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(KMAland) -- The season is upon us, and it’s time to start previewing our KMAland conferences. Up first, the beast that is the Hawkeye Ten Conference.

2020 HAWKEYE TEN CONFERENCE VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW

Atlantic Trojans — Last Year: 6-36 overall, 1-9 conference 

Coach: Michelle Blake

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The Trojans bring back both of their all-conference honorable mention picks in seniors Alyssa Derby and Haley Rasmussen. Derby was the team’s top hitter last season, finishing with 1.8 kills per set, and had one of the top digs per set averages (2.1). Rasmussen, meanwhile, was the team’s setter and had 5.0 assists per set to go with 0.5 kills, 1.30 digs and 0.3 blocks per set. 

OTHER HITTING: Outside of Derby, the Trojans should feel pretty good about some of their other returning hitters in outside Caroline Pellett, who averaged one kill per set during her own junior season. Sophomore middle Aubrey Guyer averaged 0.9 kills per set, and senior Maycie Waters and sophomore Abby Smith put down 0.4 and 0.1 kills per set in limited hitting opportunities.

OTHER DEFENSE: Atlantic also brings back senior libero/defensive specialist Mia Trotter, who led the team with 4.0 digs per set last season. Pellett (2.0 digs per set) was also a true six-rotation player while Waters (1.5 DPS) and Smith (1.1 DPS) were also over one dig per set. Guyer was the team’s top blocker with 69 total, and Rasmussen (31), Derby (17), Pellett (17) and Waters (5) had at least five blocks apiece.

OTHERS: Junior middle hitter Malena Woodward could be yet another option for Atlantic this season. She played in just one set last season, but she could provide some depth with the loss of a pair of hitters from last year’s senior class.

FINAL WORD: The Trojans broke their drought in the Hawkeye Ten Conference last season, and now they are aiming for even more. Not only did they break the “streak,” they were competitive in a number of other matches. I think they’ll be much improved in 2020.

Clarinda Cardinals — Last Year: 8-19 overall, 3-7 conference  

Coach: Kaitlin Allen & Macy Elwood

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The Cardinals had just one all-conference selection last season with Morgan Lihs nabbing a second-team honor. She has since graduated, so this year’s honoree(s) will have their first nod.

HITTING: While Clarinda lost their top two hitters, seniors Jessalee Neihart (0.9 KPS) and Faith Espinosa (0.9 KPS) are likely to step into bigger roles this season. Junior outside hitter Paige Millikan averaged 0.5 KPS, and sophomore outside Taylor Cole was also used in 50 total sets. Senior setter Teya Stickler averaged 0.8 kills per set.

SETTING: Stickler had an impressive season that I felt probably deserved some form of Hawkeye Ten All-Conference nod. She finished the year with 6.3 assists per set, and it will be interesting to see what those numbers look like with a crop of new primary hitters. 

DEFENSE: Junior libero/defensive specialist Riley Morgenstern led the Cardinals last season with 1.7 digs per set while Stickler (1.2), Cole (1.1) and senior defensive specialist Saige Brown (1.0) also averaged at least one dig per set. They lose considerable height and blocking ability with Lihs’ graduation, and Espinosa (28 blocks) is the team’s top returning blocker. Stickler (16), Neihart (10) and Millikan (3) also got involved on the block last year.

OTHERS: Sophomore Emmy Allbaugh is the backup setter and averaged 2.0 assists per set in the four sets that she played. We could see her take some form of role this season, even if it doesn’t involve setting.

FINAL WORD: Clarinda will have significant work to do in replacing Lihs, who was outstanding in her senior season. She will be very difficult to replace in a number of ways, but the setting and defensive positions are full of experience and talent. If they can find a consistent terminator or two, they should be in good shape.

Creston Panthers — Last Year: 13-18 overall, 1-9 conference 

Coach: Traci Haley

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The Panthers return just one of their two all-conference selections last year. Senior middle Kelsey Fields figures to play a pretty big role in a number of sports this sports calendar year, but it will start in volleyball. She led the team with 2.9 kills and a .271 kill efficiency and had 90 total blocks. That total ranked second on last year’s team but is their top-returning number this season.

OTHER HITTING: The Panthers have four of their top five hitters (and more) returning to the fold this year. Along with Fields, senior outside Ryli Abildtrup (1.7 KPS), senior middle Samantha Dunphy (1.1) and junior outside/middle Brianna Fields (1.0) averaged at least one kill per set last season. Senior right side Kaci Abildtrup averaged 0.7 per set and junior right side Hannah Dryden was at 0.6 in 20 sets played last year.

