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Sports in Kansas: Statewide Volleyball Notes - 9/30/20

Nick Linn picked up his 900th career win last weekend for Smith Center.
By: Conor Nicholl for Sports in Kansas w/ Chet Kuplen
Sep 30, 2020

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By CONOR NICHOLL

Submit info at any time for consideration to: Cnicholl1@gmail.com (Notes will run on Wednesday of each week, so have stats, info, notes etc. sent in by Tuesday afternoon/early evening.)

2020 Volleyball Updates are presented by Nex-Tech Wireless, Seatbelts Are For Everyone (SAFE), American Implement, Craw-Kan Telephone, Rainbow Communications, Labette Bank

Statewide Volleyball Notes - 9/30/20

All rankings as of Sept. 23 from the Kansas Volleyball Association. All statistical leaderboards from MaxPreps unless otherwise noted.

Smith Center’s Linn reaches 900 win milestone; Lady Red with no seniors on varsity this year

Nick Linn opened his career at Class 1A St. Xavier in Junction City. Linn talked with his principal, John Bergkamp. He wanted to coach boys’ basketball, though the girls’ job was open, and Bergkamp gave Linn the position. Linn was leaving the office when Bergkamp uttered a line Linn still remembers 35 years later.

“’Oh by the way, you’ve got volleyball, too,’” Bergkamp said.

Linn, one of seven children from Albert, Kan., and an Otis-Bison graduate, thought “Oh no.”

“‘Oh my gosh, what am I getting into?,’” Linn said. “I literally knew nothing about volleyball.”

Linn bought two books on volleyball, items he still owns. Linn first ran a basic 4-2. He gleaned coaching ideas from his high school days and his father, Harvey Linn. Harvey, who passed away in 2017 at 87, coached Little League baseball and basketball for many seasons in Olmitz and served as Albert’s mayor.

Linn ran basketball conditioning drills in volleyball practice. On Sunday night, Linn still easily recalled his first victory, against White City.

By his third season, St. Xavier finished as state runner-up to Grinnell in the 1A championships in Russell. It remains the best finish for any sport in St. Xavier school history, according to KSHSAA archives. Linn had always wanted to coach at a 3A-sized school and had interviewed at Smith Center before he went to St. Xavier, though didn’t get the job. He interviewed again and earned the position.

“I had great players,” Linn said of St. Xavier. “We had great kids. … It was tough leaving there. The problem was that I was building a family. We just had our third kid. We just couldn’t survive on what we were getting paid there. That’s what was tough.”

Linn still struggled coming up with drills and wanted out of volleyball when he first arrived in Smith Center. He was getting ready to accept the basketball job. However, the volleyball coach was also new and told the administration he “didn’t know anything about it.” The principal asked Linn if he was willing to coach volleyball and not basketball.

Linn agreed, a choice that led to one of most successful careers in Kansas high school volleyball history. Smith Center finished 5-20 in his first season. They have not had a losing record since. Last Saturday, Linn picked up his 900th career victory at the Hoisington tournament in his 32nd year at Smith Center.

“The best thing that could ever happen,” Linn said. “Because I loved every minute of the last 35 years, and it kind of does go back to that principal I had 35 years ago and about four or five really good ones here, because they have been total support.”

Linn has built his program around three keys: work ethic in practice, buy-in from parents and the weight room.

He is fourth all-time in state volleyball history and second among active coaches behind Washburn Rural’s Kevin Bordewick, according to the Kansas Volleyball Coaches Association. Linn has the most wins of any coach west of Topeka. From ’96-19, Smith Center has qualified for state 13 times, including the last three. Linn has six top-fours.

“I worry about getting kids injured and hurt based on what we do, but they don’t, and they survive and we go through and they work hard, and I tell them it’s going to pay off,” Linn said. “You will think 20 years from now how that work’s paid off. I hear it from a lot of them – even this last week when the 900 thing came up.”

