Jaelynn Griess gets the ultimatum all the time – play your best volleyball or else.
The "or else" is Griess and her Lincoln North Star teammates coming up on the short end, like what happened Thursday in the Heartland Athletic Conference Tournament third-place match, when Class A No. 9 Lincoln Northeast pulled out a four-set victory against the No. 10 Navigators.
Being a multi-faceted four-year starter brings those kinds of expectations, especially on a team dominated by underclassmen. More often than not this season, however, the 5-foot-11 Griess has been up to the challenge.
“Coach (Kristi Nelson-Hitz) has told me that I have to play my best in order for us to win,” said Griess, who led the Gators (17-9) with 13 kills against the Rockets. “She pulls me aside and tells me ‘We need you to do this, this and this.’ I’ve had a lot of pressure on me, and I think I’ve learned how to handle it and use it as motivation.”
Griess would like to be a setter in college, but she’s put recruiting aside until after the season. She’s instead emerged as one of the top outside hitters in Class A this season. She added three inches to her vertical jump thanks to an acceleration program this summer at Madonna ProActive, and it’s shown in her statistics with 306 kills and a hitting efficiency of just less than .300.
Griess has the school record for career kills with 980.
She’s joined fellow senior Lizzy Bales to lead the Gators in serve-receive and defense. Griess has 235 digs this season and 1,064 in her career, impressive numbers, considering Griess has also set, with 663 assists in her career.
“Jaelynn’s having a great senior year,” Nelson-Hitz said. “She’s very hard to stop when she hits her jump and the ball gets set in the right spot. In most of our matches, she’s done a great job of transitioning quickly from defense to offense. She sees the floor and has a great line shot.
“She’d be one of the best setters in the state if we had gone that direction with her,” the North Star coach said. “That’s how versatile she is.”
Griess played two years with former North Star all-stater Kimberly Bailey, another well-rounded player who has been a libero, outside hitter and setter during her career at Nebraska-Omaha.
“I learned a lot from her,” Griess said. “She kind of took me under her wing and showed me the value of being an all-around player who can do a lot of things. She’d always be my partner in drills and let me know if when I was doing something wrong.”
Now it’s Griess’ turn to guide young players such as her freshman sister Justine, who shares setting duties with sophomore Kailee Brown in a 6-2 attack. They’re part of an experienced underclass group that includes junior outside hitters Aspen Green and Vonnie Reckling and a foursome of middle blockers/right sides -- sophomores Katie Hitz and Tanner Stroup and freshmen Courtney Faller and Sarah Allick.
Griess has run in the state track meet the past three years, placing fourth in the Class A 800-meter run both as a freshman and more recently as a junior last spring. Her ultimate goal, however, is to play in the state volleyball tournament, something that’s eluded her the past three years.
North Star faces a state tournament-like week to end the regular season, playing at No. 4 Lincoln Southeast on Tuesday before hosting a triangular with No. 3 Millard West and Northeast on Saturday.
“It’s a very tough end of the season, but we can really help our wild-card points if we win,” Griess said. “There’s no reason we can’t pull through.”
Hoblyn gets 600th win
Ansley-Litchfield coach Pat Hoblyn got her 600th and 601st career coaching victories with wins against Loomis and Pleasanton in a triangular Friday. In her 40th season at Ansley, Hoblyn has guided teams to 14 state tournament appearances, five state championships and two state semifinal finishes.
In the first season of Ansley and Litchfield joining forces, the Spartans are 25-1 and ranked No. 7 in Class D-1.