By JIM MISUNAS
CLAFLIN — The Central Plains High School volleyball team started the season with three seniors, but Chelsey Bieberle sustained a season-ending injury.
The defending Class 2A state champions have kept cruising with two players stepping in to replace Bieberle.
The Oilers (24-0) have swept 67 consecutive matches keyed by 5-10 senior setter Cassidy Crites and 5-8 outside hitter Kylee Kasselman. The Oilers’ three seniors will be honored Thursday night against Smoky Valley and Ellsworth.
“We miss Chelsey a whole bunch because she was so valuable, but we’ve been fortunate to see players step up,” said Central Plains coach Lisa Crites. “I’m not surprised by these girls. Their teamwork is evident because they’ve built great chemistry. They don’t care who gets credit, they just want to win the next point. They work together and play together. I’m really happy for them.”
Crites earned Class 2A all-state honors with 539 assists and 145 kills in 2015. Second-team All-Class 2A Kasselman had 274 kills. Oeser supplied 300 digs last year.
Other returning starters are 6-0 middle hitter Kassidy Pflughoeft and setter-defensive specialist Taylor Oeser. Libero Avery Hurley and 6-0 outside hitter Julie Donecker also start. Front row sub Rylee Cunningham and back row specialist Kylie Lamatsch also contribute to the Oilers’ success.
“Our girls always show resiliance and determination,” Crites said. “They perservere and find a way to win. Our only issue is we sometimes get a lead and get complacent. That’s something we continue to work on.”
Kasselman has 239 kills and 177 digs. Cassidy Crites has 378 sets and 121 digs. Taylor Oeser has 83 sets and 158 digs. Pflughoeft has 116 kills and 169 digs. Avery Hurley has 100 digs.
The Oilers have been pushed to three sets four times — all in tournament play against Nickerson, Ellsworth, Thomas More Prep and Smith Center. The TMP Monarchs served for a match point against the Oilers. LaCrosse and Otis-Bison are two of the best Central Prairie League programs.
“We definitely feel the heat from other teams. We’ve seen some really good competition, and they want to beat us,” Crites said. “We have a lot of respect for those volleyball programs.”
The Oilers feature a tall frontline with a pair of 6-foot players and two 5-10 players.
“Our frontline is strong and we’re good at putting up a block at the net and adjusting our block against the taller teams we see,” Crites said. “Our reaction time is good. We like to transition quickly from defense to offense.”
The Oilers’ defense has shown progress, which Crites believes is the key for a post-season run.
“We feel like our defense is getting stronger and adjusting. We always work on making a good first pass and make sure we’re moving to the right spots,” she said. “Our middle blockers are doing a good job moving at the net. Defense is always something you’re constantly adjusting on the run. But we’ve had some good rallies that have helped us.”
The Oilers wind down the regular season with matches at Ness City Oct. 11 and 18 and the Central Prairie League Tournament Oct. 15 at Kinsley. The Oct. 22 Class 2A St. John substate features CPL teams Ellinwood, Macksville and St. John along with Inman, Medicine Lodge, Skyline and Moundridge.
OILERS IN THREE SETS
Central Plains def. Nickerson 20-25, 25-20, 25-21
Central Plains def. Ellsworth 23-25, 25-14, 25-15
Central Plains def. Hays-TMP 19-25, 25-19, 31-29
Central Plains def. Smith Center 25-27, 25-22, 25-22