In addition to the players and administration, Linn credited his assistant coaches, including former longtime assistant Heather Sasse and current veteran Denyse Kattenberg.

“Good coaches with me,” Linn said. “I have had good staff. We haven’t had a lot of turnover, so we have been able to instill in our program things that the kids that have worked hard to accomplish.”

Linn, a longtime business teacher with four grown children, has also won more than 400 games as Smith Center’s girls’ basketball coach. SC has finished second in basketball in ’99, ’00, ’02 and a state championship in ’13. Years ago, Linn was given the option to switch over to basketball. He declined.

As he’s grown older, Linn said, if given the choice to coach one, he would keep volleyball. Linn has really grown to love the sport, and said there’s much less outside opinions in volleyball than basketball.

“So to pick one of the two right now would be really, really hard, but what I would pick if I had to would be volleyball,” Linn said.

Last fall, Smith Center and Valley Heights both qualified for the 2A state volleyball in Dodge City. Bergkamp is currently VH’s superintendent. Linn got to talk to Bergkamp and still remembered his kindness. Linn told Bergkamp that he was invited to his retirement party whenever he leaves coaching.

“Awesome, awesome principal,” Linn said. “I mean good person, too. It was kind of neat to see him again. That was a long time coming.”

**

Linn, though, has no plans to retire from coaching. For the first time this fall, Linn has zero seniors on varsity. Smith Center graduated seven key seniors off last year’s team.

“I always tell myself when I walk down at 3:30 and I walk to the gym, if I get tired of doing that and not enjoying that, I was going to be done, and that’s never happened,” Linn said.

This year, helped by two days a week of consistent gym work in the summer, Smith Center is a surprising 17-2 after Tuesday’s results.

Last weekend, SC lost to rival Phillipsburg in three sets, though won four others matches, including a sweep versus Class 1A No. 1 Central Plains. On Tuesday, SC went 2-1 in a home Mid-Continent League triangular with a three-set loss to TMP, and sweeps versus Russell and Phillipsburg. Phillipsburg is ranked eighth in 3A, and TMP is seventh in 3A.

“I love the challenge,” Linn said. “I do. The challenge of a whole new group, and especially like this year, a young group, I thought, ‘There’s ability there.’”

Junior six-footer middle Tallon Rentschler has started since she was a freshman. She was honorable mention all-state as a sophomore; one of just two 2A sophomores named to the three 2A all-state teams (21 total players). Linn believes Rentschler will likely finish as the school’s all-time kills leader. Linn labeled junior Ashlyn Long one of the best outsides he’s seen.

As well, freshman setter Camryn Hutchinson has highly impressed with her ability and floor general presence. Linn believes Hutchinson could be an all-league setter this fall. Outside hitter Gracie Kirchhoff, 5-11 middle Tinley Rentschler, and right side Dakota Kattenberg, all freshmen, are playing key roles. Sophomore outside Maile Hrabe plays all way around. SC has overcome a season-ending injury to a setter.

”We take a lot of pride in keeping the ball off the floor,” Linn said. “And these girls understand that, and if you watch us play, that’s been our biggest thing this year is the fact that we dig a lot of balls, and we cover the floor, and it’s kind of carried us.”

**

Albert, Kan. is 175 people and located about 16 miles east of Great Bend on KS-96 East. Linn is one of six brothers. Four, including Nick, are within three years of each other. The family had plentiful sandlot games.

“We had good parents, middle class family,” Linn said.

Often, all four brothers were in a game at the same time. They played football, basketball and baseball. All six brothers went into education. John Linn is a current Hays High assistant principal. Dr. Joey Linn is Fort Hays’ Vice President for Student Affairs. Mitch serves as a middle school principal in Wichita.

Nick earned his business degree from Kansas State and his teaching degree via Fort Hays. As time progressed, Linn switched his offense from a 4-2 to a 5-1 and then 6-2. Linn has prided in the program in “doing little things right,” including very limited net violations.

