For the first time since 2010, the St. Pius X volleyball team’s season didn’t end in Cape Girardeau.

The Lancers won Class 2 state championships at the Show-Me Center on the Southeast Missouri State University campus in 2016 and 2017, but they were beaten by Jefferson in the semifinals of last year’s Class 2 District 3 tournament and finished the season 13-8-1.

Shannon Leftridge guided St. Pius to the state title in 2017 and she enters her third year as the Lancers head coach. Expectations are always high for the volleyball program at St. Pius, and this season is no different.

“They really work together well and bring out the best in each other,” Leftridge said of the 2019 version of the Lancers. “We have positive team chemistry this year. This team is vocal, works hard and has fun. Everyone has the same goal this year, and that is to work together as a team, not individuals, and it is already evident in the way we practice and at our first tournament of the season.”

That was at Windsor, the annual kickoff for the Lancers, who captured the tournament championship on Sept. 7 after finishing 2-0-2 and beating Affton in the final. St. Pius remained unbeaten (8-0-2) and won its second tournament title of the season when it beat Festus 25-23, 25-19 in the North County Invitational on Saturday.

It seems like Caly Otec has been on the varsity for more than four years, but Otec takes the floor this fall as a senior and the Lancers’ unquestioned leader. Otec was a Jefferson County Activities Association small-schools first-team member after she had 89 kills as an outside hitter. Otec paired well with fellow first-teamer Kaylee Portell in the middle, but Portell graduated last spring.

Leftridge said Otec and sophomore Kennedy Lane are both six-rotation outside hitters, who are both solid on offense and defense.

“Caly is an experienced player who is a positive leader who is really playing at her highest level right now,” Leftridge said. “I expect a lot from her and she is determined to have a successful season.”

Lane, second team all-league in 2018, emerged as a solid player for the varsity as a freshman and only made three errors on 89 serve-receives (96.6 percent). She was also second to Portell (162) with 107 kills. Lane and Otec were named to the all-tournament team at Windsor.

“Kennedy comes into her sophomore year with more confidence and experience, which is evident in how she’s hitting the ball this year,” Leftridge said. “She is developing into one of the area’s top players.”

Senior setter Molly Bange will run the 5-1 offense again. Bange set up 359 points and had a team-high 19 aces last year. Leftridge said she’s off to a solid start this season after piling up 26 assists against Affton.

Juniors Molly Lewis and Kirsten Schrader and sophomore Summer Meyer return to the varsity.

“I am looking forward to a successful season with a hard-working group of players,” Leftridge said. “Our team is a mix of experienced players who have seen a lot of court time as well as some young players who will get the opportunity to contribute.”

St. Pius is moving from District 3 to District 4 at Hancock this year with Carnahan, Gateway Science Academy, Grandview, McKinley Classical Leadership and Valley Park.

Owls led by four-year starters

With a solid cast of seniors, including four-year starters Taylor Duncan and Ally Moore, Windsor has the team chemistry and talent to rise above last year’s 15-16-3 record.

Duncan has been the Owls’ setter for three years and is coming off knee surgery. She’s a three-year all-conference selection and was on the all-conference first team last year after she had 345 assists, 74 kills and 29 aces.

“She is a very smart, multi-talented player,” said head coach Stephany Dueker-Richmond, who enters her 19th year.

For the fourth straight season, Moore will be the libero, and she dug out 365 volleys to go with a team-high 36 aces in 2018.

“Ally has come in with a renewed love of the game and totally different attitude,” Dueker-Richmond said. “She is still the same fabulous defender, but now there’s something else valuable to go with it.”

Seniors Abigail Bailey and Alyssa Vaughn enter their third varsity years. Bailey returns to the middle of the lineup after she led Windsor with 139 kills and 25 blocks. Dueker-Richmond said Bailey has more speed this year. Vaughn moves from the outside to the middle this year. She topped 100 kills last season.

“Despite her small stature, her tremendous speed and vertical jump make her a good choice for the middle,” Dueker-Richmond said.

Senior Kennedy Detmer is the defensive stopper. She was 91 percent on serve-receives and had 20 aces. Detmer played libero with her club team.

“Kennedy and Ally are great complements to each other,” Dueker-Richmond said.