SETTING: Most of those swings and kills came off the sets of returning senior setter Rylie Driskell, who also had 0.3 kills per set to go with 6.4 assists per set. 

OTHER DEFENSE: There’s a big hole left in the back row with the loss of Makenna Hudson at libero, but seniors Maddie Frey (1.6 digs per set) and Peyton Rice (1.4 DPS) will likely battle for that role. Driskell had a big role on defense, too, with 1.8 digs per set and 27 total blocks. Dunphy (25 blocks), Kaci (16) and Ryli (12) Abildtrup, Brianna Fields (9) and Dryden (3) also had three or more swats.

OTHERS: Junior defensive specialist Karly Calvin played in 29 total sets last season while junior setter Halle Evans and junior middle/outside Morgan Driskell also saw some time a year ago. There should be two to three openings for playing time, so you might be hearing more from that trio this year.

FINAL WORD: Get ready for a big year for Creston female athletics. The volleyball program will set the early tone, and I think they will be much improved from last year’s group. Along with some other graduation in the league, I could see the Panthers climb the standings several rungs.

Denison-Schleswig Monarchs — Last Year: 14-20 overall, 4-6 conference

Coach: McKenzie Mich

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: It was an all-around big junior season for Hannah Neemann, and it started in volleyball. Neemann led the team with 2.8 kills per set on her way to a first-team All-Hawkeye Ten nomination. She also provided 2.9 digs and 0.7 blocks per set (61 total) in a terrific year.

OTHER HITTING: Along with Neemann, the Monarchs will bring back seven of their next eight producers in kills. Senior right side Ellie Magnuson (1.2 kills per set) and senior outside Cierra Kastner (1.0 KPS) are the next two while senior middle Paige Andersen (0.9 KPS in 22 sets) is also primed for a big year. Other returning hitters include sophomore outside Kaitlyn Bruhn (0.5 KPS in 6 sets) and junior middle Kira Langenfeld (0.5 KPS).

SETTING: The setting position was shared last year, but it looks to be all Kennedy Marten’s this season. The senior averaged 6.1 assists per set over 56 games during her junior year. 

OTHER DEFENSE: Denison-Schleswig will have to replace their top defensive specialist in Payton Goslar, but Magnuson (2.9 digs per set) and Neemann were also more than adept at six rotations. Junior Sophie Sonnichsen should be in charge in the back row this year after 2.5 digs per set while Marten averaged 1.2. At the net, Neemann will joined by the prolific blocking of Langenfeld, who averaged 50 total blocks last season. Magnuson (28 blocks), Sonnichsen (27), Marten (18), Andersen (10) and Kastner (6) also pitched in.

FINAL WORD: This team is pretty loaded with returning talent. They will have a couple of tough holes to fill, but there should be no doubt on how digs it up, who sets it and who terminates it. They’re plenty deep in a number of key areas, too, so they could even improve on last year’s solid season.

Glenwood Rams — Last Year: 30-13 overall, 6-4 conference (State Qualifier) 

Coach: Chelsey Hirt

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: Two of their four all-conference picks from last year are back. Or gone, depending on how you look at it. Senior St. Cloud State commit Elle Scarborough was a first-teamer and led the way with 4.0 kills per set on a .287 kill efficiency while adding 2.5 digs per set and 51 total blocks. 

On the second team last season was junior Brynlee Arnold, who put together one of the most dominant blocking performances I’ve ever seen in their regional final win over Lewis Central. She finished the year with 114 total blocks and averaged 1.3 kills per set.

OTHER HITTING: The loss of Joslyn Lewis is a big one, but there are options here. Junior outside Abby Hughes averaged 1.5 kills per set in 31 sets played while classmates Coryl Matheny (on the outside) and Kennedy Jones (in the middle) combined on 1.1 kills per set. Jones played 108 sets last season while Matheny played 19, but I expect both may go up (if the same amount of matches are played). Senior right side Victoria Hays (0.5 KPS in 26 sets) could also jump into the mix.

SETTING: The really good news, as the Rams work in some new faces on the right side and in that second outside spot, is that both setters are back. Seniors Grace Boles and Kelly Embray averaged 4.1 and 3.4 assists per set, respectively, last season. 

