Video: 2017-18 Top 10 Plays of the Year
The best plays from last year include a volleyball play that has to be seen to be believed.
With nearly its entire lineup intact from its National Championship season in 2017, Walton (Marietta, Ga.) edges Assumption (Louisville, Ky.) for the top spot in the 2018 MaxPreps High School Volleyball Early Contenders.
The Raiders enter 2018 on a seven-match win streak after going 40-1 and winning 97-of-101 sets in 2017. They also defeated Assumption.
Walton's only loss last season was to 2018 preseason No. 3 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.
"We do have quite a few key returnees, but we also have a brutal schedule," Walton head coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said.
A year ago, Walton won prestigious out-of-state tournaments in Kentucky and Florida and won its eighth state title in 12 years in Georgia.
This year's "brutal schedule" will rival any team in the country and includes the Durango Classic in Las Vegas, Nike's Tournament of Champions in Phoenix and the Torrey Pines Invitational in San Diego.
"We know we are going to be tested all season, but we need that to improve," said Fitzgerald, who was chosen as MaxPreps national Coach of the Year in 2017.
"It is a long and arduous tour," Fitzgerald said of their schedule, "but we want to learn what we need to know about ourselves — our strengths and weaknesses — before we head into playoffs. I am sure we will run into the likes of teams like Assumption, Mater Dei, Torrey Pines, Santa Margarita, Archbishop Mitty. We are looking forward to the challenge."
Closer to home, Walton has Tennessee powers Baylor (Chattanooga) and Webb (Knoxville) coming to visit. Both are ranked in the Preseason Top 50.
The Raiders will be lead by MaxPreps 2017 National Junior Player of the Year Gabby Gonzales
and fellow seniors Reilly MacNeill
, Riley Spurlin
, Jordan Rush
and Caroline Cheney
. Add sophomore Emery Dupes
and junior Madison Morey
and Walton has seven players who played 97 or more sets last season.
MacNeill and Cheney will join Gonzales at Ohio State, Dupes has committed to Florida State, while
(Georgia), Spurlin (Rollins pledge) and junior libero Molly Pember
(committed to Auburn) are also future Division I college players.
There's more — Jordan Rush
(Palm Beach Atlantic), Lauryn Burrows
(Florida State), Phoebe Awoleye
(Georgia) and Morey (Virginia) give the Raiders 11 players who will play at the next level.
"I honestly cannot highlight individuals and do the team service," said Fitzgerald, who noted her team's strength will be a "solid backcourt, strong leadership and a varied offense."
The Raiders will have size with the 6-4 Gonzales and the 6-2 MacNeill upfront and a half-dozen others six feet or taller players.
Assumption finished the 2017 season ranked No. 3 with a 42-3 record and enters 2018 with a 16-match winning streak. In addition to a state title, the Rockets won the prestigious Durango Classic in Vegas with victories over three California teams ranked in this preseason Top 12.
The Rockets, who have won 20 state Kentucky volleyball championships, have five players returning who played in two-thirds or more of their sets, including standout seniors Camille Nazor
(Duke pledge) and Mary Ann O'Toole
(Xavier commit), and juniors Anna DeBeer
(Louisville commit) and Rylee Rader
(Ohio State verbal).
Seniors Emma Monks
(Michigan State) and Callie Martin
(Wright State) have also committed to play at the next level. Senior defensive specialist/libero Karly Basham
(Texas A&M) also returns.
Others who have committed to colleges are senior defensive specialist/libero Alexa Hendricks
(Louisville), senior outside hitters Lauren Myrick
(Lipscomb) and Maggie Burns
(Urbana) and junior setter Savannah Neal
If you're counting, that's 14 players slated to play at the next level.
Mater Dei will be led by a pair of 6-3 hitters in Natalie Berty
and Meg Brown
(Alabama commit) and setter Mia Tuaniga
(future Stanford Cardinal).
Mt. Carmel (New Orleans) gets the No. 4 nod with a deep returning squad led by 6-2 All-American Ellie Holzman
Perhaps the most interesting team in the top five is Marymount (Los Angeles). The Sailors have three of the most talented seniors in the country in Devon Newberry
(UCLA commit), Camryn Carfino
(Colgate verbal) and 6-5 setter Grace Frohling
(San Diego commit). They also return nine other players from last year's 31-9 team. Marymount lost to teams that had a combined 242-53 won-loss record, including three times to Mater Dei and once to Torrey Pines … teams they also defeated at least once.