Juniors Sydnie Kube and Lidiva Sokolic will play in the front row on the outside. Kube is another speedy Owl and Sokolic plays under control with consistency. Junior Maddie Ealey is a newcomer to the varsity and is an athletic defender who can play every position in the back row.

Grace Lowery, Lexi Menne and Madison Williams will see playing time as freshmen. Lowery and Menne are hitters with strong defensive backgrounds, court sense and a high level of select experience. Williams is a setter who can pass, block and play defense.

“So far both (Lowery and Menne) have demonstrated nerves of steel,” Dueker-Richmond said.

Sophomores Bailey Benoist, Alayna Green and Madison Heaghney will swing between the varsity and JV this fall.

Windsor is 2-2-2 this season and lost to Affton in its tournament.

After a first-round win against Herculaneum in the Class 3 District 2 tournament, the Owls were beaten by Park Hills Central in the semifinals. This season, Windsor is in Class 3 District 3 at Affton as the only team from the county.

Tigers off to good start

Festus needed to win one match to reach the Class 3 final four tournament in Cape Girardeau in 2018.

But the Tigers’ season came to an end in Ste. Genevieve with a 25-11, 25-20 loss to Lutheran South in the quarterfinals. Even that loss couldn’t dampen a season where Festus won 29 of 33 matches and had the Jefferson County Activities Association large-schools coach of the year in Karen Biehle and player of the year in Bria Garmon.

The Tigers went undefeated (4-0) in winning the large-schools title.

Garmon is a senior this year and is joined by fellow seniors Kate Todd, Taylor Jackson and MacKenzie Warfel to give the Tigers plenty of experience. Not surprisingly, Festus is off to a 7-2 start this year. The Tigers started the season with wins against Ste. Gen, Farmington and Valle Catholic before losing to Biscmarck in the first round of the North County Invitational and to the Lancers in the final.

This is Biehle’s 34th season coaching the Tigers, and the hall of famer’s expectations never change.

“Same for each year. We want to win conference, district, sectionals and advance to the state tournament,” Biehle said.

In Garmon, they have an outside hitter who is a three-sport athlete (basketball and track and field) and has won the MVP of the large-schools two years in a row. When Garmon serves (99.1 percent in 225 attempts), she almost never gives a side out. She’s superb at all three levels, leading the team with 435 kills and was second in digs (398).

Todd is a four-year starter and as the setter had 513 assists last year. Todd was picked for the JCAA second team and has verbally committed to play volleyball at Anderson University in Indiana.

Juniors Lily Brickhaus, Jessica Hebenstreit and Hannah Warfel and sophomores Devin Younger and Kinsey Benack and freshmen Claire Martin and Sarah Banderman also will play key roles for the varsity.

Blackcats were in rebuilding mode last year

There’s no more talk about rebuilding for Herculaneum.

The 2018 graduation took away eight players who were the core of the program. In their place stepped a new group who won 12 matches and lost to Windsor in the district tournament.

Seniors Taylor Metcalf, Kylie Barnes, Jordan Allen and Lily Stauder are now the leaders on the Blackcats. Metcalf is the setter.

“Taylor was instrumental in running our 6-2 offense last year, but this year we’re calling on her to run the 5-1,” Herculaneum head coach Audrey Meda said. “Taylor is quick on her feet, has phenomenal court awareness and is willing to work outside her comfort zone to put the ball in position for several aggressive hitters.”

Barnes has a quick swing and she finds the 10-foot line often, and Allen and Stauder provide talent on offense.

Meda, in her 15th season, redeveloped the defense after libero Tori Gonzalez graduated this spring. Meda said freshman Cheyenne Hardy is fearless and she will replace Gonzalez at the key defensive position.

Juniors Paige Fowler and Emily Wiese round out the starting lineup and juniors Dakota Patterson and D’Anna Harvey will come off the bench.

The Blackcats (0-2) are in Class 3 District 2 at Festus with the Tigers,

De Soto, Park Hills Central, North County, Potosi and Ste. Genevieve.

Meda said her squad has worked hard in the weight room in the offseason, but she expects some growing pains.

“The girls are committed to developing and growing as a unit,” Meda said. “We have the ability and motivation to be successful. Our success will be determined on the attitude and desire we bring to the court in every game. This is a fun group of young ladies to coach and teach.”

