I hope everyone remembers to wear name tags.
There are changes galore across the western Iowa landscape beginning this fall. In volleyball, no less than one-third of the teams in The World-Herald’s coverage area (18 of 54!) are competing in a different conference this year. Before we dive into the ratings, let’s go through all of the changes.
The biggest change involves the formation of a brand new league, the 11-team Rolling Valley Conference. It includes five former members of the Boyer Valley and later Western Valley: Ar-We-Va, Boyer Valley, Charter Oak-Ute, West Harrison and Woodbine. Five more were most recently in the disbanded Rolling Hills Conference: Adair-Casey, CAM, Exira-EHK, Glidden-Ralston and Paton-Churdan. And the 11th school is Coon Rapids-Bayard, which had been the westernmost and smallest school in the West Central Activities Conference. Nine of the 11 are considered in The World-Herald’s coverage area, with Adair-Casey and Paton-Churdan the exceptions.
Did you follow all that? It gets easier.
Since the southern schools are gone, the Western Valley Conference, which was formed in 2008 and had anywhere from 17 to 19 teams, was disbanded. It will go back to being the Maple Valley Conference, which is the way it operated from 1931 to 2008.
Four of the 11 Maple Valley Conference schools are in The World-Herald’s coverage area: Maple Valley-Anthon-Oto, OA-BCIG, West Monona and Whiting. The others are Kingsley-Pierson, Lawton-Bronson, Ridge View, River Valley, Siouxland Christian, Westwood and Woodbury Central.
Two of the southern schools that left the Western Valley, IKM-Manning and Logan-Magnolia, have joined the Western Iowa Conference, making it a 10-team league.
Council Bluffs St. Albert, which had been a member of the Nebraska Centennial Conference, has joined the Hawkeye Ten Conference, which will keep its name despite now having 11 schools.
Orient-Macksburg, which had been in the Rolling Hills Conference, is now a member of the 13-team Bluegrass Conference.
That leaves the newly formed Southwest Valley Timberwolves, which is the merger of Corning and Villisca and will compete in the Pride of Iowa Conference.
I know, it’s hard to keep it all straight. Over time, everyone will get comfortable with the new surroundings. I think most of the changes were not only necessary, but very forward-thinking. They do a terrific job of grouping like-sized and like-minded schools.
Finally, let’s talk volleyball.
Harlan (Class 5-A/4-A/3-A) and Council Bluffs St. Albert (Class 2-A/1-A) begin the season atop The World-Herald’s initial western Iowa ratings.
Harlan, which is also No. 1 in the state in 4-A, returns junior all-stater Jess Schaben, an Iowa State recruit, along with several key performers from last year’s team that reached the state quarterfinals. St. Albert welcomes back senior all-stater Kylie Ferguson among other veterans from last year’s Class 2-A semifinalist.
The other returning state qualifiers are Sioux City Heelan (4-A), Red Oak (3-A), Carroll Kuemper (2-A), Treynor (2-A) and Stanton (1-A). Kuemper has moved up to 3-A this season. Heelan and Kuemper lost in the semifinals, while Red Oak, Treynor and Stanton made first-round exits.
So then, how does all of the massive shifting affect the western Iowa volleyball season?
First of all, it gives an already loaded Hawkeye Ten another shot in the arm. There are now at least six outstanding teams in the league: Harlan, Kuemper, Lewis Central, Red Oak, St. Albert and Clarinda, which narrowly missed the large-school ratings but returns first-team All-WI seniors Jenny Bair and Darcy Sunderman. It’s going to make for some terrific league matchups. And who knows, maybe one or two of those other five will make some noise as well.
The addition of IKM-Manning in volleyball certainly adds to the Western Iowa Conference’s prestige. That league also will be fun, with six of the 10 schools opening in the small-school top 10.
The push for spots in the large-school top five was highly competitive. strong cases also could be made for Clarinda, Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln and Sergeant Bluff-Luton. The Lynx are breaking in a new coach in 23-year-old Brittany Ridenour, a former Abraham Lincoln and Baylor standout. And Sergeant Bluff boasts five 6-footers on its roster.
After a two-year stay at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena, the state tournament returns this year to the newly renovated U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids Nov. 12 to 15. The tournament also has been changed from a Wednesday to Saturday format to a Tuesday to Friday schedule.
That’s another great move. The volleyball finals on Saturday tended to drown in the sea of college football and high school football semifinals. Moving to Friday gives the volleyball finals a much bigger spotlight.
Now it’s up to some of our western Iowa teams to get to that final day. Several of them have the talent and experience to do so. It’s not every year you can say that.
Just don’t forget your name tags.