2018 MaxPreps High School Volleyball Early Contenders
1. Walton (Marietta, Ga.), 40-1 (2017 won-loss record)
What's missing from a team returning a dozen players who saw action in two dozen or more sets?2. Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), 42-3
The Rockets enter 2018 riding a 16-match winning streak. 3. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), 37-6
Mater Dei lost in the 2017 CIF finals, and returns all but one major contributor and a front line that could average 6-foot-2.4. Mt. Carmel (New Orleans), 41-7
The Cubs won their final 10 matches, including the state title game. They lost two starters, but are simply loaded with 6-2 Illinois recruit Ellie Holzman (744 kills and 128 blocks), Tea Jones
(154 blocks and 250 kills) and Emily Meyer
(317 kills) roaming the front row. Setter Victoria Frught
dished out 1,201 assists last year.5. Marymount (Los Angeles), 31-9
With seven major contributors returning, Marymount opening at No. 5 might be too low. Athleticism will be noticed all over the court.6. Xavier College Prep (Phoenix), 40-3
Four players who totaled more than 100 kills return from last year's 40-win team. That's good news for setter Shannon Shields
, who totaled more than 1,150 assists a year ago. The Indians, who finished No. 9 last year, ended 2017 with a 10-match win streak.7. Torrey Pines (San Diego), 34-4
At first glance, it looks like the Falcons could be in for a rebuilding year. But they don't really rebuild, they just reload. Four players who logged 110 or more sets in 2017 have graduated, but four with that many sets also return, including six-foot hitters Emily Fitzner
, Trinity Durfee
, and Kendra Ham
(Cal Poly San Luis Obispo).8. Venice (Fla.), 26-4
The Indians lost one starter from a year ago, but 6-1 transfer Aja Jones
should fill in nicely. Coach Brian Wheatly has a lot to choose from with four-year starters Caitlin Montgomery
(Wingate pledge) and Paige Canevari
leading the way. Also back are three-year starters Paradise Gibson
(Stetson pledge), Sena Szczepaniuk
, Brooke Wheatley
and Tessa Bohn
. Add a pair of returning two-year starters Aubrey Duyn
and Sadie Kluner
and Venice is not just deep, it's loaded. 9. Lewis-Palmer (Monument, Colo.), 29-0
The Rangers enter the 2018 season riding a 58-match winning streak with seven players who played in 50 sets or more a year ago. Setter McKenna Sciacca
and five hitters who totaled 100 or more kills each return. The Rangers finished 2017 ranked No. 7.10. Notre Dame Prep (Pontiac, Mich.), 64-2-2
Four front row players return after recording 1,721 kills a year ago. The four — 6-3 Madeline Chinn
(Purdue pledge), 6-1 Natalie Risi
(Ball State commit), and six-footers Morgan Verheyen
(Buffalo pledge) and Taylor Garrigan-Raiola
— also combined to block 526 shots and serve 351 aces (171 by Risi). The Irish enter the season with a 53-match win streak and finished 2017 ranked No. 8.11. Carroll (Southlake, Texas), 38-8
The Teresa Dunn coaching era begins at Carroll with a roster full of returnees. The Dragons lost one senior starter and return sophomore Natalie Glenn
and junior Annabelle Smith
, who combined for 1,000 kills a year ago. Setter Mckenzie Nichols
is back after dishing out 1,069 assists. Also back is USC commit Harper Hallgren
.12. Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.), 35-6
With Kami Miner
and Kyla Doig
, the Seahawks have two of the most gifted jumpers on any court. Miner led the team in kills with 347, assists with 580 and solo blocks with 117 and Doig has committed to USC.13. New Castle (Ind.), 34-4
With the Shaffmaster sisters on the court, New Castle can compete with any team. Melani Shaffmaster
was MaxPreps 2017 National Sophomore Player of the Year and younger sister Mabrey Shaffmaster
was MaxPreps National Freshman Player of the Year in 2017. Ranking them at No. 15 might be too low. The Trojans enter the season with a 12-match win streak.
14. Kamehameha Kapalama (Honolulu), 27-5
Setter Lexis Akeo
(12.5 assists per set) leads an experienced group looking for a repeat. The Warriors have a surplus of hitters returning after averaging better than 15 kills per set a year ago.15. 'Iolani (Honolulu), 31-11
With Elena Oglivie
, Kristen McDaniel
(Oklahoma pledge) and 6-2 Sasha Petticord
, the Raiders will battle with anyone, especially island rival Kamehameha.16. Oak Ridge (Conroe, Texas), 31-5Natalie Martin
(LSU pledge), Kenzie Arent
(Dartmouth commit) and Ashlyn Cianciulli
will lead the War Eagles far this season. They hit, set and dig.17. St. James Academy (Lenexa, Kan.), 39-6
Five of last year's top hitters return, including 6-2 senior Audrey Klemp
(LMU commit), to give setter Morgan Miller
many options.18. Mercy (Louisville, Ky.), 37-8
Fourteen players who saw varsity action a year ago return for the state runner-up that lost only to nationally ranked teams in 2017. Mercy has won 19-straight regional titles and was the state runner-up to Assumption last year. Leading the Jaguars will be senior hitter Jayme Scott
(Bellarmine commit), senior hitter Emma Schurfranz
(Kennesaw State), senior defensive specialist Sydney Colvin
, junior hitter Caitlin Carpenter
and sophomore setter Elena Scott
.19. Yorktown (Ind.), 36-3
Success starts with three-time MaxPreps All-American Kenzie Knuckles
, but eight other players who played 78 or more sets return, including hitters Tegan Seyring
, Courtney Watkins
and Ellie Miller
. Add libero Kylie Murr
(6.3 digs per set) and Yorktown is loaded.20. Seven Lakes (Katy, Texas), 28-8
Do-everything sophomore Allysa Batenhorst
, a 6-4 member of the U.S. Girls National Team, will be the center piece of an experienced Spartan squad. In addition to Batenhorst, the Spartans feature 11 seniors.21. Marist (Atlanta), 40-3
The War Eagles have two of the state's best young players in 6-4 Jacque Boney
and setter Rachel Johnson
. That combination will take them far. They finished 2017 with a 32-match win streak.22. Oviedo (Fla.), 25-4
23. Teurlings Catholic (Lafayette, La.), 42-0
The Rebels didn't lose in 2017 and enter season with 57 consecutive wins over the last two seasons.