Hawks pick up first wins

After starting the season 0-3, Hillsboro traveled to Cape Girardeau for the Dig for Life Tournament on Friday and Saturday and won three of five matches. The Hawks registered wins over New Haven, Bloomfield and Arcadia Valley.

Hillsboro is coming off a 17-12-4 season after falling to eventual Class 4 District 1 champion Farmington in the tournament semifinals. Erin Boss enters her fourth year as the Hawks’ head coach. Hillsboro lost its top two players to graduation. Shea Luby and Halle Roland were both on  the JCAA first team in 2018.

“Even though it looks as though we have a lot of returning, we still lost two major players and are coping with a recovering Grace Ringling,” Boss said.

Ringling, a senior middle blocker, had knee surgery in the offseason. She has been on the varsity all four years, led the Hawks with 102 blocks and was all-conference second team last year.

“Though she is not 100 percent, I have no questions that she will be there midway through the season,” Boss said.

Senior Heather Ripperger returns to lead the defense. She had 24 aces and 349 digs a year ago.

“She is coming out of her shell more on the court and it is great to see,” Boss said. “She is gaining confidence and getting the job done, plus some.”

Three experienced juniors – Sophia Marchetti, Mackenzie Baker and Evelyn Roland – give the Hawks a balanced starting unit. Baker will be the middle blocker and play all six rotations. Marchetti led Hillsboro with 423 digs last year. And Roland will rotate six times and start at setter, where she had 293 assists, splitting time with her older sister, Halle.

“(Baker) is going to bring power in the front row along with unstoppable defense in the back row,” Boss said. “(Marchetti) will swing outside or right side along with locking down the middle of the defense. (Roland) is still finding her way without her sister. I know once she does, she will be unstoppable.”

Hillsboro remains in District 1 with Cape Girardeau Central, Farmington, Jackson, Poplar Bluff and Sikeston.

“I have high expectations for my team as always,” Boss said. “We are a talented group. We just have to find our groove and work together as a team. I expect my girls to be competitive with the majority of the teams we play. (This week) will be the first week our team will be together in its entirety.”

Jefferson overcame many obstacles in 2018

Last season was memorable in many ways – some bad, but mostly good.

When Ashleigh Nagel had a heart attack last summer she was unable to coach the Blue Jays. In stepped Tara Fish, who had been Nagel’s assistant and whose daughter, Gracie, was one of eight seniors on a talented team.

Once the shock of Nagel’s health started to wear off – Nagel came back later in the season to inspire her players – Jefferson proved it was a team to be reckoned with. The Blue Jays won 30 matches and eliminated defending Class 2 state champion St. Pius X in the Class 2 District 3 semifinals. Jefferson lost to Arcadia Valley in the district final and the Tigers ended up finishing second in the state.

The Blue Jays (8-3 this year) lost all but one starter – junior Laney Smith – from last year, but they look to be back in form after winning six of seven matches at the Dig for Life Tournament in Cape Girardeau on Friday and Saturday.

“The (2018) season got off to a tough start with Coach Nagel not being with us and us all worrying about the tragic incident with her health,” said Fish, who took over as full-time head coach. “The devastation pulled us together even more to want to make her proud.”

Smith came back strong adding to her explosive offense with great defense. 

“She set a goal for herself to play all around this season and she is nailing it,” Fish said. “She and Maddie (Todd) have both taken charge being voted captains by their team.”

Todd is one of four seniors, along with Abby Govreau, Morgan Daugherty and Kylee Barton. Daugherty and Barton are defensive specialists. Barton missed last year with a shoulder injury.

Jefferson juniors include Morgan Fuller, Remi McPeters, Mackenzie Rarick, and Payton Siebert.  Fish said the juniors have grown in their skills and strength in the weight room this summer.  Siebert is a strong blocker.

Freshmen Emma Breier, Kirstyn Loyd, Ava Roth, and Paige Siebert will all play on the varsity. Breier will be in the front row and Paige Siebert will be setting, with Loyd backing them up.

“The first goal of this season is to get the girls to become one unit and be great teammates,” Fish said. “Many of these girls haven’t played together before and are still getting to know one another on the court.”

Helwig retiring after season

Volleyball has been a big part of Laura Helwig’s life for as long as she can remember.

