It's apparent heading into this season that simply reaching the state tournament is not good enough for Lincoln Southwest.
The Silver Hawks want something more this season. Much more.
“We want to get to that state championship match,” coach Mary Schropfer said. “Like a lot of other teams this season, we feel as though we have a legitimate shot to get there.”
Schropfer has built a solid program as the school's only head volleyball coach. In her 11 previous seasons, she has guided the Silver Hawks to nine state tournament berths — including the past seven in a row.
Southwest finished third in 2008 and fourth in 2010, but the past two seasons ended in first-round losses. That's added motivation for a team that returns several starters, including 6-foot Creighton recruit Marysa Wilkinson.
“We are really excited to get the season started,” she said. “Getting back to state is an obvious goal for us, but we're committed to getting farther in the tourney.”
The state tournament is still 2½ months away, but the Silver Hawks aren't afraid to think big this season. A major reason is that three-time defending Class A champion Papillion-La Vista South graduated several key players, opening things up for a number of challengers.
“I think a lot of teams enter this season with a lot more optimism,” Schropfer said. “To possibly have a shot at a title is going to make things very interesting.”
Wilkinson, a three-year letter winner, pounded 347 kills last season. Schropfer plans to get her even more swings at the net as a senior, moving Wilkinson from the middle to the outside.
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“It's tougher to set her in the middle,” the coach said. “We're going to utilize her more, and I think that will make us tougher to defend.”
Wilkinson said she is looking forward to the challenge.
“I'm OK with it,” she said. “If it's going to make our team better, then I'm all for it.”
Wilkinson said she also is looking ahead to her added responsibility as a senior leader.
“I tried to be more of a leader last year, and I'm going to do even better this season,” she said. “I know this is my last shot here, so I'm going to give it everything I've got.”
Other key returnees for the Silver Hawks are senior libero Jill Bax, junior setter Madison Egger and sophomore outside hitter Allie Davis. Bax had more than 500 digs last season, Egger averaged 10.6 assists per set and the 6-1 Davis had 246 kills as a freshman.
Other experienced seniors include Kaylyn Fern, Aftyn Johnson and Alyssa Meyer.
“We know we have a great group this year,” Egger said. “We've been practicing hard because we know we've got the kind of early schedule that's really going to test us.”
The Silver Hawks begin the season Thursday night against visiting Lincoln North Star, and then will take part in a double dual Saturday at North Star. Next week, perennial powers Lincoln Pius X and Omaha Marian await.
Later challenges include the Lincoln Public Schools Invitational (Sept. 20-21), the Omaha Westside Invitational (Oct. 18-19) and the Heartland Athletic Conference tourney (Oct. 22-24).
Then, of course, districts and a possible eighth straight trip to state.
“Everyone is so ready to get the season started,” Schropfer said. “There's just such a sense of the unknown in Class A that has everyone fired up.”