“We don’t run a lot of base coverage formations on defense that a lot of schools do, “Linn said. “Ours is inverted. Our cover man are on the blocks and stuff like that. Our middle back’s up. That’s been part of our success.”

Linn said he stressed the weight room “right away” when he came to Smith Center, and believed the weight training gave the Lady Red a “head start” compared to other area teams. Linn recalled many times in the last 20 years that SC went to matches and officials said the Lady Red were “just more in shape and stronger.” Linn doesn’t want players to specialize in sports.

This summer, Smith Center didn’t have summer league volleyball or an Abilene tournament because of COVID-19. The freshmen group showed strong work ethic, though was more basketball-minded in the younger ranks.

Instead, the Lady Red started twice a week in the gym from June 1. The coaches “started from scratch” and built a lineup with the new group. Linn believed 2020 would have been “really tough” in the early going without the summer work.

“We saw such progress,” he said.                                                 

In the season opener, Smith Center faced conference foe WaKeeney-Trego and senior Lili Shubert, the state’s leading hitter most of the fall. Linn believed the Lady Red had a better team, and SC won. At the Sept. 19 Republic County tournament, SC beat Beloit, 25-10, in the first set – an extremely rare big margin versus the tradition-laden Trojans. Smith Center defeated Clay Center, ranked No. 6 in Class 4A, in three sets, and beat Thayer Central, a Nebraska school that was undefeated and hadn’t lost a set entering the tournament.

“It was just amazing how we were playing at that level,” Linn said.

Linn was aware of the impending 900 entering Hoisington, and one of his brothers mentioned it. He needed three victories. Smith Center never faltered about losing the match against Phillipsburg; resiliency that has impressed Linn with the young group. Afterward, Smith Center took a team picture to commemorate the achievement. Even though without seniors, the team, like the past 30, is headed toward another winning season.

“The biggest thing I’ve been really happy with is the fact we’ve carried on the tradition here in Smith Center,” Linn said. “….Every one of our kids know what to expect. We work hard.”

Garden Plain is ranked second in 2A; celebrates Senior Night

Garden Plain moved to 13-2 and celebrated Senior Night with legendary coach Gina Clark. GP beat Conway Springs, 25-9, 25-11 on Tuesday. Junior Brooke Hammond leads with 110 kills. Senior Alli Puetz is second with 101 kills. Christia Rose Gorges has 45 kills, and Madysen Zoglman has 25 kills. Zoglman is second with 18 aces. Gorges is tops with 26 blocks. Puetz and Gorges are 1-2 with 98 and 93 digs.

Smoky Valley continues to roll

On Tuesday, Smoky Valley swept a pair of matches against Central Kansas League foes Larned and Haven. SV improved to 17-1. The Vikings defeated Larned, 25-7, 25-7. As well, the Vikings beat Haven, 25-11, 25-12. McKinley Johnson delivered 23 assists, and Elyse Ramsey had 19.

Abby Rose delivered 13 kills, while Addie Heitschmidt finished with 12 kills, and Bri Franklin delivered 10. Rose also finished with three blocks. Aubrey Boldra led with nine digs. Smoky Valley is ranked fourth in 3A.

Centralia sweeps key Twin Valley League triangular

On Tuesday, TVL traditional powers Centralia, Frankfort and Axtell played at Axtell. Centralia defeated Frankfort, 25-22, 27-25. Centralia also beat Axtell, 25-14, 25-8. Frankfort beat Axtell, 25-22, 27-25. League statistician Vicki Adams updated the TVL records after Tuesday. Valley Heights is 18-5, 7-0. Washington County stands at 14-3, 7-1. Centralia is 14-6, 7-1. Hanover stands at 12-3, 6-2. Doniphan West is 6-9, 5-2, and Linn is 8-5, 4-3.

Last Saturday, Valley Heights took third and Frankfort fourth in the eight-team Axtell tournament. Nebraska schools finished 1-2. Valley Heights is No. 10 in 2A.

