Coach: Tara Hittle (2nd season)
Last year: 17-9
Key players: Kiara McKibben, sr., S/OP; Cierra Simpson, sr., OH/OP; Gabby Simpson, jr., S/OP; Haleigh Washington, jr., MB
Outlook: This team was going to formidable before Washington moved in from Idaho Springs; now it’s in the conversation as a 5A title contender. All four players listed above have committed to Division I programs or have several D-1 offers they are mulling. Add to the mix a coach in Hittle who was a state champion with the Spartans before playing collegiately at Hawaii and it seems to be a recipe for a deep postseason run.
Coach: Dani Miller (1st season)
Last year: 13-13
Key player: Tori Gaherty, sr., OH
Outlook: Led by Gaherty, who is back for her fourth season, the varsity returns six players from a squad that reached the regional tournament. The goal this year in Miller's first season is to reach the next level and qualify for state.
Coach: Sergio Rangel (3rd season)
Last year: 6-13
Key players: Maren Plutt, sr., MB; Sydney Vrecenar, jr., OH; Kristen Moore, jr., OH; Lauren Ash, sr., S; Layne Hoke, jr., Lib.; Lisa Tuggle, sr., OH
Outlook: If you’re looking for an up-and-coming team in the 5A Metro, here it is. Rangel sees Plutt as his “diamond in the rough,” who has grown up into a “great volleyball player.” He believes Ash can be a great leader running the offense and thinks Tuggle will be a difference maker. Plus, Moore and Hoke are both experienced and have shown improvement. Breaking into the league’s top three will remain a challenge, but there’s always at least one surprise team every year – this could be the one.
Coach: Rick Mischka (1st season)
Last year: 15-11
Key players: Simmone Collins, sr., MB; Mackenzie Swan, jr., RS/OH/S; Tiegen Skains, sr., MB/OH; Taylor Cross, jr., L/DS
Outlook: Collins has committed to Notre Dame and figures to have another special season after posting 103 blocks and 250 kills last season. Mischka, an Army veteran and former college coach, took a position at USA Volleyball last November and now takes over the defending league champion Eagles. “The team is excited for some new ideas and goals,” said Mischka, who added that the team could again contend in league and into the postseason if “the athletes come together as a team and buy into a new team dynamic and philosophy.”
Coach: Nancy Pellow (2nd season)
Last year: 14-8
Key players: Breanna Bliss, sr., OH; Kimmy Kirk, sr., Lib.; August Raskie, soph., S; Amanda Cushen, soph., several positions
Outlook: Pellow likes the team’s balance at the net and in the backcourt, as well as the combination or returners and newcomers. “If we get our timing together,” Pellow said, “I think we can play with most teams.”
4A PIKES PEAK
Coach: Toni Schone (5th season)
Last year: 13-8
Key players: Jordan Pingel, soph., OH; Chelsea Payne, sr., OH; Justin Jenkinson, sr., MB; Sophia Buller, sr., RS/DS; Gabby Jones, jr., S
Outlook: The Kadets will make a push to get into the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference’s top three along with Cheyenne Mountain, Coronado and L-P. The twosome of Payne – team MVP three years running – and Pingel – selected for the Junior National Team this summer – will be formidable, and four additional senior starters return.
Coach: David Barkley (9th season)
Last year: 31-0 (4A state champions)
Key players: Monique Domme, sr., S; Maddie Beal, jr., MB; Mara Barkley, jr., MB; Megan Schultz, sr., RS; Lauren Iverson, sr., OH
Outlook: The four-time defending state champions will have a different look as mainstays like Janae Vander Ploeg, Hannah Huffman and Emma Barkley have graduated. But Domme is one of the best setters in the state – if not the nation – and she is there to ease the transition. On top of that, coach David Barkley’s daughter Mara Barkley will be in the middle next to Maddie Beal, the daughter of USA Volleyball CEO and gold-medal winning coach of the 1984 U.S. men’s volleyball team. Beal (5-foot-11) and Barkley (6-2) have good size and, as their pedigrees would suggest, are extremely intelligent players. A brutal schedule will have the team either polished or in ruins by the postseason.