24. Northwest (Olathe, Kan.), 40-4Abby Copeland
(Biola pledge), Ashley Cass
, Lindsey Heller
(Alabama pledge) and Kaiti Parks
give sophomore setter Courtney Jackson
a surplus of options.25. Helias (Jefferson City, Mo.), 34-4-2
Coach David Harris averaged 35 wins a year over the last four seasons and there is no reason to expect a change with his returning state D3 title-winning group.26. Prosper (Texas), 40-6
Senior setter Madi Whitmire
(Connecticut pledge) had 1,761 assists as a junior and will direct the high-flying Eagles loaded with versatility.27. Webb (Knoxville, Tenn.), 34-7
With older sister Nicklin off to Nebraska, senior Kayleigh Hames
(Pepperdine pledge) will be center of attention.
28. Mother McAuley (Chicago), 35-5
With senior setter Nancy Kane
running the offense, positives will follow.29. Dike-New Hartford (Dike, Iowa), 47-3
The Wolverines open the season with a 21-match win streak.
30. Coppell (Texas), 38-4
Sophomore middle Madison Gilliland
will be an impact player this season.31. Green Hope (Cary, N.C.), 31-2
The Falcons ended 2017 with 16 straight wins.
32. Benet Academy (Lisle, Ill.), 32-7
Over the last 11 years, the Redwings have won 392 matches and with 14 returnees from last year's 32-win team, why expect anything less than a 30-win season.33. Sacred Heart (Louisville, Ky.), 26-14
The only Kentucky team to defeat No. 2 Assumption a year ago and with Kristen Clemons
, Olivia Fogo
and Cat Schmid
(who combined for 39 kills in that win) back, good things are in store for the 2018 Valkyries.34. The Woodlands (Texas), 38-3
The Highlanders are led by hitters Courtney Heiser
(Texas State pledge), Dylan Maberry
(LSU commit) and libero Georgia Murphy
(Miami commit).35. Lakeville North (Lakeville, Minn.), 31-2
The reigning state champs enter 2018 riding a 14-game win streak. All-stater Elizabeth Juhnke
(South Dakota commit) leads the way.36. Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.), 37-0
The Huskies have 48 wins in their last 49 matches.37. Northwest (Germantown, Md.), 19-0
Northwest opens 2018 on a 27-match win streak.38. McGill-Toolen (Mobile, Ala.), 46-7
The reigning state 7A champions begin 2018 with 14-match win streak.39. Avon (Ind.), 37-3
If the Orioles find a setter they will climb quickly in the rankings.40. Hebron (Carrollton, Texas), 41-7
Hebron has won the last three Texas large-class state titles and enter 2018 with a 24-match win streak. The Hawks lost a lot, but return three key players in setter Jessica Stancliff
(Tex-Arlington pledge), 6-1 middle Emma Clothier
(Indiana pledge) and 6-4 junior middle Nnedi Okammor
(Florida commit).41. Central (Fresno, Calif.), 41-3
The Grizzlies have what it takes to steal some spotlight from Southern California squads. Their only 2017 losses were to three teams ranked ahead of them in this poll.
42. Baylor (Chattanooga, Tenn.), 42-5
The reigning D2 state champions lost two starters, but return a front row that will play collegiately — 6-3 junior Zoe Ubamadu
, 6-1 senior Ally Craig
and senior Denver Rogers
43. Bonneville (Idaho Falls, Idaho), 41-4
Only one six-footer on the roster, but five regulars return from state champion team that starts the season with 24-match winning streak.44. North Branch (Mich.), 67-5Allyson Severance
(Miami pledge) does it all for the Broncos.45. Cedar Falls (Iowa), 24-2Alayna Yates
, a 6-4 junior middle committed to Dayton, is key to Tigers' high ranking … and expected finish. The state 5A champs have a 12-match win streak.46. Mercy (Farmington Hills, Mich.), 35-7Jess Mruzik
(Michigan commit) is a member of the USA Youth National Team for a reason.47. Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.), 37-5
It's likely no team in the country was hit as hard by graduation as Mitty, but Bret Almazan-Cezar teams always win (226-21 over the last six seasons).
48. North Branch (Minn.), 29-4
Top two hitters, top two servers, top two diggers and setter all return.49. Edmond Santa Fe (Edmond, Okla.), 28-7
All the components are there for a repeat title and much more.50. Eagan (Minn.), 27-2
All-State players Kennedi Orr
and Ellie Husemann
lead the way. State champion Lakeville North's only losses in 2017 were against the Wildcats.