Frontenac up to 12 straight

After an 0-2 start, the Raiders have won 12 in a row. Junior Heather Arnett is up to 105 kills to lead the team. She also paces with 23 aces and is second with 95 digs. Sophomore Mia Brown leads with 101 digs.

Maize South at 14-2

Maize South opened 6-2 and has won eight in a row. On Tuesday, the Mavericks beat Salina South, 2-0, and Campus in three sets. Freshman Gracie Morrow continues her big season with 121 kills. Senior Laurel Jones, a Marquette commit, has 93 kills with a .304 average. Jones also led with 28 blocks and 241 assists.

Sabetha stays perfect at 16-0; now up to No. 1 in 3A

Last Tuesday, Sabetha beat Nemaha Central in back-to-back matches in the Nemaha County rivalry. Sabetha defeated NC, 25-20, 25-23 and 25-21, 23-25, 25-21. Seniors Leah Renyer and Melinna Schumann lead with 147 and 137 kills, respectively. Schumann also paces with 182 digs. Sabetha, features on Sports in Kansas last week, is now up to No. 1 in 3A.

Ottawa looking for winning season behind Weidl; close to 1k in both kills and digs

Ottawa has posted sub-.500 records from ’15-19, including 15-21 last season. This year, Ottawa is 12-11. Senior Darby Weidl leads with 275 kills, and senior Molly Olmstead delivered 139 kills. Weidl also paces with 238 digs. Weidl also finished 32-2 and was the girls’ wrestling state runner-up at 155 pounds in the inaugural state tournament last winter.

In addition to Weidl and Olmstead, Tess Reed Cox and Ava Caylor are the seniors. Weidl has 857 kills and 949 digs in her career. She has at least 200 digs every season.

Leaders

Kills

Regier, Newton, 280

Weidl, Ottawa, 275

Cruse, Bonner Springs, 229

Toerber, Valley Heights, 211

Thomasson, Riverton, 209

Maxwell, Ellinwood, 205

Van Gorp, Heritage Christian, 201

Fink, Royal Valley, 190

Pelham, Maranatha, 186

Roe, Herington, 186

Assists

Evans, Ottawa, 603

Gardner, Spring Hill, 516

Zenner, Newton, 474

Toerber, Valley Heights, 422

Burkholder, Marion, 399

Corwine, West Franklin, 391

Madlock, Bonner Springs, 374

Xu, Emporia, 363

McKinsey, Royal Valley, 358

Horsch, Sterling, 348

Digs

Weidl, Ottawa, 238

Wiseman, West Elk, 231

Cisneros, Liberal, 228

Fisher, Olpe, 223

Bird, Lawrence, 220

Ziolo, Tonganoxie, 220

Unruh, Great Bend, 217

Mendez, Ellinwood, 214

Regier, Newton, 213

Stottlemire, Ottawa, 213

Blocks

Baliel, Marion, 63

Schutter, Wabaunsee, 61

Beeman, West Elk, 60

Lentz, Maize, 58

Ajekwu, Lawrence, 56

Truot, Chanute, 55

Hurd, Perry-Lecompton, 53

Olmstead, Ottawa, 52

Vermeer, K.C. Christian, 47

McMahon, Jackson Heights, 45

Hitting Percentage

Shubert, WaKeeney, .525

Pelham, Maranatha Christian, .493

Roe, Herington, .491

Cruse, Bonner Springs, .413

Rose, Smoky Valley, .395

Frakes, Spring Hill, .393

Schutter, Wabaunsee, .388

Noel, Bonner Springs, .385

Harris, Atchison, .381

Lovesee, Bluestem, .375

Team Hitting Percentage

Herington, .319

Trinity Academy, .301

Bonner Springs, .295

Spring Hill, .292

Shawnee Mission Northwest, .291

Rural Vista, .276

Maize South, .262

St. Mary’s Colgan, .262

Aquinas, .262

Smoky Valley, .261


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