The trajectory of the 2022-23 season for local high school volleyball was never difficult to envision, at least where the top of the MAAA conference was concerned.
Ste. Genevieve rode a dynamic and increasingly confident senior class to a regular-season crown before pressing on toward its first state final-four appearance in 14 years.
Farmington boasted a superb trio of four-year starters – who have since begun creating new memories with their respective college teams – and captured the league tournament.
With those programs now forced to reload, can either or both remain in the hunt for plaques, or will the Large-School division supremacy be seized by Fredericktown, Potosi or Central?
The Lady Blackcats clearly possess the potential and talent to end longstanding title droughts – both in conference and district competition – if enough favorable breaks fall their way this season.
Central and Valle Catholic finished state runner-up in their respective classes just three years ago, and should match up well against most opponents.
The MAAA lost many of its dominant attackers, and points may last longer in duration on average as a result. Relentless defense could decide the ultimate pecking order this fall.
FREDERICKTOWN Lady Blackcats
2022 Record: 22-10-1 (2-3)
Head Coach: Nickey Reutzel (1st season)
Key Returners: Ava Penuel, sr., OH/S; P.J. Reutzel, jr., OH/S; Amelia Miller, jr., MH; Kinleigh Gresham, jr., OH; Keira Francis, sr., OH; Gabbie McFadden, sr., DS
A volleyball program is fortunate when its roster includes an experienced setter who can then cause an opposing defense to buckle once rotating to the front.
For the third consecutive year, Fredericktown can boast two such players, resulting in levels of stability and versatility that few opponents can equal.
Senior Ava Penuel and junior P.J. Reutzel offer that all-conference combination, often on the receiving end of second contact from one another.
The key to realizing elevated goals is the production around them. Outside hitters Kinleigh Gresham and Keira Francis, and middle Amelia Miller give the Lady Blackcats a deep array of weapons.
Back-row efficiency and defense could be the ultimate factor in success. Senior Gabbie McFadden will help to extend rallies along with scrambling efforts by Penuel and Reutzel.
VALLE CATHOLIC Lady Warriors
2022 Record: 19-13-1 (5-0)
Head Coach: Nancy Fischer (41st season)
Key Returners: Ade Weiler, sr., OH; Makayla Joggerst,, sr., OH/S; Addi Donze, jr., DS/OH; Abree Zipprich, jr., OH/S; Ava Bauman, soph., MH; Brooklyn Weibrecht, jr., MH
Valle Catholic may not have posted the sparkling overall record from past years, but the outcome was skewed by a daunting schedule, especially within the MAAA.
The Lady Warriors are renowned for tenacious defense, and the collective year of varsity experience for five or six returning starters should help them contend near the top of the league.
Seniors Ade Weiler and Makayla Joggerst, a four-year starter, are accustomed to beating taller blockers at the net while also picking up spikes in defensive mode.
Addi Donze charted impressive dig totals at libero, and Ava Bauman was a valuable freshman addition in the middle. Abree Zipprich splits time as a leading setter and outside hitter.
Valle Catholic is 52-3 against Small-School division opponents over the previous 11 seasons. Head coach Nancy Fischer needs just five more victories to reach 850 in her Hall of Fame career.
2022 Record: (29-8-2, 4-1)
Head Coach: Haley Baker (5th season)
Key Returners: Emily Bauer, sr., S; Cheyenne Strohkirch, jr., S; Brynn Johnson, sr., OH/DS; Madison Mills, jr., MH; Ava Cooper, jr., OH; Raylin LaCava, sr., OH; Ella Swyres, sr., OH
With three established stars gone to join the collegiate ranks, the remaining contributors from a strong Farmington team are ready to embrace the spotlight.
And while four returning hitters posted significant kills last year, the solid foundation of the Knights is anchored by players of a smaller stature.
Senior Emily Bauer and junior Cheyenne Strohkirch both return as setters with numerous high-pressure matches under their belts, and Brynn Johnson has read plenty of powerful hitters at libero.
Ava Cooper emerged last season as a dangerous right-side attacker, and figures to see more chances as a junior. Classmate Madison Mills also made important strides at middle blocker.
