School (2012 record) RS
1. Millard West (29-7) 5
2. Omaha Marian (38-5) 2
3. Lincoln Southwest (25-8) 5
4. Papillion-La Vista (22-17) 5
5. Papillion-La Vista South (40-1) 2
6. Lincoln Southeast (27-9) 3
7. Lincoln North Star (18-13) 6
8. Millard North (27-15) 4
9. Bellevue West (22-15) 5
10. Millard South (16-21) 5
RS – returning starters
Contenders — Lincoln Northeast, Fremont, North Platte, Grand Island, Omaha Central, Lincoln East.
The case for No. 1 — The Wildcats return more players than any of the other top contenders, and a run to the state tournament semifinals last season might have laid the groundwork for bigger and better things this fall. Millard West has reliable weapons in outside hitter Kamesha Young and middle blocker Alexis Anderson, experienced ballhandlers and setters who can run a diverse attack.
The case for everyone else — This might be the most balanced Class A has ever looked, with everyone in the top 10 having a legitimate shot at a state championship. Graduation not only hit three-time defending state champion Papillion-La Vista South hard, it also took a toll on state runner-up Marian, which returns just two starters: UNO setter recruit Sydney O’Shaughnessy and sophomore libero Brittany Witt.
New-look Papio South — The three-time defending state champion Titans not only have to replace the Rolfzen twins and Kelly Hunter (all of whom are at Nebraska), there’s also a new coach with Gwen Egbert taking over at Doane College. The new coach, Elena Pietro, was a standout libero at LSU in the late 2000s. Returning starters Adyson Goodnight and Raegan LeGrand are the cornerstones of this year’s Titan squad.
Right off the bat — No. 7 North Star is at No. 3 Southwest in a high stakes Lincoln dual match Thursday. Southwest then faces B No. 3 Lincoln Pius X in another dual Tuesday. The 16-team Bellevue Invitational on Friday and Saturday features nine ranked teams in A or B: Marian, Omaha Skutt, Omaha Gross, Lincoln Southeast, Bellevue West, Millard North, Papillion-La Vista South, Papillion-La Vista and Millard South. Also in the field are two ranked Iowa teams: Western Christian (No. 2 in 2A) and Sioux City Heelan (No. 3 in 4A).
School (2012 record) RS
1. Northwest (35-2) 5
2. Waverly (29-7) 4
3. Lincoln Pius X (29-12) 4
4. Elkhorn South (25-8) 4
5. Gretna (26-9) 3
6. Aurora (23-11) 6
7. Norris (23-6) 5
8. Omaha Skutt (22-17) 5
9. Omaha Gross (30-6) 1
10. Beatrice (17-16) 7
RS – Returning starters
Contenders – Elkhorn, Holdrege, Sidney, Gering.
The case for No. 1 — After finishing state runner-up five straight years, Northwest took the Class B title in 2012, and don’t expect the Vikings to give that up easily. The Vikings, who will be going for the double-double this school year (two straight volleyball and girls basketball state titles), bring back a pair of all-staters in McKenzie Brown and Katie Placke and a former C-1 all-stater, Erin Sorahan (for Grand Island Central Catholic in 2011).
Pius X returns to B — The Thunderbolts won their seventh Class B state title under Coach Jake Moore in 2011, then moved up to Class A last season when they finished third at the state tournament. The Bolts are back in B, making a run for another crown behind two Division I college recruits: Super-State libero Sydney Townsend (Nebraska) and hard-hitting outside hitter Ashley Witt (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville).
Carson back at Gross — Yvonne Carson, who guided Omaha Gross to a B state title in 1999 and runner-up finishes in 1996 and 2001, is back coaching the Cougars after a stint in Iowa at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.
Right off the bat — Last year’s Beatrice Invitational ended up having two state champions (Northwest in B and Kearney Catholic in C-1) and a pair of third-place state finishers (Pius X in A and Waverly in B). This year’s field in the 12-team tournament Friday and Saturday looks just as formidable with five ranked B teams (Northwest, Pius X, Waverly, Aurora and Beatrice) and three in C-1 (Kearney Catholic, Ogallala, Douglas County West).