OTHER DEFENSE: Arnold and Scarborough lead the way, but there are others that can help all around the court and at the net, too. Jones had 66 total blocks last season while Hays and Hughes had seven each and Matheny finished with one. Embray is next-highest behind Scarborough with 2.4 digs per set while Matheny (1.7 DPS), Hughes (1.6) and Boles (1.3) were all over one per set when they played. Now, who will be the new libero with the loss of their other all-conference pick Jaeda Wilson? Great question, and I don’t know the answer since the rest of their defensive specialists (that played varsity) were all seniors last year, too. 

FINAL WORD: There’s a little more to replace than you might have thought originally, but the Rams are still a supremely talented team with what is returning. When you have a Scarborough on the outside and all the way around, an Arnold in the middle and your two setters coming back, you have a shot to do some big, big things. Look for a breakthrough from Matheny, too, since that’s just kind of what she does.

Harlan Cyclones — Last Year: 12-27 overall, 5-5 conference

Coach: Willie Baughman

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: Both of Harlan’s All-Hawkeye Ten picks last season are back, including first-team choice Ashley Hall, who enters her senior season after one of the top defensive seasons in the entire league. She averaged 4.8 digs per set for the Cyclones and also led the team with 0.4 aces per set.

Fellow senior Lauren Andersen nabbed honorable mention honors last year, finishing as one of the team’s top hitters with 1.8 kills per set. She was also the leader in total blocks with 69 for the year.

OTHER HITTING: Along with Andersen, the Cyclones are in great shape offensively. They bring back junior outside Zophi Hendricks (2.2 kills per set) and senior middle Macie Leinen (1.9 KPS) as the top two hitters from last year’s team. Junior right sides Claire Schmitz (0.7 KPS) and Delaney Wegner (0.6 KPS) should also provide some balance.

SETTING: While the Cyclones lose their top setter — Haley Manz — to graduation, they also know they can turn to senior Jocelyn Cheek, who received some time at the position last year and averaged 1.9 assists per set.

OTHER DEFENSE: Andersen’s 69 blocks are joined by Leinen and Schmitz, who had 41 apiece last season. Hendricks (29) and Wegner (15) also had solid seasons at the net. Hall will hold down the back row while Hendricks (2.4 DPS) plays a true six rotations. Leinen (1.6) is another that was over one dig per set while Cheek, who played in 79 sets, was right below it at 0.9 DPS.

OTHERS: While Harlan didn’t have a ton of seniors last year, there are some openings for playing time. Expect seniors Jandy Petersen and Grace Wegner to play some form of role after appearing in 38 and 3 sets, respectively. 

FINAL WORD: Another team that I’m bullish on. I like that Cheek had some experience setting last season, and I love the dynamic ways of their front line on the block. If teams should somehow find a way past them, Hall is digging everything up. The transition to offense will be key, and they’ve got the girls to do it. Again, I’m high on the Cyclones.

Kuemper Catholic Knights — Last Year: 37-4 overall, 9-1 conference (State Runner-Up)

Coach: Keith Stickrod

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: None. Kuemper had five girls earn some form of all-conference last year, including three on the first team. However, all five of them have gone and graduated on us. 

HITTING: If any team is in position to find a way to replace the offensive firepower of Aimee Adams and Kara Peter, who graduated in back-to-back years, it’s this program. Problem is, it wasn’t just them. Their top four hitters are gone from last season, and among those that remain are junior outside Kenzie Schon and sophomore middle Sophie Badding, who averaged 0.8 and 0.7 kills per set, respectively last season. 

SETTING: The Knights ran a 6-2 in 2019, combining then-senior Mariah Naberhaus with current sophomore Ashlyn Badding, who comes back after averaging 4.5 assists per set. The keys to the offense is likely now in her hands.

DEFENSE: Their star libero — Mallory Badding — has also graduated. Junior defensive specialist Kenya Prescott likely takes over that spot this season, as she had 1.6 digs per set on average last year. Ashlyn Badding (1.3 DPS), sophomore Avarie Pedelty (1.3) and Schon (1.1) also averaged over one dig per set last year. While the collective losses of four of their top five blockers from 2019 is going to be tough to deal with, they do have Sophie Badding’s 73 total blocks returning to the fold. Schon was also in double figures with 11 total.

OTHERS: There are plenty of spots and playing time open with last year’s senior class moving on. Junior right side Kamryn Venner could step into a pretty big role this season while junior outside Daisy Haukap, senior DS Molly Lohrmann and sophomore right side Sada Gehling also played sparingly last season for the Knights.

