Corner Conference NEW

(KMAland) -- It's time for another volleyball preview, and today we take a look at the league that housed our lone state champion for the area. Yes, it's Corner Conference time.

View our previous volleyball preview of the Hawkeye Ten Conference linked here.


East Mills Wolverines — Last Year: 25-8 overall, 4-1 conference 

Coach: Connie Viner

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The Wolverines put together another strong season last year and will bring back a trio of all-conference honorees in first-team choice Rachel Drake, second-teamer Kaylor Horgdal and honorable mention nod Emily Willams.

Both Drake and Williams made for a dynamic duo in the middle of the net for the Wolverines last year. Drake, a senior, averaged 2.5 kills and 1.0 block per set while Williams — as a freshman — averaged 1.5 and 0.8 per set. Horgdal was a key threat on the right side last year during her junior season, finishing 2.0 kills per set on average. She also helped out the defense with 1.2 digs per set.

OTHER OFFENSE: Well, the loss of Alex Knop is definitely going to be felt, as she terminated 4.2 kills per set last season. Drake, Horgdal and Williams, though, were the next three hitters. Now, they’ll look for some help from some others to fill the holes. Junior Randi Knop could see a return to the outside, and sophomore Jaimee Davis could also help out in the middle or make a move to the outside.

SETTING: Knop was a big loss, but so was Dezirae Drake, who was one of the best setters in the area for a number of years. East Mills has some options, though, with both junior Emma Williams and sophomore Miah Urban listed at setter. Could we see a return to a 6-2 with both girls providing another hitting option when they’re not setting? We’ll see.

OTHER DEFENSE: Drake and Williams combined for 165 blocks (93 and 72, respectively) last season in a great year for those two. Horgdal also had 23 blocks, but that’s it in terms of returning swats. Randi Knop is the team’s top-returning player in digs per set (1.7) while senior defensive specialist Ebonee Drake (1.3 DPS) also come back after a strong year in that regard.

FINAL WORD: There’s a lot that has moved on and graduated, but there’s a nice crop returning, too. The sophomore class is pretty deep and talented, and I’d expect you’ll see even more from that group than is mentioned here. I would definitely say the Wolverines are in good shape for another successful season.

Essex Trojanettes — Last Year: 5-20 overall, 0-5 conference 

Coach: Allen Stuart 

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEE: The Trojanettes had one all-conference pick last year in junior Riley Jensen, who was an honorable mention. Jensen did a little bit of everything last year for Essex, finishing with 1.1 digs, 0.8 kills and 0.2 blocks per set during her sophomore season.

OTHER OFFENSE: Two seniors that averaged at least one kill per set are back for Essex. Elise Dailey (1.7 kills per set) and Sami York (1.0 KPS) were both strong in that regard, and sophomore Brianne Johnson was at 0.8 kills per set during her freshman campaign. Sophomore Olivia Baker (0.4 KPS) is another option after getting a few swings to land in last year.

SETTING: Senior Helen Nicholas shared setting duties last year with Camryn Chambers, but the latter has moved on and graduated. They could have a split again this season if sophomore Gracee Thompson is a setter as her stats last year suggest. If not, then the offense will be in good hands with Nicholas.

OTHER DEFENSE: Dailey (13), Jensen (12) and York (11) all had at least 11 blocks last year while Johnson and Baker combined for 11. Nicholas was the team’s top defensive player, digging up 2.1 swings per set during her junior year. Jensen, junior Desi Glasgo (1.0 digs per set) and Johnson (1.0 DPS) also had at least one dig per set.

OTHERS: Senior Elizabeth Baker and junior Trinity Gordon are two others that played a bit for Essex last season. They have just one spot in the rotation to replace, so there’s not a lot of playing time up for grabs, but those two could definitely factor in.

FINAL WORD: Last year was a growing year for this team, as they leaned on a lot of underclassmen. With a year under their belts and some pretty decent talent overall, I’d look for Essex to be much improved in 2020.

Fremont-Mills Knights — Last Year: 9-10 overall, 3-2 conference 

Coach: Tracy Malcom 

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The lone returning all-conference choice from last year’s Fremont-Mills team is outstanding setter Kaelynn Driskell. Driskell enters her third season of setting for the Knights after averaging 7.8 assists per set in her sophomore year. She also had 0.7 kills and 1.9 digs per set.

OTHER OFFENSE: Fremont-Mills had some weapons last year, and they’ve lost three of their top four hitters. They still have a hammer in senior middle Kenna Howard, who had 1.7 kills per set while hitting a solid .232 efficiency. Sophomore outside Teagan Ewalt is primed for a big year this season after 1.1 kills per set in 23 sets played last year. 

OTHER DEFENSE: Driskell is the top-returning player in digs while Ewalt was at 0.9 digs per set. Sophomore defensive specialists Emma Malcom and Ella Owen should both figure into the mix this year after each playing in two sets as freshmen. Howard was the team’s top blocker with 26 total while Driskell had 6 and Ewalt 3.

FINAL WORD: There are some big holes to fill with last year’s senior class moving on, but you have to like the remaining remnants in Driskell, Howard and Ewalt, who played great in their five-set classic loss to East Mills in the postseason. The only thing I can’t do right now is guess on who the other members of the rotation will be. I think they’ll be successful, as this program usually is, but we’ll have to wait and see on the others.

Griswold Tigers — Last Year: 12-18 overall, 2-3 conference

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: None. Griswold is the only team without a returning all-conference choice from last year. That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot back, though, because there is…

OFFENSE: Two of their top three hitters are gone, but they have senior outside Mikala Pelzer and senior middle Kalainee Teaney leading the way this year after 1.7 and 1.2 kills per set a season ago. Junior outside Brenna Rossell is also plenty capable, as she had 0.9 kills per set. Seniors Brooke Berg and Josie Mundorf could make big impacts this year, too, on the outside and in the middle, respectively.

