One of the most dynamic players in the state and a future Husker saw her high school volleyball career come to an end on Wednesday as Whitney Lauenstein and the fourth-seeded Waverly Vikings fell to No. 5 Ashland-Greenwood in the Class B quarterfinals.
Lauenstein went down swinging, officially recording 23 kills and 22 digs in the four-set loss and capping her outstanding career with another terrific performance. She totaled 1,364 kills in her three-year varsity career, averaging 4.8 kills per set on better than .330 hitting.
After Waverly beat Ashland-Greenwood in subdistrict play last week, she told Hail Varsity that passing was the biggest part of her game that she’s been working on, and her serve receive and digging numbers improved each of the last three years to where she was second on the team at 3.7 digs per set this season.
“She’s only been playing outside hitter three years — three years, that’s it,” Waverly coach Terri Neujahr told Hail Varsity. “So she is just touching her abilities and what she can do and I’m thrilled for her, for her career.”
Lauenstein played middle blocker as a freshman, but Neujahr saw the potential Lauenstein had, and at 6-foot-2, her ceiling was much higher on the outside
“During that summer before her sophomore year, I switched her to outside and, ooh, that was an adventure,” Neujahr said. “She even admits she didn’t want to do it, she didn’t want to switch. I told her ‘If you want to play Division I in college, you have to switch because you’re an outside.’ Then it just started to take hold and it was like, ‘Yep, she’s definitely an outside.”
Neujahr said it was it one of the best calls she’s made during her career. When I asked her about what Lauenstein has meant to her program, Neujahr had to take a minute to compose herself as the emotion washed over her.
“I don’t think people understand what a gift it is to be able to coach somebody like a Whitney, and I’m not just talking about her volleyball ability,” Neujahr said. “I am talking about her very kind heart, and putting her teammates first in things and her leadership and just how she has grown as a woman. I don’t think people understand that people like Whitney, those really special athletes that come through your program, nobody sees all the behind the scenes stuff, all the lifting that they do, all the reps that they take. It’s not like she just walked out on the floor and she was amazingly that good. I can’t even tell you how hard she has worked and other people like her have worked; it’s not easy.
“Whitney has had a lot of trials in her personal life that she has overcome as well this year. Even as an adult, I’m like ‘That’s amazing that you’re even doing what you’re doing right now. I am so looking forward to seeing what she can do at the University of Nebraska. She’s an amazing woman and so talented.”
Unfortunately, Waverly’s other Nebraska commit — junior middle blocker Bekka Allick— did not get to play alongside Lauenstein at state because of a broken leg suffered earlier in the season. After an incredibly efficient —albeit shortened — junior season, the Vikings will be counting on Allick to take on an even larger role next season.
“We’re so excited to have her and gosh, what that could have been with Bekka on the floor instead of how it turned out,” Neujahr said. “But you can say a lot of what-ifs. Bekka is rehabbing and we’re excited to be able to play with her next year, hopefully a full season, and she is a game-changer as well. She’s a program-changer just like what Whitney was. We can’t wait to get her back.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered how high school sports have operated this season, and each community has been responsible for deciding on its own guidelines. For Norris — located in Firth, Nebraska — those guidelines included not having any students at matches all season.
Instead of cheering on their classmates in person, Norris students had to follow from afar as the Titans went 27-4 and earned the No. 2 seed in Class B. The district loosened those restrictions for the district final, allowing 25 students to attend as the Titans swept Omaha Duchesne to punch their ticket to state.
Each tournament qualifier was given 500 tickets to distribute or sell for their session, and Norris coach Christina Boesiger said the tickets offered to students sold out in 30 minutes. For the first time all season, Norris got to play in front of a somewhat normal crowd.
“It was awesome,” Boesiger said. “It was so great. We have a great following at Norris; I love that. We had elementary, we had intermediate kids here, so I think that’s something special about Norris. It kind of felt like last year, which is a good feeling.”
The Titans swept seventh-seeded Aurora 25-21, 25-19, 25-20 behind 16 kills from junior Ella Waters and 36 assists, 13 digs, four kills and an ace from junior setter and Nebraska commit Maisie Boesiger.
“The Norris students and community are so awesome,” Maisie Boesiger said. “Our tickets sold out in less than 30 minutes. It was so fun for us to have our students there. This is one of the first times all year all of our students have been able to be together. They were in the stands at a.m. for our 9 a.m. game. Having them in the stands is a perfect way to end our season. Once the NSAA said they were going to allow fans at the state tournament, we knew that was a goal of ours to be playing where our students could come.”
Norris athletic director Mitchell Stine tweeted on Thursday afternoon that the school’s allotment of tickets sold out again, so expect another big crowd on Friday night as the Titans take on No. 3 Aurora in the semifinals.
Small, but Mighty
For most volleyball teams, the tallest players on the team typically play middle blocker. That’s not the case for two state tournament semifinalists, however.
Nebraska outside hitter commit Lindsay Krause gets most of the attention for Omaha Skutt, but the top seed in Class B features plenty of other dynamic options for star setter Allie Gray to feed. Among them is Cameron Cartwright, a 5-foot-7 senior middle blocker who also plays some pin-hitter for the SkyHawks.
“Springs,” Skutt coach Renee Saunders said. “The kid can jump, and she’s our energizer bunny. She is all over the place, constant just go, go, go. That’s just how her motor runs. So her role on the court isn’t just the kills and blocks, but it’s to be the rejuvenator, to keep everybody excited and having fun. But her hops — the kid can jump, and she’s got a super fast arm swing which helps her on the attack side.”
Cartwright is averaging 1.8 kills per set on .320 hitting after converting six of her 10 swings into kills in Skutt’s first-round sweep against No. 8 Grand Island Northwest. She’s also had some highlight-reel blocks this season.
Cartwright isn’t the only unconventional middle blocker in the tournament, however. Sadie Millard, a 5-foot-9 junior for Millard West, is leading Class A in blocks per set at 2.0, and she’s averaging 2.2 kills per set on .289 hitting as well.
“We tell her, ‘Small but mighty,’” Millard West coach Joe Wessel said. “She’s like Mighty Mouse out there … She’s all over the place and the kid is just so agile and she’s just so athletic and she reads the game of volleyball really well, and that’s the thing — I think a lot of people look at her and they’re like ‘Oh my gosh, their middle is 5-9.’ But not only is she a 5-9 middle that can block balls, but she’s a middle that can play six rotations. She can pass, she can hit out of the back row, she can play defense. She’s a one-of-a-kind athlete that every program wishes to have.”
Millard was credited with 12 kills, 13 digs, eight blocks and an ace in No. 6 Millard West’s upset five-set win over No. 3 Lincoln Pius X on Wednesday.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.