FINAL WORD: There’s not a lot I can say with certainty at this point. I’m not privy to much inside info when it comes to some of the girls waiting in the wings for Kuemper volleyball. I will say this, though: If you’re thinking they’re about to see a big drop, you’re likely to be wrong. 

Lewis Central Titans — Last Year: 29-7 overall, 9-1 conference 

Coach: Mike Bond

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: The Titans had two seniors on the first team and two more on the second team last year. They do, however, bring back honorable mention and soon-to-be senior Madisyn Havermann. The 5-foot-11 outside hitter is the team’s top-returning hitter after averaging 1.4 kills per set as a junior. She was also right near one block per set in a breakout campaign, leading the team with 78 total swats.

OTHER HITTING:  There wasn’t much more after Megan Witte (now at UNI) and Delaney Esterling (IWCC) other than Havermann. That means girls like Grace Ruzicka, Maddie Bergman and Mallory Miller are about to get a lot of opportunities. Ruzicka (0.5 KPS in 12 sets) and Miller (0.1 KPS in 21 sets) are both seniors while Bergman (0.3 KPS in 49 sets) could have a big breakout in her sophomore season.

SETTING: The Titans lose their record-breaking setter Natalie Driver, but junior Karly Brown filled in a couple rotations in that spot last year. She averaged 2.5 assists per set for the Titans and could very well be the one and only this year. Senior Macy Mulder also might be an option if Coach Bond elects to keep running with a two-setter look.

OTHER DEFENSE: After Havermann, LC loses 166 total blocks in that 2020 graduating class. Brown is the next-highest returning blocker with 14 while Bergman had 12 and Mulder 6. They also lose a star senior at libero in Rachel Cushing, and Mulder (1.3 digs per set) could be the next in line there.

FINAL WORD: Kind of the same story as Kuemper. I can’t say a whole lot about LC at this point with so much of their production last year graduating. They will be able to build around the experience and talents of Brown, Havermann, Mulder and Bergman, though. It wasn’t easy cracking that talented lineup last year, and yet they did.

Red Oak Tigers — Last Year: 34-9 overall, 9-1 conference (State Semifinalist)

Coach: Angie Montgomery 

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: Red Oak had a talented senior class, but they were a state semifinalist last year because they supplemented that class with some great play in the lower classes. That was led by second-team choice and junior Lexi Johnson, who smashed in 2.4 kills per set while also adding 3.1 digs and 0.7 blocks per set.

Senior setter Abbey Jones had an impressive year of her own in nabbing All-Hawkeye Ten honorable mention. Jones had 4.7 assists, 3.3 digs and 0.3 aces per set during her junior year.

OTHER HITTING: The top two hitters — Sophie Walker and Chloe Johnson — are gone. Lexi should get plenty more opportunities this year. Who will get the sets otherwise? Junior right side Tory Carrick had some impressive moments last year and averaged 0.5 kills per set. Junior middle Liz Carbaugh burst onto the scene at state and averaged 0.4 KPS for the season. Some others that could potentially get a look include senior Kamryn Wendt and juniors Lennon O’Neal and Payten Bass.

OTHER SETTING: Coach Montgomery ran with a bit of a three-setter look last season. It worked wonderfully, too, because if one of them was off their game then another came in and went for it. Other than Jones, senior Chloe DeVries is back after averaging 3.9 assists per set. They should make for another strong, dynamic duo in 2020.

OTHER DEFENSE: When it comes to Red Oak defense, the dig numbers are going to be prolific. They fly all over hell (run with the hashtag #FlyAllOverHell if you like) and very rarely let the ball drop without a few floor burns. Lexi Johnson is the top-returning girl in that category while Jones, DeVries (0.8) and Carrick (0.8) were all right near or over one dig per set. Junior defensive specialists Jaylyn Vanhouten and Ashlyn Blackman might also figure into the back row play this year. Johnson’s 72 blocks led last year’s team while Carrick had 25 and Carbaugh 10.

FINAL WORD: There’s a little more known about Red Oak than the other two tri-champions from last year. We know their setting will still be pretty great, and we know Lexi Johnson is going to threaten to lead the conference in kills (and maybe even digs, too). We also know they will be right in the mix for another conference championship and another trip to Cedar Rapids.

St. Albert Saintes — Last Year: 24-9 overall, 7-3 conference (State Qualifier)

Coach: Angie Lantz

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: One of their three all-conference picks from last season is back, and it’s a good one. Iowa State walk-on commit Allie Petry was a unanimous first-team all-conference pick, averaging 4.8 kills and 2.9 digs per set last season. 