SETTING: Both senior Haylee Pennock and junior Lydia Greiman return with setting experience, averaging 3.3 and 2.5 assists per set, respectively, last season. Pennock did some hitting, too, with 0.7 kills per set.

DEFENSE: Junior libero Anna Kelley was very strong last season for the Tigers with an average of 3.4 digs per set. Pelzer, meanwhile, played a true six rotations and averaged 3.0 digs per set of her own. Pennock (1.9) and Greiman (1.1) were also active on defense, and senior defensive specialist Hope Ogg could be another option to help out here. Teaney is the top-returning blocker with 32 total while Rossell (24), Pelzer (21) and Pennock (19) were also vital at the net.

FINAL WORD: You might think the only team without a returning all-conference player is not going to figure into the mix. I would say that’s probably wrong. I think the Tigers will actually be much improved this year, and I feel they can contend with most — if not all — the teams in this year’s league.

Sidney Cowgirls — Last Year: 38-6 overall, 5-0 conference (STATE CHAMPION)

Coach: Amy McClintock 

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEE: Oh, yes, the state champion had a lot of girls honored for their work on the all-conference team. However, the only one back is senior honorable mention Paige Smith. Smith was a great all-around threat during her junior season, ending up with 1.8 kills and 2.9 digs per set while also adding 35 aces sand 22 blocks. 

OTHER OFFENSE: Smith will be the key outside hitter for the Cowgirls. Now, who will fill around? Sophomore middle Kaden Payne (0.7 kills per set) and junior middle/outside Harley Spurlock (0.6 KPS) are the only other players that had kills last season, and they both figure to have big, big years. One other name to possibly know is junior right side Alyson Barker

SETTING: One of the greatest setters in the history of KMAland and the 1A Player of the Year Olivia Larsen is gone and graduated. Junior Faith Brumbaugh appears to be the heir apparent here, as she was the only other player on last year’s roster listed as a setter. Those aren’t easy shoes to fill, but she’ll be ready.

OTHER DEFENSE: The defense Sidney played last year was majestic, and you know that will be a big talking point again this season. Smith was the team’s top player in digs while senior libero Lily Johnson was an underrated piece of their success, as she averaged 2.1 digs per set of her own. Junior defensive specialist Makenna Laumann (1.1 KPS) is another that averaged over one dig per set. Kelsey Hobbie was very, very active at the net and takes 111 blocks away from the D. Spurlock was next, though, with 29 total while Smith had 22 and Payne finished with 7.

OTHERS: Some others to potentially keep an eye on include a pair of defensive specialists in junior Madison Kingery and sophomore Emily Hutt — girls that played a combined 17 sets last season for the Cowgirls.

FINAL WORD: I think if anybody expects Sidney to nosedive from the top to the bottom then they are going to be very disappointed. The defense is still going to be really strong, and while the offense is going to be a work in progress early on, I think they have some hammers they can lean on to continue to be one of the best in the Corner.

Stanton Viqueens — Last Year: 21-15 overall, 1-4 conference 

Coach: Jody Druivenga 

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: And the team with the most returning all-conference players is the Stanton Viqueens. First-team pick Tara Peterson is into her senior season after averaging a team-high 3.0 kills per set during her junior year. She also had 2.1 digs per set, 35 blocks and 29 aces.

She is hardly alone, though, with second-team choices Jenna Stephens, Marleigh Johnson and Brooklyn Adams all returning to the fold. Stephens and Johnson — during their freshman seasons —  both put down 2.1 kills per set while Stephens had 50 blocks and 33 aces and Johnson finished with 19 and 29. Johnson led the team with 2.7 digs per set while Stephens had 0.9. Adams, the team’s senior libero, had 2.0 blocks per set for the year.

OTHER OFFENSE: Peterson, Johnson and Stephens were the team’s top three hitters last year, and they figure to do the same this season. Outside of that, they do have room for a new right side with the loss of Kami Tibben. Senior Hope Ogletree can play on the right side, as can sophomore Abby Burke

SETTING: The Viqueens two-setter offense will again be headed by senior Nicole Vorhies, who averaged 4.3 assists per set (and had 42 aces). Devin Isaacson — the other setter — is now graduated. We’ll see if Coach Druivenga elects to stick with two setters or if Vorhies handles everything.

OTHER DEFENSE: Johnson was the team’s leader in digs while Peterson and Adams were also at two or more digs per set. Vorhies averaged 1.1. Stephens and Peterson combined on 75 total blocks while Johnson had 19. Ogletree finished the year with two and Vorhies and Burke had one apiece. 

OTHERS: Stanton is plenty deep, too. Senior defensive specialist Ali Silvius played in 23 total sets last year while junior Allie Sandin and sophomore Brooklyn Silva might be further depth on the outside for hitting purposes. Junior Faythe Goodman is yet another that could play as a defensive specialist, as she did in two games last year.

FINAL WORD: In terms of sheer returning talent, you might throw Stanton out there as the favorite in the Corner. Can they fly right on past Fremont-Mills, Griswold, East Mills and Sidney? Again, the talent is there, and I figure that will be the goal, but that’s easier said than done.

CONCLUSION: Wow. Not easy to pick a clear favorite at this point, but I think the easy and safe thing to do is to continue to ride Sidney until proven otherwise. Heck, the Cowgirls didn’t just win the regular season and the tournament conference titles, they won the whole dang thing.

Sidney still has the talent and the coaching acumen to win another title, but this might just be their toughest yet. East Mills is still going to be really good, Stanton is on the move and Griswold has a lot coming back, too. Can Sidney keep it rolling? We’re fixing to find out.

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