For the past four years, there has been little argument as to who is the best volleyball player in the Wichita area.
Rose Hill’s Gracie Van Driel was a monster for the Rockets and helped them to a pair of state championships from 2016-17 and another state tournament appearance last season. Alongside four others in her senior class, Rose Hill entered as a favorite in Class 4A last year but drew two of the top three finishers in pool play and failed to qualify to the second day.
Still, Van Driel’s impact was felt throughout Kansas and especially in the Rose Hill community. With her gone, now playing at Kansas, there is a void, and someone in the Wichita area will fill it.
There are a few candidates.
Maize South junior middle hitter Laurel Jones is the most obvious. Verbally committed to Marquette, a team that hasn’t finished with fewer than 20 wins since 2009. Jones was named to the Eagle’s All-Metro team last year after finishing with 338 kills and 54 blocks.
She helped Maize South to a 37-9 record and Class 5A sub-state championship. Jones was named AVCTL II MVP.
Jones’ legacy has already begun with the Mavericks and will continue over the next two years.
McPherson’s Rhian Swanson has three more years to take the spotlight. Having spent time with USA Volleyball, Swanson is one of the most promising players in the midwest.
Standing 6-feet at outside hitter, Swanson is already one of the most daunting players in Kansas. Last year, she finished second on the team with 309 kills. She is already verbally committed to Kansas, like Van Driel.
Mother-daughter pair looking for history
No Kansas high school unified school district (USD) has ever won two state volleyball championships in the same season, but that is in danger in 2019.
USD 267, which is home to Andale and Garden Plain high schools, is without question the top volleyball district in Kansas. Last year, Garden Plain won its second state volleyball championship in four years, taking Class 2A.. Andale came fourth in 4A.
In 2019, both are figured to contend again, and Garden Plain is favored to repeat. Maybe the best part, the teams’ coaches are a mother-daughter pair.
Garden Plain’s Gina Clark is one of the best volleyball coaches to come through Wichita, and her daughter, Kaylie Bergkamp, made a name for herself in her first season last year.
Together, the teams went 69-19. They were one loss away from identical records. They scrimmage during the preseason and make each other better.
Andale has never won a volleyball title, so if USD 267 pulls off the double, it would be even more historic.
Garden Plain looking to defend dominance after starting it
Garden Plain hasn’t gone a high school sports season without a girls state championship since the spring of 2018.
Last spring, Garden Plain won the Class 2A track and field title. In the winter, the Owls’ girls basketball team won, too.
But their championship run started about 12 months ago when the volleyball team won its first state title since 2015, beating Wabaunsee 27-25, 25-11. The Owls’ started the run of dominance; now they must defend it.
The good news is the Garden Plain seniors said they love living in the pressure.
Garden Plain returns six seniors in 2019, something few championship-winning teams can boast. Top players including outside hitter Natasha Dooley, who earned All-Metro honors last year after totaling 340 kills, 174 digs, 60 aces and 43 blocks.
Other top teams in Class 2A include St. Mary’s Colgan, Smith Center and Ellinwood.
Can Wichita break the 6/5A curse?
Bishop Carroll made history last year, but it still wasn’t enough.
From 2011-17, Wichita-area volleyball teams were 0-54 against Kansas City area teams in pool play to the reach the state semifinals. Last year, Carroll beat De Soto 25-19, 21-25, 26-24. It served as a beacon to other Wichita area teams that it’s possible.
The Kansas City area hasn’t gone a year without a state volleyball championship in the top two classifications since 1999. Wichita area teams have one title since 2001.
In 2018, no Wichita area team qualified for the Class 6A state tournament. The state semifinals featured three teams out of KC and one from Topeka. In fact, over the past five years, KC area teams have 19 semifinal appearances. Wichita has none.
Andover, Bishop Carroll and Maize South, all of whom reached state in 5A last year, are the favorites to break the 17-year drought.
League title races are wide open
Three league championship races are as open as ever in recent years.
Last year, Bishop Carroll (City League) and Newton (AVCTL I) cruised through their league schedules. Both qualified for the Class 5A state tournament and left the rest of their leagues home wondering, ‘What if?’ But in 2019, it could be a different story.
In the City League, Kapaun Mt. Carmel is a team on the rise. Wichita Northwest is, too.
Maize and Derby had relatively disappointing seasons last year, but on paper, they will be much improved.
And then there is AVCTL II, maybe the deepest, strongest volleyball league in the Wichita area with state qualifiers Maize South and Andover, and perennial power Goddard along with risers Eisenhower and Valley Center.
AVCTL II will likely be the most entertaining race to watch. The winner is most likely to reach state.
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