The end of an era.
The changing of the guard.
Call it what you will. There's no denying the top story heading into this volleyball season centers on life following the graduation of The Big Three at Papillion-La Vista South.
Sisters Kadie and Amber Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter have moved on to the University of Nebraska, which is something rival Class A coaches have been waiting to see. That trio helped elevate the Titans to national power status and left the other state teams to battle for the remains.
Head coach Gwen Egbert built the program and guided Papio South to the past three state titles, but now Egbert also has departed. She's the head coach at Doane College, putting the 2013 Class A volleyball scene even more in flux.
It must have been difficult for opposing coaches to prepare the past three seasons knowing the Titans were the overwhelming favorite to capture the state title. One coach told me it was a moral victory just to force Papio South to call a timeout.
The Titans finished 41-1 last season, losing only to nationally ranked opponent Louisville (Ky.) Assumption in a triangular held at Creighton's Sokol Arena. Another national power, Torrey Pines of San Diego, rounded out the field in what was undoubtedly the most competitive — and entertaining — night of high school volleyball ever held in Omaha.
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But that Titans domination is in the rearview mirror, and now several teams have a legitimate shot at the title. Leading the way is Lincoln Southwest, which begins this season ranked No. 1.
A strong challenge will come from Omaha Marian, the last school not named Papio South to capture the state title. That came in 2009 when the Crusaders defeated the young Titans — the Rolfzens and Hunter were freshmen — in a four-set battle.
Also poised for a possible big season is Millard West, which returns several key players from last year's 29-7 squad.
While a state title would be the fifth for Marian, it would be the first for either Southwest or Millard West.
How's that for the winds of change?
While that's a compelling storyline, it's by no means the only one. Here are a few more to ponder as we embark on the new season:
» Lincoln Pius X is back in the friendly confines of Class B after a one-year foray into Class A. Look for the Thunderbolts to once again mount a serious challenge for longtime head coach Jake Moore.
» Elena Pietro takes over as head coach at Papio South, replacing Egbert. We'll see how the Titans fare as several teams eagerly look for payback following three years of Papio South domination.
» After an eight-year absence, Yvonne Carson returns to coach Omaha Gross. Carson, who had been coaching at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, guided the Cougars to a state title in 1999.
» Another new coach this season is Bellevue East's Courtney Smeby, who takes over for longtime coach Robyn Cascio-Jensen. Smeby has been an assistant the past five seasons.
» After capturing the Class B state title last season following five straight runner-up finishes, it'll be interesting to see how Grand Island Northwest reacts as the “team to beat.”
» The state tournament will be held one more time in Grand Island before moving back to Lincoln in 2014. The hospitality has been great in GI, but a shift back to the Star City and its new facilities didn't come as a surprise.
» You've got to pay attention to the class changes for several competitive schools, including Pius (A to B), Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family (a new co-op in C-2), West Point GACC (D-1 to C-2), North Platte St. Patrick's (C-2 to D-1) and Exeter-Milligan (D-1 to D-2).
» The Bellevue Invitational is a great early barometer of volleyball strength, and this year will be no different. Bellevue West is the place to be Friday and Saturday.
» The wins keep piling up for several coaches, including Grand Island Central Catholic's Sharon Zavala (875), Columbus Scotus' John Petersen (837), Millard South's Joanne Kappas (816) and Ogallala's Steve Morgan (also 816). Those numbers are staggering and a tribute to those coaches' continuing passion for the game.
That's enough for now. It's time, so let's get this season rolling.