CENTRAL Lady Rebels
2022 Record: 20-13 (2-3)
Head Coach: Olivia Casey (3rd season)
Key Returners: Madison Dunn, sr., OH; Khloe Dischbein, sr., OH; Kelsie Politte, sr., DS; Avery Johnson, sr., MH
Central may still find itself among the top teams in the MAAA this season, but must overcome the loss of injured incoming senior Kinley Norris, who starred as a setter and right-side hitter.
Madison Dunn transferred from Bismarck last season, and instantly improved the attack and defense of the Lady Rebels as a six-rotation fixture.
Khloe Dischbein offers the needed balance on the opposite side as a four-year varsity member, while fellow senior Kelsie Politte handles the back row with a solid serve.
Avery Johnson and Potosi transfer Blair Sitton are a formidable combination of middles. Sydney Miles steps into a setter position with experience from younger levels.
POTOSI Lady Trojans
2022 Record: 24-6-4 (2-3)
Head Coach: Ashley Matthews (1st season)
Key Returners: Paige West, sr., OH; Ava Robart, jr., OH; Carsyn Yount, jr, S; Cloey Wigger, jr., DS
Potosi is tasked with replacing a three-year mainstay at setter and reliable options from the middle and outside spots, under the guidance of a new head coach.
But the lineup changes may prove more sustainable than previously thought since two leaders are back from a squad that began last fall on a 13-match unbeaten streak.
Senior and four-year starter Paige West brings a left-handed swing from the right side as an all-around standout, and junior Ava Robart is already an established force up front.
Carsyn Yount is working hard to take over the setting role in a new endeavor. Tayler Rayfield moves into the libero spot with JV experience, and freshman Eden Robart bolsters the attack.
STE. GENEVIEVE Dragons
2022 Record: 33-5-2 (5-0)
Head Coach: Carla Basler (4th season)
Key Returners: Sophia Huck, jr., S; Joleigh Parker, jr., OH/S; Kale Clements, jr., OH
The Dragons were battle-tested and skilled at many positions last year, and those qualities showed throughout a stellar push toward third place in the Class 3 state tournament.
Any aspirations to repeat as conference and district champions will depend on a new cast of players as the lineup seeks to replace seven contributing seniors and every featured hitter.
Two key returners are juniors Sophia Huck and Joleigh Parker, who each earned important action within a rotation featuring two and sometimes three setters.
Track star and junior Kale Clements brings speed to cover the floor defensively, plus an ability to elevate effectively at the net against taller defenders.
ARCADIA VALLEY Lady Tigers
2022 Record: 8-23-2 (3-2)
Head Coach: Tara Lamb (15th season)
Key Returners: Cate Newstead-Adams, sr., OH; Taylor Lorenz, sr., S; Kayla Sumpter, jr., MH; Breanna Whited, sr., DS; Paige Newstead-Adams, soph., OH; Lydia Clark, sr., OH
The Lady Tigers finished conference play in 2022 with a winning mark, but otherwise struggled to find consistency despite using a relatively deep roster.
Five seniors now face a sense of urgency to turn things around, and it starts with continued work in serve receive after all-conference performer Riley Brogan graduated.
Arcadia Valley has produced numerous four-year varsity starters over the past decade, and senior Cate Newstead-Adams fits that description this time around.
She is joined among the top hitting threats by sister Paige-Newstead Adams and athletic junior middle Kayla Sumpter. Experienced setter Taylor Lorenz will be in charge of turning passes into assists.
BISMARCK Lady Indians
2022 Record: 13-16-2 (2-3)
Head Coach: Chelsea Hennes (3rd season)
Key Returners: Alyssa Brake, jr., MH; Trinity Boyer, sr., OH; Ashley Hawkins, soph., MH/OH; Halie Dickey, soph., DS; Morgan Randazzo jr., S/OH; Alyssa Martinez, sr., DS; Karlee Fisher, jr., OH
Bismarck enters this season with justified optimism. A wealth of improving talent returns from a young squad that flirted with a .500 record entering the final week last year.
Libero Halie Dickey, who earned an all-tournament award during a recent summer camp, and middle hitter Ashley Hawkins made immediate impacts as freshmen.
