Can Garden City continue the hold on WAC volleyball crown?
It’s been a rare occurrence when one team in one sport has been dominant in the Western Athletic Conference for a decade or more.
The Great Bend Lady Panthers set the standard with a 17-year run in girls swimming that ended with their title in 2019. But now, another team has knocked on that door of dominance in the form of the Garden City Lady Buffaloes volleyball team.
After winning the WAC Championship in 2020, the Lady Buffs could count to 10 for the number of consecutive titles during the decade of the 2010s. From 2011-2020 the Garden City girls have reigned supreme on the court and at the net. The WAC title propelled coach Trista Bailey’s team to a sixth straight 6A regional title and an appearance in the Class 6A state tournament where they placed fourth.
For Bailey, entering her fifth season at the helm, she will have an all-new lineup, having graduated every starter from the state tournament fourth-place team of 2020. Great Bend enters the season ranked No. 9 in Class 5A and seems the most likely to topple the decade of dominance by the Lady Buffs. Liberal, however, was highly competitive a year ago and should again be challenging for top honors while Dodge City has a solid core of returners as does Hays High.
So which team of the challenging four will be the one to perhaps knock the Buffs off their perch? Time will tell, but as usual, the WAC volleyball looms as highly competitive once again for the 2021 campaign.
DODGE CITY RED DEMONS
Head Coach—Ashley Podschun, 4th year (48-60) – Class 6A
2020—18-16 (3rd at WAC Championship)
Top Player Graduated—Kisa Unruh, 2nd team All-WAC.
Returners—Mataya Clark, Sr., 6-1, Middle Hitter, 248 kills, 91 blocks; Camryn Lenz, 5-5 Sr., RS/S; Mari Landa, 5-7, Sr., RS.
Newcomers—Brittany Lomas, 5-5, Sr., Libero; Jaida Remigio, 5-8, Sr., OH; Kya Edwards, 5-6, Sr., MH; Easha Potts, 6-0, So., MH.
Coach’s Comments—“I feel like our chemistry will be good with this group once we get a set rotation. I have a great group of seniors that are hungry to continue to move this program to a winning tradition. One of our strong suits this year will be our blocking, some areas of concerns that we knew going in was lack of leadership when it comes to passing. We graduated statistically my four best passers last year and lost both my setters, one to graduation and one moved. Therefore, we really have a brand new lineup. Something that is exciting is the growth of Mataya Clark in the last year. She has really improved her entire game, both physically and mentally, so I am really excited to see what she can do for us this year.”
GARDEN CITY BUFFALOES
Head Coach—Trista Bailey (5th Season, 108-46, .701) 6A
2020—The Lady Buffs started slowly but won nine consecutive matches at the end of the regular season and into the postseason and qualified for the Class 6A state tournament for the sixth consecutive season after claiming their 10th straight WAC Championship. With just four teams entered at the state tournament with new guidelines, the Lady Buffs lost all five matches at state to finish the season with a 20-18 record. The Buffs graduated all six starting seniors.
Returners—Mya Delacruz, 5-6, Sr.; Mackenzie Lucas, 5-11, Jr. Delacruz compiled 194 assists while Lucas recorded 30 kills and seven blocks.
Newcomers—MiKayla Martinez, 5-8, Sr., Outside hitter; Jesykah Foster, 5-4, Sr., Defensive specialist; Piper Harris, 5-10, Fr., Outside Hitter.
Coach’s Comments—“I am really pleased with how our summer workouts went. We had 24 kids with 80 percent or better attendance to all skills sessions, weights sessions, camps, and tournaments. We have a large freshmen class bringing in a wealth of knowledge and passion that we are really excited about. I am really looking forward to getting this group on the court together this fall,” Bailey said. “Although we graduated nine seniors, we are bringing in some great kids who are eager to step into big shoes. We have three seniors who have really grown this summer in terms of leadership and work ethic. We have two juniors who are really embracing their roles on the varsity court and have already made a difference for us. Our sophomore and freshmen classes are a ton of fun. They have a lot of volleyball experience and knowledge from the club scene, and we are really looking forward to watching them continue to grow over the next couple of years.”
GREAT BEND PANTHERS
Head Coach—Shelly Duvall, 4th season (65-34 in 3 seasons) – Class 5A
2020—Panthers (20-11) placed second behind Garden City in the WAC Championship. Graduated senior Sydney Unruh was named WAC Player of the Year and Rachel Panzer earned first team all-WAC honors while Brynn Boxberger was a second team all-WAC performer. Unruh, Panzer and Zoe Jerke are now playing at the college level.
Returners—3 starters are back in Alayna Irwin, 5-2, Sr., Defensive specialist; Valerie Luna, 5-9, Jr., Middle Blocker; Kenzie Premer, 5-8, So., Right side Outside Hitter
Newcomers—Brooke McReynolds, 5-9, Sr., Middle Blocker, transfer; Rylie Duvall, 5-7, Jr., Outside Hitter; Sadie Spray, 5-8, So., Setter; Macy Nachtigal, So., Libero.
Coach’s Comments—“This season we are very young. We lost a strong group of six seniors last year, so we have several positions to replace. The one thing that Great Bend is very good at is finding our weaker areas and working extremely hard at perfecting them. Every year we seem to be in the same boat as far as size. So defense will be the key to our success once again as it has been in the past.”
HAYS HIGH INDIANS
Head Coach—Shannon Funk (2nd season at Hays High) – Class 5A
2020—Lady Indians finished with a 13-22 overall record and placed fifth at the WAC Championship.
Returners—Aleyia Ruder, Sr., 5-11, Outside Hitter; Carly Lang, 5-7, Jr.,Outside Hitter; McKenzie Flax, 5-3, Sr., Setter; Kamree Leiker, 5-1, Sr., Libero; Ella Voth, 5-7, Sr., Outside Hitter.
Newcomers—Lauryn Miller, 5-9, Sr., Middle Hitter; Rilee Schwarz, 5-8, Jr., Opposite; Lakyn Zimmerman, 5-7 So., Middle Hitter.
Coach’s Comments—“We are likely to be one of the shortest teams in the state. What we lack in height, we make up for in tenacity, vertical jump, and discipline. Our front row players are learning about the weak spots in different defenses and attacking those weaknesses. We drill using the block to our advantage and running a fast offense to beat a block. Our strength is serving. We like to use the serve as an offensive tool so we spend a significant amount of time on placing the serve and increasing serving velocity. We have 6 seniors with great leadership and drive to keep the team developing.”
LIBERAL LADY RED
Head Coach—Katie Garcia (1st season at Liberal) – Class 6A
2020—The Lady Red finished with an overall record of 15-17 and placed fourth in the WAC Championship.
Returning Starters—Breanna Horyna, 5-8, Sr., Outside Hitter; Lizzy Cisneros, Jr., Libero; Rylie Hallman, Jr., Middle Blocker/Setter; Emma Evans, Sr., Middle Blocker.
Newcomers—Rachelle Terrazas, Jr., Setter; Paris Bond, So., Outside Hitter; Maizie Morris, Sr., Defensive Specialist.
Coach’s Comments—“Our team is on the smaller side with graduating 7 seniors but has a great work ethic. All girls are multi-sport athletes. We have a lot of young new talent that is ready to work!”