I’ve covered a lot of high school sports in my eight years as a sportswriter, from football to boys and girls basketball to track and field to girls tennis, but on Thursday, I added a new sport to that list: volleyball.
I realized mid-day that the top two two teams in the state — Papillion-La Vista and Elkhorn South — were scheduled for a showdown just a few miles from my apartment at the Home of the Monarchs. I didn’t have anything planned for that evening so I decided, what the heck? Might as well check it out.
Boy was that a great decision.
Elkhorn South threw everything it had at Papillion-La Vista, but the Monarchs weathered the Storm (sorry) and improved to 10-0 in a five-set thriller that I have a hard time believing will be topped this season. It was a phenomenal match played by two tremendous teams and I had a lot of fun watching them go back and forth.
Volleyball is a severely underrated sport.
My first exposure to the game came while I was in high school and running the scoreboard for my grade school’s gym. I started with basketball games, but soon after learned how to keep score for volleyball as well. It was an easy way to make a couple of extra bucks while helping out the athletic director.
In college, I joined the school newspaper my freshman year. The men’s basketball program — something I was very familiar with considering I grew up a Creighton fan — was my first beat, but during my sophomore year, my sports editor needed someone to cover the volleyball program in the fall. I figured since I had watched a lot of middle school volleyball that I should be able to figure it out, so I volunteered.
Volleyball at the collegiate level was a completely different animal than what I had experienced previously, however. The athleticism, the skill and the up-tempo nature of the sport all grabbed my attention and volleyball quickly turned from a sport I had to cover to one I truly enjoyed to watch.
I covered Creighton for three years, watching Coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth take her program from barely above .500 my freshman year to a regular NCAA Tournament qualifier; the Jays made the postseason each of the three season that I covered the team, winning a match in 2012 and 2013. Since I graduated, Booth has elevated her program even further into one that is consistently in the top-25 and one that can go toe-to-toe with the perennial powerhouse Huskers, even if they haven’t beaten Nebraska yet.
After graduation, Hail Varsity brought me on as a staff writer and volleyball was one of my beats. My first season covering the team was 2015; you know, when the Huskers won a national title in Omaha? That was a fun welcome to the beat.
Over the last four years, I’ve seen the collegiate game played at its highest level, and I’ve seen some international volleyball as well. With that experience coloring my perspective, I walked into the gym at Papillion-La Vista not knowing what to expect.
I was blown away.
First of all, the blue-chip talent on each side certainly looked the part. The primary reason I decided to go to the match was to see 2021 Nebraska commit Rylee Gray, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker for Elkhorn South. She finished with 24 kills and eight blocks while playing three-and-a-half rotations.
Papillion-La Vista had its own player committed to an in-state Division I school in 2021 Creighton commit Norah Sis and I came away thinking Bernthal Booth got a steal. The 6-foot-1 outside hitter played all six rotations and while her attacking was strong, I was even more impressed with her defense and passing. I did not have a box score for the Monarchs when I was writing this, but I thought Sis was the best player on the floor.
It wasn’t a one-girl show for either side, however. Players up and down the lineup made plays throughout the night. Swings were powerful and ball-handling was solid. Neither side backed down as momentum shifted throughout the match. At the end of the night, the Monarchs made two more plays than the Storm.
The atmosphere in the gym was fantastic. The student sections for both sides were loud and into the game all night and the rest of the crowd took their lead. The intensity on the court was through the roof.
I know not every match will look like that one, but as John Cook has said, volleyball in this state from top to bottom is played at an incredibly high level and there are a lot of good players throughout the state. Gray and Sis are two of them. Another Nebraska commit, senior Kalynn Meyer, is putting down more than six kills per set and hitting over .400 for Superior. Arguably the best player in the state is 2021 Nebraska commit Lindsay Krause, an outside hitter from Omaha Skutt, and she’s currently in Egypt competing with the U18 World Championships with the USA Youth National Team. Elle Glock is a 2021 setter from Wahoo committed to USA and Nebraska commit Bekka Allick from Lincoln North Star headlines the 2022 class.
There are a lot of other players throughout the state committed to or getting looks from quality programs at the mid-major, Division II and NAIA levels as well.
If you find yourself with some free time and you’re looking for something to do, I’d take a look at the high school volleyball schedule. Football may dominate Fridays and Saturdays, but Nebraska is a volleyball state too and these girls deserve support and recognition.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.