Class A Season Preview
A new season of high school volleyball has arrived in North Dakota and it could end up being the end of an era. A 3-class proposal like the one passed for basketball has been gaining traction and could very well end up being accepted ahead of the 2024-25 school year. So, that’s something to keep an eye on as we enter a new season. As for storylines in Class A this year, we have an opportunity to see the east win back-to-back Class A state titles for the first time in 20 years. Sheyenne took home its first ever state title last year marking only the second time since 2015 that Century didn’t win the state title. The Patriots will certainly be in contention again, but who will join them? Read on to find out.
Class A Team Rankings
The Patriots may have settled for runner-up honors last year, but you’re bound to lose a few championship games when you appear in it every year. The last time Century failed to reach the state volleyball championship, Barack Obama was President.
Head coach Jamie Zastoupil’s team returns a pair of exceptional senior hitters in Eden Fridley and Erika Lee. Fridley recorded nearly 300 kills and 400 digs last year and will be one of the top athletes on the floor in every match. Lee recorded 150 kills and 57 blocks last fall and should see her numbers rise with an expanded role as a senior. The Patriots also return their top two setters from last year in senior Quinn Kost (601 assists, 277 digs, 34 aces) and junior Geneva Ding (549 assists, 30 aces).
As is usually the case, a bunch of talented JV players are champing at the bit to get their varsity reps in. Zastoupil says, “I don’t know that you’re going to find that we have that one standout player, but that we’re going to be strong at every position. We’re really going to be able to spread the ball around.” Expectations will be high, but that’s nothing new for the red, white and blue.
The Blue Jays won 33 matches last year and finished in the final four. Coaching is always a strength with this program as Sara Hegerle begins her 13th season at the helm. Jamestown really proved itself as the third best team in the state last year. Their only non-tournament losses after Labor Day came at the hands of Century or Sheyenne, the two teams that reached the state championship match.
The offense returns standout setter and middle hitter Makenna Nold who averaged 20 assists and seven kills per match last year. Nold will be one of the tougher players to prepare for in the state. Edie Hegerle, Benet Fonk and Leah Trumbauer are three others that worked into the rotation last year. The Blue Jays need to find some new defensive specialists, but I see them being a title contender again in 2023.
3. West Fargo
West Fargo might be a sneaky team at number three. The Packers finished 3rd in the EDC last year but graduated only three seniors. Kelsey Titus’s team got stronger throughout the season and were up 2-0 on Legacy in the quarterfinals when they dropped the 3rd set 28-26 and eventually the match 3-2. Rather than feeling sorry for themselves at state, the team rallied to win both matches in the consolation bracket for a fifth-place finish.
This year’s roster starts with returning all-state libero Raina Chwialkowski, who’s entering just her sophomore season. She’s a tremendous volleyball player and entertaining to watch on match nights with how she can cover the floor. Ellie McIntosh is another sophomore that should step into a bigger role as middle. Look for the Packers to be a force again this fall.
Same city, different school at number four. How will Sheyenne fare after graduating such a large class of eight seniors? It’ll be hard not to take a bit of a step back as head coach Leah Newton tries to fit the new pieces in the right places early on. 5’11” senior Izzy Albrecht will be the focal point of the offense after playing a critical role in helping the Mustangs win the title. Cally Tungseth also worked her way into the rotation last year. Give them some time to gel and I think Sheyenne will be dangerous again this year. Head coach Leah Newton says, “We are young and excited to grow as a team. We have potential and look forward to seeing players step up as leaders.”
I was waffling between Legacy and Bismarck High for the fifth spot. The Demons should be good led by one of last year’s top hitters Tayla Andersen, but ultimately, I went with the Sabers. Legacy was 3-0 last year against BHS and returns some talented seniors headlined by Halle Severson and Reese Duchsherer. Severson averaged 8 kills per match, while Duchsherer was a steady contributor in multiple facets averaging seven kills, 14 assists and two aces per match. The Sabers finished last year playing in the final four. Don’t be surprised if they reach that point again. Jennifer Astle’s program is starting to produce more and more college talent and that can really spark a program.
After missing out on the state tournament last year, the Bismarck Demons are hungry to get back into the contender conversation. Senior OH Tayla Andersen (425 kills, 338 digs, 29 blocks, 60 aces) will be the focal point after an outstanding junior campaign. Fellow seniors Morgan Johnson-Colbert and Emerson Carufel and junior libero Madison Foster help strengthen a lineup that has solid varsity experience. Head coach Brianna Kline says, “We have high expectations for the 2023 season. We will potentially be returning six athletes and will have several athletes in our gym who have seen playing time on the varsity court.”
A lot of coaches I spoke with feel Shanley is poised for a good season. The Deacons settled for a seventh-place finish in the EDC last year, but graduated only three seniors. They return one of the top setters in the conference in junior Ella Stimpson. The Deacons are also expected to have some good size at the net with at least three players over 6-feet tall in seniors Maggie Shorma, Mesiku Hakim and sophomore Carly Hulstein.
Class A Preseason Player of the Year
Top 10 Seniors to Watch in Class A
- Tayla Andersen, Bismarck
- Raina Chwialkowski, West Fargo
- Reese Duchscherer, Legacy
- Lexi Gerving, St. Mary's
- Erika Lee, Century
- Hannah Litzinger, Red River
- Makenna Nold, Jamestown
- Cayla Sailer, Davies
- Betsy Schiltz, North
- Ella Stimpson, Shanley
Class B Season Preview
Two programs have been the titans of Class B volleyball the past two seasons and we’ll see if that trend continues in 2023. Defending state champ Northern Cass has a roster built to contend again. Linton-HMB, which has played in three straight championship matches and won two titles, will have some adjustments to make under new leadership this year. Several other perennial powers look poised to be in the mix again this year, as well. Let’s take an in-depth look at the top contending teams.
