The Nebraska Juniors 16-and-under squad intimidates opponents just by walking on the court.
Seven players 6 feet or taller are listed on the roster — the biggest group coach Ryan Gray has seen at tournaments this year.
“They are not skinny, tall girls,” he said. “They are big and strong. They are shot putters.”
The Nebraska Juniors' 6-footers include rightside hitters Toni Tupper, a 6-3 gold medal winner in the shot at state for Lincoln Northeast, Shayla Scanlan (6-2, Plattsmouth) and Carley Remmers (6-0, Freeman). Middle blockers are Kasey Hohlen (6-1, Norris), Marysa Wilkinson (6-0, Lincoln Southwest) and Adyson Goodnight (6-0, Papillion-La Vista South). Olivia Boender of Waverly is a 6-1 outside hitter. Setter Sydney O'Shaughnessy of Omaha Marian is right up there at 5-11.
“A lot of times we score on defense and blocks just because they can't get around them,” Gray said.
The team will display that blocking prowess at the AAU girls junior national volleyball championships in Orlando, Fla. The event started Tuesday, but the older teams don't begin play until Sunday.
The Nebraska Juniors qualified for the USA Volleyball championships but declined. Orlando is more family friendly, the coach said. There's also more international competition, and several USA Volleyball winners have switched to the AAU event in recent years.
The club will send four teams to Orlando — the 151s, the 161s, the 171s and the 181s.
The 18-year-old club includes Nebraska recruits Amber and Kadie Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter, all from Papillion-La Vista South. All 10 players on the roster have earned college scholarships.
On the 171s, Ord's Nicki Carson and Lincoln Pius X's Kristy Wieser have committed to the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Omaha Westside's Capris Quaites is headed to Drake and teammate Anna Skold to Boston College.
There's plenty of interest in the 16-year-olds, too. Boender recently committed to Nebraska. Wilkinson is looking closely at Creighton and Kansas. Tupper and O'Shaughnessy are drawing interest from several schools in the Big 12.
Sydney Townsend, a 5-9 libero from Lincoln Pius X, has gotten looks from Stanford, Michigan State, Columbia and Nebraska.
The 161s are 34-10 this season, with five of those losses to 18-and-under teams, including three to the 181s.
They've won 17 straight since losing their opener at the Kansas City Show-Me qualifier in April. They went undefeated at the National Junior Classic in Chicago, where Townsend was named the most valuable player. Wilkinson and Boender were on the all-tournament team.
The last few years, the 161s have been one of the top teams in their age division in Nebraska. Now, they are winning national tournaments.
“This year, they've turned a corner,” said Gray, the junior varsity coach at Pius. “It doesn't hurt we get to scrimmage the Nebraska Junior 181s on a weekly basis.”
Club director Gwen Egbert said the 161s have a good libero, serve and pass well in their 6-2 offense to a bountiful group of interchangeable players in the front row.
“Because they get the ball to the target, they have a lot of options,” Egbert said.
Another factor in the team's success is that half of the squad has played together since the girls were 12. The 161s added six new players this season, which Gray said initially made him wonder how successful they would be. Not any more.
“They've got really good chemistry,” he said. “They work really hard. It's unique to kids this age that they really care about winning more than anything else. I really don't have to do a lot of coaching. They are holding each other accountable without me having to say a lot. It makes my job pretty easy.”
The team has been practicing four days a week for the past three weeks to get ready for Orlando. The 161s are seeded fourth out of more than 80 teams. The 181s are seeded fifth in their age group.
The 161s beat the No. 1 seed, Club Fusion from Illinois, in the Chicago tournament.
“Anything less than getting a medal probably would be disappointing to the girls,” Gray said. “But we don't as a club focus on finishes. We focus on improving from day one to the last day.”
NEBRASKA JUNIORS 151
Coaches: Annie Rice (Lincoln Southeast), Allison Slager (Lincoln Northeast assistant)
Roster: Sara Boothe, Lincoln Pius X; Cassidy Diekmann, Lincoln Pius X; Taylor Els; Kylie Hohlen, Norris; Kelli Holloway, Lincoln Northeast; Raegan Legrand; Emma McKillip, Lincoln Southeast; Allison Penner, Aurora; Katie Reeves, Wahoo Neumann; Meagan Roth, Lincoln Southeast; Payton Ruhl, Norris; Lizzie Saale, Lincoln Southeast; Maria Wortmann, Crofton.
NEBRASKA JUNIORS 161
Coaches: Ryan Gray (Lincoln Pius X junior varsity), Brittany Behrens
Roster: Toni Tupper, Lincoln Northeast; Shayla Scanlan, Plattsmouth; Olivia Boender, Waverly (Nebraska); Kasey Hohlen, Norris; Marysa Wilkinson, Lincoln Southwest; Carley Remmers, Freeman; Adyson Goodnight, Papillion-La Vista South; Sydney O'Shaughnessy, Omaha Marian; Sydney Townsend, Lincoln Pius X; Natalie Mickelson, Gretna; Madison Oxenhardt, Lincoln East; Caitlin Luedke, Lincoln East.
NEBRASKA JUNIORS 171
Coaches: Jake Moore (Lincoln Pius X), Lindsay Burkey (Pius assistant), Kelli Raile (Pius assistant)
Roster: Anne Bachmann, Lincoln Pius X; Nicki Carson, Ord (UNO); Kennedy Hegert, Lincoln Pius X: Katie Higgins, Kearney; Maggie Kopf, Lincoln Pius X; Katelyn Kurtz, Papillion-La Vista South; Makenna Meier, Waverly; Capris Quaites, Omaha Westside (Drake); Anna Skold, Omaha Westside (Boston College); Taylor Thiele, Aurora; Kristy Wieser, Lincoln Pius X (UNO)
NEBRASKA JUNIORS 181
Coaches: Gwen Egbert (Papillion-La Vista South), Mike Brandon (Gretna)
Roster: Cassie Effken, Lincoln Pius X (Drake). Katlynn Elman, Omaha Marian (Creighton), Scarlett Howerter, Lincoln Pius X (Drake), Kelly Hunter, Papillion-La Vista South (Nebraska), Amber Rolfzen, Papillion-La Vista South (Nebraska), Kadie Rolfzen, Papillion-La Vista South (Nebraska), Lea Sack, Lincoln Pius X (Bradley), Lauren Smith, Lincoln Pius X (Creighton), Megan Stroyek, Papillion-La Vista South (Washburn), Allison Zastrow, Lincoln Pius X (Washington University in St. Louis).
Note: Smith is out with a dislocated elbow.
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