The girls volleyball coach at Crystal City met her husband, Gary, at the Show Me Games while they were both playing the sport.

It’s not the first time Helwig has left the Hornets in her 20 years, but she insists it will be the last. She said she meets the rule 80 for retirement which is an equation between her age, 58, and years of service. Gary is retiring from his job at Ameren this year. The two plan on traveling. Gary has been Laura’s on-and-off again assistant for the Hornets.

“I’ve already got a bucket list of things I want to do,” Helwig said.

Helwig, a Festus graduate, has coached at Visitation Academy, Lindenwood University, St. Pius and has taught countless youth players how to play volleyball. She led the Hornets to second place in Class 1 in 2006 and fourth place in 2005.

Crystal City finished 8-14 last season after losing to Viburnum in the Class 1 District 4 semifinals. The Hornets will host District 4 this year.

Senior Ashleigh Damazyn (libero) and juniors Mattie Edwards (setter) and Annie Waites (middle hitter) are the most experienced returning players. Freshmen Kate Eisenbeis (setter), Molly Clemmons (outside hitter) and Abbie Edwards (outside hitter) will see significant playing time.

The Hornets (3-2) had won three straight matches before falling at Oak Ridge on Monday night. Crystal is 1-0 in the JCAA small-schools with a straight-set win against Grandview on Sept. 12.

“We had been playing really well and were passing well,” Helwig said. “We’re struggling with our setting, but we’re working on it.”

Harlow go-to player for Eagles

Senior Hailey Harlow is set for a breakout season for Grandview after she was named to the JCAA small-schools honorable mention team in 2018.

The middle hitter was second on the Eagles last year with 147 kills and led them with 87 blocks.

“She controls the net and is our go-to player,” Grandview head coach Madeline Rotter said.

Junior Lanie Dierker is a versatile player who’s just as comfortable in the front row as she is in the back. She had just 19 errors in 236 serve-receive attempts and had 94 kills and 187 digs and led the team with 48 aces.

“She hits from all spots, especially the back row,” Rotter said.

Junior Molly Gearhart and sophomore Natalee Moore are the Eagles’ other two returning players. Moore had 41 blocks and Gearhart had 213 digs.

The Eagles are 2-3-1 this season and competed in the Dig for Life Tournament in Cape Girardeau last weekend. Grandview finished last season 19-13-1 after losing to St. Vincent in the Class 2 District 3 tournament. The Eagles are in District 4 at Hancock this fall.

“My expectations for the season are to learn and develop mental, physical, technical and tactical skills that foster personal growth,” Rotter said. “And passion for the sport and how to compete at a high level with respect, integrity and  confidence.”

Busy Dragons .500 at halfway point of this season

No team in any sport has competed as much as the De Soto girls volleyball team. As of Sept. 17, the Dragons (5-5-4) have played half of their fall schedule.

That suits head coach Lindsey Brinkman, who wants to put 2018 behind her when De Soto finished 13-21 and were ushered out in the first round of the Class 3 District 2 tournament by North County. The Dragons are back in the district this year.

“We’re focusing on the positive strides we have made since then and are looking to fine-tune our offense and speed up our play,” Brinkman said. “The potential is there, but we’ve got to minimize our mistakes and play smarter.”

Senior Emma Portell was JCAA large-schools honorable mention last year after dishing up 585 assists as the setter. Portell already has 209 assists this season. Senior Jillian Williams led the Dragons with 38 aces a year ago and has 14 so far. Williams will assist Portell with setting.

“We will continue to depend on her aggressive serve,” Brinkman said of Williams.

Seniors Haley Johnson (205 digs, 241 receptions in 2018) and Amy Reiser (143 digs, 181 receptions) are leaders of the De Soto defense. Junior Jenna Nickelson (143 digs, 181 receptions) has gained a lot of experience in the offseason, and newcomer Abby Ellsworth has also greatly improved her skills.

Junior depth is key to De Soto’s success. Kamryn Pehle was second team all-conference after leading the Dragons with 239 kills. Kylie Roth (127 kills) and Taylor Jones (78 kills, 156 digs, 228 receptions) are returning veterans, while Maci Cluff will play more this year. Abby Pope is healthy after  a foot/ankle injury sidelined her most of  last season.

Sophomores Abby Portell and Jill Heath will fill holes on offense and defense.