Last year was the end of a remarkable run for the Nevada volleyball program, but the Cubs are gearing up to start a new string of conference titles and state berths in 2018.

In 2017, Nevada saw a five-year reign as Heart of Iowa Conference champions end, along with a 51-match winning streak in conference play. The Cubs also failed to make state for the first time since 2012.

But Nevada still posted a winning record and topped 20 victories last year, finishing 22-19. The Cubs have a lot of players returning this fall that gained valuable experience last year, and that will help them get back in the HOIC title hunt and make another run at state.

“We’ve had a great preseason so far,” Nevada head volleyball coach Lori Stephenson said. “The girls are really leaning into the new things I’ve asked them to do and their attention to detail in the fundamental skills has been impressive. I think those things will translate well into a having a pretty competitive team this season.”

Nevada will need to replace versatile team leader Hattie Rhodes at middle hitter. But they bring back enough talent on the outside, in the back row and at setter that will enable the Cubs to be competitive against their tough opponents.

Athletic junior Kacie Rewerts will be a five or six position player, according to Stephenson. She had 250 kills on a .274 kill-efficiency rate, 233 digs, 77 blocks and a 96-percent serving accuracy with 34 aces in 2017.

“Her experience really leads the team,” Stephenson said. “Her personality and drive are really key to our performance.”

Senior Amanda Fortmann is back at setter. Last year she came up big in her first year starting at the position, recording 735 assists (7.28 per set) and adding 224 digs, 43 kills, 33 aces and 20 blocks.

Junior Morgan Tupper will also see time at setter after spending most of her time in the back row last year at libero. Tupper led Nevada in digs last year with 389 and she also had 36 assists, 33 kills and 19 aces.

Senior Madison Stevens and sophomores Ellie Gray and Jaeden Heintz will occupy the back row this fall.

“Our back row has good experience,” Stephenson said. “Ellie Gray and Maddie Stevens are coming off of varsity experience last year and Jaeden Heintz has had several club seasons that are giving her a good base for varsity play this year. If they can keep growing as defenders and passers, our entire game will improve.”

In 2017, Gray had 156 digs and Stevens 133.

Sophomore Sydney Mosinski will take over at middle hitter. She had one kill in limited action last season.

“She’s quickly learning to adapt to the speed of the varsity game,” Stephenson said. “We’ll really benefit from having her jumping ability in our front row.”

Senior outside hitter Kelby Rewerts is recovering from an ACL injury suffered last year in basketball and could be a valuable asset for the Cubs this season. Senior Mikayla Long will also be a valuable weapon after putting up 20 kills, 9 aces and five blocks in 2017.

Also looking to contribute at the varsity level in 2018 are sophomores Hannah Thomsen, Katelyn Kingsbury and Ashlynn Sporrer. Thomsen had 11 aces, four assists, three kills and two blocks last year.

Stephenson said Roland-Story, the No. 14 team in Class 3A to open the season, will be favored to win the HOIC. But the Norse will face tough competition for the top spot.

“Gilbert and North Polk will always be top contenders, too, and South Hamilton looked very athletic in the summer league scrimmages,” Stephenson said. “I think we’ll be contenders for the conference title. We have as many or more returners than the other top programs, and it’ll be fun to see how we stack up.”

Stephenson said she is also anxious to get the season started. Cubs begin play this Saturday at the Ankeny Centennial Invitational in Ankeny.