Coach: Melissa Bravo (1st season)
Last year: 6-13
Key players: Alex Brown, sr., S/O; McKenzie Conner, sr., Lib.; Aly Fry, soph., S/O; Jen Schneible, soph., M/O
Outlook: The goal, Bravo says, is always state. That being said, the first-year coach understands how difficult the new Pikes Peak Athletic Conference is going to be. She likes the combination of returning and incoming talent, but it remains to be seen how the club will improve enough to the point of competing against an all-star lineup of league foes – all of whom swept the Thunder in matches last year.
Coach: Susan Odenbaugh (12th season)
Last year: 14-15
Key players: Alexa Smith, soph., OH; Mickey Moss, sr., S/RS; Claire Felix, sr., MH; Abi Bartalo, jr., S
Outlook: Smith is an absolute force, leading all classifications above 2A in kills as a freshman. She also had 452 digs in a do-it-all season in which she carried the Rangers to a state berth. Now she has help. Felix, a 6-foot-6 force who has committed to UCLA, has transferred in from TCA, and Mickey Moss, who was an all-state selection as a sophomore, returns after missing her junior year with injuries. It will take a juggernaut to dethrone Cheyenne Mountain as the state’s best in 4A; this looks like the team that can do it.
Coach: Tracy Lee (1st season)
Last year: 8-14
Key players: Diane Babcock, jr., S; Sierra Parker, jr., M; Elle Sample, jr., Lib.
Outlook: Lee takes over head coaching responsibilities after four years at the school. She took over recently, as the team had been without a coach since last season. Despite playing catch-up, she sees “a scrappy team with a lot of talent. We should do pretty well.”
Coach: Christine Massey (1st season)
Last year: 13-9
Key players: Caitlyn Kiger, sr., OH; Jessie Cody, sr., M; Sydney Hughes, sr., S; Alexis Ellis, soph., Lib.
Outlook: Massey takes over after two years as an assistant, and while she foresees a smooth transition “there will be some changes that (the players) and I will have to adjust to.” Complicating the issue are a new, ultracompetitive league, little height and just three returning varsity players. “I know their work ethic and as long as we continue to work hard and push each other, I see us being fighters,” Massey said.
Coach: Kasey Hamilton (1st season)
Last year: 12-9
Key players: Maya Littlejohn, sr., OH; Kaitlin Monck, jr., S; Rebekah Feola, soph., M; Kylie Linn, sr., OH; Hannah Blanke, jr., OH
Outlook: The Wolves won three matches last year against teams now in the PPAC, so they know how to compete at this level. “We have a very solid group of players,” Hamilton said.
Coach: Don Lash (2nd season)
Last year: 27-4 (4A runner-up)
Key players: Serina Nickle, sr., S/RS; Erica Lambert, sr., S/OH; Savannah Telander, sr., OH; Julie Ward, jr., Lib.; Madison Darby-McClure, sr., MH
Outlook: Under Lash’s guidance, Coronado was the second best team in 4A last season – three of the team’s four losses came to Cheyenne Mountain, the final of which was in the state title match. The core of that team is gone, leaving Lash with “a lot of rebuilding to do.” However, the longtime area coach worked his magic once with the Cougars and with plenty of returning talent around him there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again.
Coach: Francis Calar (2nd season)
Last year: 17-9
Key players: Grace Neal, sr., OH; Sarabeth Haworth, sr., OH; Jordan Hoffman, soph., S
Outlook: Only four varsity players return, but Neal and Haworth led last year’s squad in kills and Hoffman saw regular playing time as a freshman and is “a future leader for the school,” Calar said. The Grizzlies figure to be in the mix for a league title.
Coach: Sharalee Burr (3rd season)
Last year: 3-16
Key players: Bekah Morley, sr., OH; Megan Smith, sr., Lib.; Erica Grove, soph., MH
Outlook: There’s plenty to be excited about, starting with Grove, who was an honorable mention selection in the 16-team Colorado Springs Metro League last year as a freshman. “We could potentially place in the top three of our league if we play up to our talent levels,” Burr said.
