With 11 returning players led by reigning Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Volleyball Player of the Year Lauren Goldschmidt, big things are expected of the Gibault Hawks this season.
Goldschmidt (411 kills), a senior, and junior Kelly Dooley (267 kills, 370 digs, 44 blocks) both return at outside hitter.
The Hawks were 24-15 last season, winning regional and sectional titles before losing in three sets to Edwards County at the Class 2A Vandalia Super-Sectional.
Also back is veteran senior setter Ashley Grohmann, who has more than 1,700 assists the past two seasons, is also back. Grohmann led the Hawks last season with 64 service aces and was second with 51 blocks. She averaged 9.46 assists per match a year ago and should be one of the area’s top small-school setters once again.
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In the middle, the Hawks return senior Lauren Schmidt and junior Caralyn Papenberg, whom Gibault coach Heather Ebert calls “game changers with blocking and serving.”
The experience doesn’t stop there with senior libero Maddie O’Neill also returning.
“We are returning a great deal of talent and some true competitors,” said Ebert, who counts on a rough schedule every season to prepare the Hawks for the playoffs. “My team proved their solid mental fortitude last year, so we are going to focus to continue to play like underdogs, even though that might not be the projections like they were last year.”
Gibault has won three regionals and two sectionals in Ebert’s four seasons, finishing fourth at the Class 1A state tournament in 2010.
Nashville is coming off a 33-4 season that saw the Hornettes lose to Gibault in the Class 2A Wesclin Regional championship.
Only three players returning with varsity experience, but they are quality senior players led by setter Allyson Grabowski, defensive specialist Macie Kellerman and outside hitter Alex Kubiak.
Other seniors include Kayla Wesselman, Mariel Elliott, and Deidra Holzhauer.
Nashville will also be relying on a talented sophomore class that includes Mackenzie McFeron, Paige Kasten, Addy Kempfer and Karly Stanowski.
“We will be replacing all but one of our hitters,” Nashville coach Josh Konkel said. “We will not have as many strong hitters as we did last year, but hope to have a quicker and stronger defensive team.”
Returning three-year starters and seniors Abby Marlow (middle hitter, 203 kills, 121 blocks) and Alina Lance (outside hitter, 115 kills, 78 blocks, 24 service aces) will help anchor the New Athens Yellow Jacket this season along with senior setter Savannah Idecker (7.5 assists per match).
New Athens was 32-6 last season, losing to Woodlawn in three sets at the Class 1A Valmeyer Sectional as the Yellow Jackets saw their season and 15-match win streak come to a crashing halt.
“This group of girls will be exciting to watch progress, since they haven’t truly all played together in game-like situations until this past summer during tournaments,” New Athens coach Kyla Patton said.
Senior libero Georgia Park and senior middle hitter Madison Wilderman will have expanded roles this season. Other promising players to watch are senior outside hiter Amanda Bergmann, junior setter Hunter Parker, sophomore outside hitter Leah Kiefer and right side hitter Taylor Junge.
Valmeyer took a tough hit to graduation, losing six senior from a group that included a trio of three-year starters (Miranda Kaufmann, Tiffani Brewer and Morgan Redohl) that were also part of a state tournament trip three years ago.
Valmeyer was 21-13 last season, losing to New Athens in the regional.
Three junior returning starters to should help ease the transition. Jordyn Killy (133 kills, 27 blocks, 212 assists) has been starting setter and a middle hitter for two years and looks to be a leader on the court. Junior Blair Brady (69 kills, 23 blocks) will also help with the setting and also will play outside hitter.
Junior Savannah Williams (53 kills) may be seeing time at outside hitter or libero.
April Thomason, a 6-foot-2 junior, should be a threat in the middle. Sophomores Sammi Seidel and Cierra Goldschmidt will be seeing varsity time on defense and as outside hitters.
A senior defensive specialist with a strong serve is Daria Wilson. Senior Angelica Elizalde is being counted on for blocking and at right side hitter while senior Natalie Touchette (47 kills) has plenty of front-row experience.
“Her jumping ability makes her an assest to any hitting rotation,” Valmeyer coach Jenny Kohnz said.