Following last November's 32-30, 25-20, 25-14 Class A state championship win over rival Omaha Marian, Papillion-LaVista South (Papillion, Neb.)
coach Gwen Egbert's relatively young volleyball program was launched into the national spotlight.
Loaded with plenty of big arms in the school's eighth season of competition, the Titans swatted their way through a 41-0 season and into the top spot in the 2010 MaxPreps Xcellent 25
season-ending volleyball rankings.
With five starters returning from the first Class A volleyball team to go undefeated since Omaha Marian completed a 19-0 slate in 1972, Egbert and company figure to be in the running for that top spot once again. In fact, top-ranked is where they begin the upcoming season, as the No. 1 team in the
2011 MaxPreps Xcellent 25
"It's great to be known and to be No. 1," junior setter Kelly Hunter
said. "We definitely have a big target. Everybody will be coming in and giving us their best shot. But we like a challenge."
The Titans do like a challenge. That's why Egbert's seniors and the rest of the 2011 team insist that they are revving up for an encore performance this fall.
"The seniors, they want to repeat and go undefeated again," Egbert said. "It will be a challenge, but I'm all for what they want."
The 5-foot-11 Hunter said that after completing the feat a year ago, she and her teammates have all the confidence and incentive they need for another run at perfection.
"We know we can do it now. We did it last year, so we can do it again," she said.
Gone from last season's squad is California freshman and 6-3 second-team Super State middle blocker Lillian Schonewise. Nearly everyone else returns, including Hunter and fellow juniors Amber
and Kadie Rolfzen
, who were tabbed as 2010 first-team Super Staters by the Lincoln Journal Star and first team All-Nebraska by the Omaha World Herald.
The Rolfzen twins, who committed to the University of Nebraska before stepping foot on the Papillion-LaVista South practice court as freshmen, led the Titans with 782 kills collectively in 2010. Amber added 289 digs and 37 aces to her line a year ago, while Kadie contributed 280 digs and 46 aces. Hunter, daughter of former professional baseball player Jeff Hunter, led the defending champions with 64 aces. As a team, the Titans hit .367 a year ago with 266 service aces, 185 blocks and 1,493 digs.
Both Rolfzens, 6-3 outside hitters for Egbert, were named to the U.S. Girls Youth National Team that competed in the 2011 FIVB Girls Youth World Championships over the summer. They have also been named preseason first-team All-Americans by MaxPreps
Rounding out Egbert's quintet of returning starters are seniors Megan Stroyek
and Rachel Nelson
. The 5-11 Stroyek is slated to play on the right side in 2011, while Nelson will attempt to damage Titan opposition from the middle with her 6-0 frame.
Senior 5-4 libero Lauren Poulicek
and junior 5-11 middle blocker Katie Kurtz
will also earn starting roles for Egbert in 2011, while 5-7 senior setter Whitney Kostal
is expected to get plenty of playing time as the Titans attempt to defend their state and national titles.
"Our opponents know that we have big hitters all around - and in the back row too," Hunter said of the Titan 6-2 attack. "We get a lot of big swings and never give up on a play. We're scrappy. We fight and have the ability to come back from anything."
Although Papillion-LaVista South typically comes at its opposition from all corners, Hunter said that when a teammate gets hot the rest of the Titans are more than happy to feed her the ball.
"We're our own toughest competition," she said. "We have to step our game up just to be competitive in practice. That makes us play our hardest all of the time. We're one of the hardest hitting teams, so we are definitely prepared when we go up against someone else."
With opposition like Omaha Marian and Papillion-LaVista lurking on Egbert's schedule several times annually, the Titans never have to look very far for quality competition.
This fall, however, Papillion-LaVista South is taking a road trip to Kansas to go head-to-head with No. 19 St. James Academy (Lenexa, Kan.)
, which looked impressive in bumping Class 4A three-time defending runner-up Topeka Hayden 25-8, 25-9 last weekend at the Metro Sports Volleyball Slam.
"We're fired up to settle who is No. 1," Hunter said. "We're ready to go play someone else. When coach (Egbert) told us that we were going to go play them, we just said, 'OK, we're ready for it. Let's jump in and go.'"
Without hesitation, Egbert said that last season's Titan squad was the best that she's coached during a 24-year career in which she produced a 603-230 record. Egbert is 167-106 in eight seasons with the Titans despite the school's 7-24 mark during its initial campaign.
Then, following a handful of mediocre years, Egbert and the Titans started to see the fruits of their labor. Egbert-led volleyball teams are responsible for claiming four Class A state volleyball championships, and finished as runner-up seven times. Egbert has put together a sterling 27-13 record while participating at the Nebraska State Volleyball Tournament.
Papillion-LaVista South finished second-fiddle to Papillion-LaVista and Omaha Marian in 2008 and 2009 respectively before breaking through with the state title a year ago. The Titans knocked off their two rivals eight times collectively in 2011.
"Our first year we had no seniors and no expectations," Egbert said, "And it definitely showed. Then each year we became a little better. The kids started buying into what we were trying to do in the weight room as well as in the gym. Three years ago we had our breakout season."