OTHER HITTING: We certainly shouldn’t gloss over the 4.8 kills per set on a .277 efficiency from Petry. She’s going to get a lot of swings again, and my guess is she will be right there with Lexi Johnson and Elle Scarborough for the league lead in the category.

Petry will have a new hitting partner, too, with the transfer of former Thomas Jefferson standout Elizabeth Elkins, who averaged 2.4 kills per set last year. Junior middle Lauren Williams had some really bright moments as a sophomore, averaging 2.1 kills per set of her own. Junior outside Lainey Sheffield (0.6 KPS) is next, and then we’ll have to find out. It’s likely junior Allison Narmi will be involved in some fashion.

SETTING: They’ll have to replace another setter in Olivia Barnes, who was one of the top setters in the conference and area. Based on last year, junior Maddy Horvath might just be the heir apparent. She was listed as a setter on last year’s roster and averaged 1.3 dimes per set in four sets.

OTHER DEFENSE: Petry’s 2.9 DPS led the team last year, and she was recruited by ISU as a defender. So, you know she’s pretty dang good there. They do lose their next four in the digs category, although Elkins (2.2 DPS) can play all the way around. Senior Maddie Estell and Sheffield averaged 1.8 digs per set last season while sophomore Landry Miller could also be in line for some playing time in the back row this year. Petry’s 39 total blocks last season ranked second on the team while Williams had 29 and Sheffield finished with four.

FINAL WORD: They are going to have some really great firepower on the pin and in the middle with Petry and Williams. Now, there are some question marks right now, but the Saintes have answered any and all questions for seemingly the last decade under Coach Lantz. They’ll be pretty dang good again. Book it.

Shenandoah Fillies — Last Year: 15-17 overall, 1-9 conference

Coach: Toni Comstock

ALL-CONFERENCE RETURNEES: None. Shenandoah is another team that lost their lone all-conference performer from last season. Let’s take a look at what is coming back…

HITTING: Two of Shenandoah’s top three hitters graduated, but there’s a host of girls that bring back a lot of hitting experience. Senior Jasmine Rogers is the top-returning hitter with 1.7 kills per set while fellow senior Delanie Voshell (0.9) and junior Allie Eveland (0.8) were also more than capable of a big hitting night last year. 

SETTING: Their two setters last season are both gone and graduated, so there’s a pretty big question on who will be doing it this year. I’m not even willing to speculate, but sometimes you will see a defensive specialist step into the role. Stay tuned on that.

DEFENSE: Shenandoah should be pretty good at the net this year with Rogers bringing back one of the top numbers in the conference (83 total blocks). Eveland had 12 and Voshell finished with eight, as well. The Gilbert twins had the top two digs per set averages, but seniors Sidda Rodewald (2.3 DPS), Olivia Stogdill (1.9 DPS) and Macee Blank (1.7 DPS) were all pretty adept in this category. 

OTHERS: There are going to be some other girls stepping up into new roles. That much is for certain. Look for junior middle/right side Cassidy Morris, sophomore middle/right side Kate Lantz, senior defensive specialist Bailey Maher and senior right side/defensive specialist Mia Parker to all figure into the rotation this year.

FINAL WORD: There is a nice trio of hitting options this year, but it’s hard to put too much prognostication out there without knowing a lot about the setting position. Along with the hitters, they seem to have some pretty capable back row players, too. This should be a fun and interesting season for the Fillies.

CONCLUSION: Maybe you picked up on it, but seven of the 11 first-team picks last year have graduated. Eight of the 11 second-team choices are gone, too. Heck, six of the 11 honorable mentions were in the senior class. There is a lot of change in this year’s Hawkeye Ten.

That said, there is one team with a bunch of returning talent and a bunch more just waiting to burst into the rotation. That’s Glenwood. The Rams have what is arguably the best all-around player in the conference, they have a pair of returning setters and they have an outstanding presence at the net. Last year’s surprise state qualifier won’t be a surprise this year. (By the way, want to know the last time the Rams won a H-10 volleyball title? Try never.)

After Glenwood, you’ve got to expect the usual suspects to fight right near the top. We’re talking Kuemper, Lewis Central, Red Oak and St. Albert. However, I would hardly be surprised if some of the upstarts that were young last year — your Creston, your Denison, your Harlan — step into one of those spots this season.

Send any questions, comments and/or corrections to dmartin@kmaland.com.

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