Coach: Erin Peters (1st season)
Last year: 3-15
Key players: Mercedes Parnell, sr., OH; Nicole Douglas, sr., Lib.; Hannah Daily, jr., S; Kyliegh Gonzalez, jr., Def.; Hannah Phillips, soph., OH
Outlook: Peters is starting from the ground up with the program, which earned two of its three victories last year through forfeits. What has struck her thus far is the team’s tightness, perhaps because many come from similarly difficult family and financial backgrounds. “Another coach gave the Wasson varsity team an amazing compliment recently,” Peters said. “He said, ‘The Wasson girls go for balls that no other human would even try for, and they get them up.’ Wasson has a new coaching staff for our program and we are all excited for this season.”
Coach: Brenda Lough (21st season)
Last year: 12-9
Key players: Katie Davis, sr., S/RS; Domi Skalla, sr., OH
Outlook: Lough’s teams are always competitive, and it will help that the league schedule will no longer include the likes of Cheyenne Mountain and Lewis-Palmer. This year’s squad features “little varsity experience,” Lough said, but is “excited to be playing.”
Coach: Stacy Roshek (7th season)
Last year: 8-12
Key players: Elin Saxon, sr., MB; Hannah Sauer, sr., MB; Paloma Juarros, jr., S; Linnea Sauer, jr., OH; Carli Vahsholtz, jr., OH
Outlook: “With the league change this year, we hare hoping to be very successful,” Roshek said.
4A SOUTH CENTRAL
Coach: Ken Cline (13th season)
Last year: 16-6
Key players: Nacole Miller, sr., S; Demi Stringari, sr., DS; Kasey Ruona, sr., DS; Ashley Cross, sr., OH
Outlook: Seven seniors are gone from last year, leaving only Nacole Miller with extensive varsity experience. Stringari and Ruona are expected to anchor the defense and will be turned to for leadership on a team that anticipates some growing pains but also figures to be competitive.
Coach: Jennifer Evans (2nd season)
Last year: 21-8
Key players: Morgan Evans, sr., S; Taylor Stephens, sr., MH; Mariah Evans, fr., OH/D; Abby Skrastins, fr., OH; Jessica Koch, sr., RS/D
Outlook: The program has undoubtedly slipped, but that had to eventually happen after a run of six consecutive state titles. Morgan Evans is the team’s backbone at setter, compiling 988 assists last year. “They have shown many aspects of being strong in the end of the season,” said Jennifer Evans, who guided the Lions to a league title last year as they retained local 3A supremacy despite a stiff challenge from St. Mary’s. Doing the same this year would be a monumental achievement.
Coach: James Reaser (3rd season)
Last year: 2-15
Key players: Nicole Lenz, sr., MH/S; Ashley Faust, sr., OH; Angie Garduno, soph., OH/MH
Coach: Kristin Harvey (8th season)
Last year: 14-7
Key players: Bailey Knecht, sr., S; Sophie Feffer, sr., M; Dalia Brekken, jr., M/O
Outlook: The team was given a difficult time to move up to 3A, as six seniors graduated and took the bulk of the varsity experience with them. The cupboard isn’t empty, however. Knecht was one of the Black Forest League’s top defenders last year, Feffer was an honorable mention all-league selection and Brekken is a three-sport winner.
Coach: Carol Benedict (1st season)
Last year: 11-14
Key players: Meghan McGee, sr., S; Ali Thompson, sr., OH; Katie McKiel, fr., OH; Gabby Santos, sr., M; Alyssa Archuleta, sr., Lib; Nicole Mack, fr., OH
Outlook: Benedict, who replaces longtime Manitou coach Bridget O’Connor, hasn’t seen the rest of 3A yet; but she likes what she sees in her own gym. She sees a league title as a possibility and feels the Mustangs, as usual, can contend for a spot at state.
