By Dennis Morgan
ELGIN — Having reached the district finals the last three years, Elgin Public-Pope John has established itself as one of the best volleyball programs in northeast Nebraska. This year, with a change in classification, the roadmap for the Wolfpack’s postseason aspirations will take a different direction.
Coach Tina Thiele-Blecher said the team’s classification may have changed, but the Wolfpack remain focused on reaching the state tournament.
“Well, I was a little bummed going to D-1 because the NSAA went to substates this year in C-2 so was excited to be a part of that,” Thiele-Blecher said last week. “But we’re excited, looking at our schedule we play a lot of D-1 teams which is only fair since we used the schedule from when we were separate teams and both D-2. We have made some adjustments obviously the last couple of seasons; so now our schedule will only really help us prepare for the post season.
“It is nice going into the season, knowing that Crofton is not in our district; however we have some tough teams in our subs with North Central and Clearwater/Orchard. And in the district is Lutheran High, which has had a great volleyball program the last couple of years, and Randolph. Just because we went “down” to D-1, isn’t going to make it any easier. We are going to have to work hard each practice and game and prepare for the post season.”
Last season the Wolfpack posted a 25-7 record, their season coming to an end in the district finals falling in the fifth game to Crofton. Gone from last year’s team are Jenna Parks, Nicole Beckman, Jill Schindler and Terri Seier, each playing a vital role in the success of last year’s team. Yet, looking at this year’s squad, Thiele-Blecher knows there is plenty of talent coming back.
Five starters return from last year’s team, led by All-NVC First Team selection Elizabeth Selting. Last year Selting led the Wolfpack with 303 kills and should finish her career, barring injury, with a host of individual records. Second Team All-NVC selections Baylee Wemhoff and Jordan Mescher will make their mark. Wemhoff last season had 288 set assists, three off the team high set by Parks. Mescher led the Wolfpack in serve receive one year ago with 471 and digs with 248.
Amy Nelson provided EPPJ with strong play as a blocker with 52 solo blocks. The other returning starter is junior Paige Meis. As an outside hitter, Meis had 83 kills one year ago. Both Nelson and Meis should post bigger numbers this year.
The core of the Wolfpack team has plenty of experience, but there are a number of other players who’s contributions will be vital to the success of this year’s team. They are setters Nicki Payne and Ally Wemhoff, attacker Grace Henn and back row specialist Calli Krebs.
“We have a great bunch of hard-working, fun-having girls,” Thiele-Blecher said. “Being in the district finals the last three years, they want even more this year!”
Describing her team as being very athletic, Thiele-Blecher said the team hustles very, very well. “I don’t see too many balls dropping on our court.” One concern the coach does have going into the season involves height. “We are a little short,” she said. “We’re looking to replace some good leadership due to graduation. We aren’t a real vocal group, I’m having to tell them to talk and communicate a lot.”
The Niobrara Valley Conference remains very competitive. Thiele-Blecher said Stuart, North Central, St. Mary’s and CWC are the teams to beat.
The Wolfpack will open the regular season on Thursday, Sept. 1, on the road, at Stuart.
Professional sports have their pre-season games.
This year, so too, the Wolfpack varsity volleyball team who will compete in a “jamboree” triangular leading up to the start of the regular season.
The volleyball jamboree will be held Monday, August 29th beginning at 6 p.m. at Elkhorn Valley (Tilden).
The schedule will be as follows:
Laurel-Concord-Coleridge vs. Elkhorn Valley
Elgin Public-Pope John vs. Laurel-Concord-Coleridge
Elkhorn Valley vs. Elgin Public-Pope John
This jamboree will take place of the scrimmage and parent meeting that is normally held.
The following are a few things to note about the jamboree:
• This will be for varsity only.
• The games will be two sets only to 25.
• These games do not count toward our record or NSAA wild card points.
• Cost for the jamboree games will be $5 for adults and $4 for students. No passes will be accepted. All proceeds go to the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame.