12-17 last season and looks for improvement this year.
Other teams looking to make a jump are Southern Cloud (8-21 in 2018), Rock Hills (3-26) and Wilson (0-30). The Lady Grizzlies from our area have a new coach this year as well. Tracy Anderes takes over the group that won three matches last year, but she does have 21 girls out this season, so they have a good group to choose from in their quest for improvement.