Coach: Melissa Sweeney (13th season)
Last year: 19-5
Key players: Bria Sweeney, sr., OH; Sarah Tentschert, sr., OH; Emily Whitelaw, sr., MB; Hanna Stockelman, sr., MB; Laura Broerman, sr., Lib.; Nicole Niles, sr., RS/S
Outlook: This is the year St. Mary’s has been building toward. Four of the Pirates’ seniors have started since they were freshmen, another since she was a sophomore and another since last year. There won’t be another team in the state with as much experience. And it’s not like it has been a slow crescendo, as the program went to state in 2009 and 2010 and missed last year only after a series of bizarre postseason occurrences. It would be shocking if St. Mary’s isn’t back at state and posing a threat for a title.
Coach: Matt Ferger (1st season)
Last year: 17-11
Key players: Jessica Klingensmith, sr., M/OH; Alexa Chacon, sr., RSH; Kim Krutsinger, soph., MH; Karena Mathis, sr., multiple positions; Catherine Lind, soph., Lib./DS
Outlook: Ferger, the fourth TCA coach in as many seasons, inherits eight varsity players, including five seniors with state experience. Klingensmith has committed to Butler, and will have to fill a void left by the transfer of standout Claire Felix. The Titans are 104-38 since 2007, setting a high standard that doesn’t look like it will dip this season.
2A BLACK FOREST
Coach: Kyong Lee (5th year)
Last year: 17-6
Key players: Maddee Morley, soph., S; Maddy Mason, jr., M/OH; Kendra Baucom, jr., M/OH; Liz Beggs, soph., OH
Outlook: Lee believes the key to the season will be Morley’s leadership as a setter. “We have both the power and speed necessary to make a good all-around team,” Lee said. “I am excited to see how we match up against the other teams in our league.”
Coach: Becky Kyle (1st season)
Last year: 10-10
Key players: Kayla Gaines, sr., MB; Sammi Bost, sr., LSH; Tayi Davis, sr., S; Kaitlyn Olson, jr., MB
Outlook: Three returning seniors will be the key in what Kyle feels will be a “season of building and growth.”
Coach: Trina Nipe (2nd season)
Last year: 0-17
Key players: Veronica Burney, sr., MH; Jessica Kelly, sr., MH; Samantha Strong, soph., S
Coach: Jacqueline Goodman (5th season)
Last year: 11-9
Key players: Lindsey Area, jr., MH; Shelby Patterson, jr., OH
Outlook: Goodman sees a young and promising team that has shown defensive prowess.
PIKES PEAK CHRISTIAN
Coach: Dale Miller (10th season)
Last year: 8-12
Key players: Sarah Buckhouse, sr., Def.; Julie Denning, sr., MH; Megan Kalina, sr., S; Krystan Woodcock, sr., S
Outlook: “Good nucleus returning, which is promising,” Miller said. “Going from 1A to 2A could be a challenge.”
2A WEST CENTRAL LEAGUE
Coach: Amy Christison (18th season)
Last year: 5-16
Key players: Olivia Ruis, sr., OH; Darien Carrillo, sr., Lib.; Sarah Wywais, jr., MB; Katie Tapia, jr., MB
Outlook: “We have a good core of students returning,” Christison said. “I am looking for some of my underclassmen to step up and fill some positions on the varsity squad. We will be relatively young as far as experience goes, but look forward to winning some ball games.”
1A BLACK FOREST LEAGUE
Coach: Kyle Berns (1st season)
Last year: 1-17
Key players: Faye Seidel, sr., S; Skylar Sypher, sr., O/RSH; Karem Munoz, sr., O/RSH
Outlook: “It will be a tough season until we can sink into the routine and develop skills as individuals and as a team,” Berns said. “Teamwork and high spirits will be crucial to our success.”
Coach: Kiyo Greene (2nd season)
Last year: 6-15
Key players: McKenzie Dalton, sr., OH; Jamie Tyler, soph, S; Lexie Dalton, soph., OH; Madison Thurman, soph., MH; Tiffany Bridenthal, sr., OH
Outlook: Greene brings back a number of returners, including Dalton, who she calls a fantastic player and leader. The excitement is palpable. “I have very high hopes for our team,” Greene said. “They did so well last season and I know they will only improve from there. We are working our way to the top.”