Class B Team Rankings
1. Northern Cass
The Jaguars are coming off their first state title since 2013 and I’m wondering if they might make it happen again. A lot of people will look at the five starters they lost from last season and question if they might take a step back, but I still like what they have up front with 6’3” senior MH Josie Jensen (331 kills, 141 blocks, 299 digs) and fellow senior OH Ellie Lucas (181 kills, 61 aces, 70 blocks). Those two should be fun to watch at the net. Senior setter Addy Rust (448 assists, 222 digs) is back to distribute the ball and junior Haidyn Crockett (81 kills, 40 blocks) has improved a bunch after her first year as a starter. The Jaguars were a dominant 39-1 last year and head coach Angie Johnson is hoping this year’s group can build off that. “We will have a lot of new faces on the court this year. We will be leaning on our returners to provide leadership throughout the season. This summer we have been working hard to build our new team chemistry and it is looking promising!”
The Tommies are a traditional power and I have them ranked second in the preseason coming off their semifinal appearance in 2021. They graduated five valuable seniors, but the Tommies always have a ton of talent waiting in the wings. They’ll be trying to make their sixth consecutive trip to state. The Tommies last won the title back in 2018.
Summer Hegg is poised for another dominant year after collecting over 400 kills as a junior. Look for Clara Stevens and Brenna Martin to be key contributors at the net this year with junior setter Sydney Schwabe being the floor general. Senior libero Jordan West will be the leader on defense, doing her best to make sure nothing hits the floor.
What would a Class B volleyball top five be without Thompson? Veteran head coach Lisa Strand will have her team eyeing another region two crown, but it won’t be easy with MayPort-C-G fielding a strong team this year. The Tommies were a final four team last year and won 34 matches. They have some holes after graduating their three captains but look for proven athletes like Sydney Schwabe and Brenna Martin to play big roles for Thompson. Strand says, “We believe we will see a lot of growth from all the players and some new leaders emerge along with our returning starters.” Look for Josie Plain, Reese Danner and Dru Schwab to be impact players this fall, as well. Let the quest for a 7th consecutive region title begin for the Tommies.
Speaking of tough regions, my fourth and fifth ranked teams will be competing for the ticket out of region four, that being Langdon-Edmore-Munich and New Rockford-Sheyenne. I give the Cardinals the edge thanks to the big-time talent on the roster. Senior middle Cora Badding finished with over 600 kills and 350 digs last year to go with 90 aces. The other stellar seniors Jaya Henderson and setter Jalynn Swanson make up one of the best trios in the state. Swanson will surpass the 3,000-assist milestone at some point this fall. Head coach Rich Olson says, “I think we have the potential to become one of the top teams in the state if our development continues to trend upward. We have some young players that can become big contributors for us.” The Cardinals check a lot of boxes to be a state title contender. We’ll see if they can make the most of their talent.
5. New Rockford-Sheyenne
The team that denied Langdon-Edmore-Munich a trip to state last year was New Rockford-Sheyenne who made the big dance for the first time in school history. Now, the expectations ramp up for a team that returns some tremendous talent spearheaded by senior Kelsie Belquist who seems to float above the net at times. Sophomore setter Ava Peterson has developed great chemistry with Belquist and the rest of the hitters. This group has been playing together for a while and the Rockets might be poised to take off to state again.
The Patriots are expected to give perennial power Thompson a challenge in Region two. Twin sisters Raina (176 kills, 351 digs) and Rylee Satrom (234 kills, 282 digs) have proven their talents across many sports and now they’re aiming to lead the volleyball program to the state tournament to kick off their senior year. Fellow seniors Maysa Larson (264 digs, 25 aces) and Danica Hanson (178 kills, 526 assists, 72 aces, 245 digs) are a couple more versatile players that will be big leaders for the Patriots this season. Head coach Stacy Hanson tells me, “This team has varsity experience back and is an athletic bunch of ladies. We are hoping to compete for a region championship this season.”
After winning back-to-back state championships, Linton-HMB saw its 3-peat bid come up one win short in the five-set loss to Northern Cass in last year’s title game. Not only did the Lions graduate senior athlete of the year ShayLee Bosch and fellow all-state selection Gracie Schumacher, but reigning coach of the year Jaime Richter stepped down. Kadie Walls inherits the powerhouse program that finished 38-2 last year. Senior libero Grace Keeney leads from the back row after recording 469 digs and 65 aces as a junior. Senior Emma Weiser came on strong late last season and should build off that momentum. Sophomore Brooklyn Schumacher is coming off an ACL tear but has a chance to really open some eyes this season after bursting onto the scene as a freshman.
Since 2012, the Knights have only failed to make the state tournament twice. They’ll be the favorites to represent region six again this fall. The team will rely on senior Maya Vibeto for leadership following her all-state campaign as a junior. ORCS has been known to pride itself on playing scrappy defensively under head coach Kara Nunziato. They have a senior class that experienced heartache in 2021 and elation in 2022 in the region championship. Now, they get their chance to finish their respective careers on a high note.
Class B Preseason Player of the Year
Top 10 Seniors to Watch in Class B
- Cora Badding, Langdon-E-M
- Kelsie Belquist, New Rockford-Sheyenne
- Ava Jahner, Trinity
- Grace Keeney, Linton-HMB
- Olivia Kessel, Trinity
- Caroline Puetz, Wyndmere-Lidgerwood
- Rylee Satrom, MayPort-C-G
- Sydney Schwabe, Thompson
- Jalynn Swanson, Langdon-E-M
- Maya Vibeto, Our Redeemer's