Alyssa Brake keeps the middle strong when Hawkins moves back, and senior Trinity Boyer offers a proven alternative along the outside.
Morgan Randazzo adds versatility to an offense that faces an important change at setter.
NORTH COUNTY Lady Raiders
2022 Record: 3-26-2 (0-5)
Head Coach: Chelsey Crocker (7th season)
Key Returners: Addy Mann, sr., DS; Karlie Straughan, sr., MH; Makaila Moore, sr., OH/S; Makayla Elliott, jr., OH; Sally Hosking, jr., OH; Claire Jenkins, jr., S/OH; Mya Claywell, jr., MH
North County spent much of last season arranging pieces of a new puzzle and trying to build chemistry after saying goodbye to 10 seniors.
The struggle was compounded by a tough schedule and the challenge of stopping elite hitters with a smaller and less experienced front row.
A potential resurgence depends heavily on reducing mistakes and building a more consistent attack behind returning hitters Karlie Straughan, Makayla Elliott, Makaila Moore and Sally Hosking.
Addy Mann shines as an active back-row defender. Candidates for crucial setting roles include Claire Jenkins and Moore.
WEST COUNTY Lady Bulldogs
2022 Record: 20-10-2 (4-1)
Head Coach: Katie Rawson (3rd season)
Key Returners: Isabella Skaggs, sr., MH; Kaytlen Hartley, jr., S/OH; Kylie Spivey, sr., DS
After losing arguably the most athletic senior class in program history, the Lady Bulldogs are looking toward the future with a condensed roster.
West County will likely begin this season with just seven varsity players, leaving no depth on the bench unless promising younger prospects are promoted.
Junior Kaytlen Hartley stands out as a returning setter, learning a new group of hitters, and will expand her game with an outside presence on the front row.
Isabella Skaggs provides a primary force in the middle, and Kylie Spivey likewise returns for increased work along the back row. Senior Mia Owens rejoins the program after last competing as a freshman.
VALLEY Lady Vikings
2022 Record: 3-24-1 (0-5)
Head Coach: Julie Clark (5th season)
Key Returners: Kenley Missey, sr., OH/S; Carlie Loughary, jr., DS; Alivia Boyer, soph. OH; Reagan Schrum, soph., MH; Emma Alley, jr., S; Kyndra Civey, jr., OH/DS
The win total should begin to scale upward for the Lady Vikings, who have five starters back along with versatile help arriving from the freshman class.
Senior Kenley Missey was last year’s team leader in attacking percentage, service aces and assists while splitting duties between outside hitter and setter.
Carlie Loughary is crucial to ball control and defense on the back row as the top producer in digs. Reagan Schrum paced Valley in blocks as a freshman, and Alivia Boyer also bolsters the attack.
Freshman Ryleigh Maxwell can contribute as a hitter, setter and defender.
KINGSTON Lady Cougars
2022 Record: 7-26 (1-4)
Head Coach: Erica Hankins (5th season)
Key Returners: Allison Hahn, sr., MH; Joleen Saunders, jr., S; Madison Maness, jr., MH; Anna Boyer, sr., OH
Kingston collected five more victories last fall in comparison to the previous year, and hopes to continue that positive trend behind four returning starters.
Much of the front-row success this season should flow through the middle with senior Allison Hahn and junior Madison Maness holding previous varsity experience.
Anna Boyer will present a leading outside threat with familiar setter Joleen Saunders. Consistent passing and court coverage will likely parallel the level of success for the Lady Cougars.
ST. PAUL Giants
2022 Record: 8-19-3
Head Coach: Taylor Portell (3rd season)
Key Returners: Mia Sherrill, jr., MH; Piper Pinkley, jr., OH; Josie Berkerey, soph., OH/DS; Valerie Govero, jr., OH
Independent St. Paul will place added emphasis on ball control from the back row after losing all-around contributors Brylee Durbin and Sammy Jo Pemberton.
Sophomore Josie Berkerey takes on an increased role in terms of the serve-receive game, and the Giants are looking to establish a new starting setter.
Mia Sherrill leads the attacking and blocking effort as a three-year starter in the middle with help from fellow juniors Valerie Govero and Piper Pinkley.