KEARNEY — The Kearney High volleyball team has some holes to fill.
Coach Jessica Day looks at it in another way.
“There’s some opportunities for girls to step up and fill those,” Day said. “I think they have worked their tail ends off. There are a lot of girls competing for those positions and that’s going to be exciting to see continue to unfold over the next two weeks.”
Only four letter winners return from last year’s 22-14 team that just missed qualifying for the state tournament as a wild card. But those four started and played key roles.
At the top of the class is senior libero Adi Wood, who has set school and state records as a passer.
“It’s been an awesome four years watching her,” Day said. “She’s just been the steady ship back there for us.”
She has committed to play for the University of Nebraska at Kearney next year and Day is overjoyed to have her for another year.
“Her volleyball IQ is off the charts. She reads well. She’s just a great teammate, great kid, great student-athlete. … She’s going to be a big-time senior leader for us.”
She is joined in the back row by another senior, Ashley Ringlein, giving the Bearcats a steady and reliable foundation for a strong defense.
In the front row, the Bearcats need to find replacements for Alexis Mishou, a four-year starter at setter, and Claire Vanderbeek, a three-year starter at middle hitter, along with starters Jordyn Kohtz and Ashton Mehlin.
While those replacements must step forward, the Bearcats have two returning starters in outside hitter Aspen Rusher, a 5-foot-10 junior, and middle hitter Lily Novacek, a 6-foot junior.
Rusher was the second-leading attacker on last year’s team with 239 kills. Novacek was the second-leading blocker with 60.
“Lily is one of the best athletes in the state and she’s going to play a key role,” Day said. “I think all eyes went to Claire last year and Lily’s going to be really fun to watch. … I think a lot of people will turn their heads.”
Others who may figure into filling the front-row spots are Macy Fuller, a 6-foot middle hitter who played on Kearney’s Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference championship team of two years ago, and transfers Sidney Province from Amherst and C.J. Faz from Kearney Catholic.
That leaves the all-important setter position as the biggest question mark, and Day believes the answer there is 6-foot Lucy Bartee.
“I think a lot of people are going to go, ‘Holy, Moley, who’s that?’ Heads are going to turn with her,” Day said.
Bartee has sat behind Mishou the past two years, watching and learning, and Day believes she’s ready.
If it all comes together, Day believes Kearney can end a state tournament drought dating back to 1982.
“The goal, since I’ve taken over the program, is our sights are set on making it back to Lincoln,” Day said. “That’s not going to stop being a conversation in this gym.”
During summer camps, Day saw times when the Bearcats had tools to go head-to-head with any team in the state.
“The potential and the ceiling for this team is so high. Watching us this summer, we had spells where we were playing with anybody in the state. We just have to bottle that up.”
Kearney opens the season on Aug. 29, hosting Lincoln North Star.