Nevada volleyball team fights through tough schedule to finish one win shy of returning to state

Joe Randleman
Ames Tribune
Right-side hitter Emma Strottman played an important role in getting the Nevada volleyball team back to the Class 3A regional finals in 2021.

The Nevada volleyball program overcame a brutal schedule to finish one victory from reaching the state tournament in 2021.

The Cubs took second to No. 12 Roland-Story in the Heart of Iowa Conference for the second year in a row with a 6-1 record. They actually had a losing overall at 21-22.

But their final record was deceiving. The Cubs, a Class 3A school, went up against a schedule that included nine matches against 4A teams and eight versus 4A squads.

Nevada also faced 2A state champion Dike-New Hartford twice as well as several talented 3A schools.

"Only three of our starters had ever played in the postseason before," Nevada head coach Jonny Sneiderman said. "We had a freshman libero, sophomore setter along with a handful of other sophomores on the court. Combine that with the schedule we ran and it became a battle to maintain confidence some weekends. There were a couple close matches that if we could have pulled them off I think there would have been an even better team in the postseason."

But the Cubs persevered.

They managed to rally from a 2-1 deficit to beat Ballard in a five-set thriller during the 3A regional quarterfinals.

"I'm not sure if it was a turning point, but it was a moment that I knew this team had found their grit — Set 4 versus Ballard in the regional quarterfinals," Sneiderman said. "I thought the group had cashed in on the season and they collectively changed mid-set. When a team is determined as a whole to accomplish something, it all changes. To see our underclassmen find that fire was really special."

Nevada followed that up with its most impressive performance of the season, avenging an earlier loss to Roland-Story by dominating the Norse on their floor in four sets to advance to the regional finals.

The Cubs ran into a buzzsaw against Des Moines Christian in the regional finals. They were swept in three sets to end the season.

But Sneiderman was thrilled with how far his squad came by the end of the year.

"This team grew in their confidence and comfortability on the court," Sneiderman said. "I am always impressed by how composed and competitive our girls are. We were able to run a more balanced offense and start to do a bunch of the fun strategy pieces that go with high level volleyball. Teaching all of those parts well enough that it becomes instinct in the match takes a ton of time. I am thankful to be returning so much of that group that was able to implement the systems we like to run." 

Nevada finished the season with 992 kills and a 17.6 % kill-efficiency rate. The Cubs averaged 33.6 digs and 6.6 blocks per set and totaled 262 aces on 89 % serving.

The senior trio of middle blocker Shelbi Hazlitt and outside hitters Mayzi Weig and Maddie Dunham anchored the Cubs all season.

"They followed a large senior class and were always so respectful and supportive of those ahead of them," Sneiderman said. "As soon as it was time for weights and open gyms for this season they stepped up immediately. They knew that in order to go far they had to go together and I couldn't be more proud of the way they led this team."

Hazlitt had 208 kills on 29.5 % efficiency and also came up with 84 blocks. She also became a serving weapon this year, connecting on 93 % of her serves with 43 aces.

Weig stepped up as a starting varsity outside hitter for the first time. She delivered a team-high 227 kills and added 181 digs, 32 aces and 22 blocks.

Dunham was the heart and soul of the Cubs. She recorded 255 digs, 126 kills and 30 blocks and was a dominant server with 71 aces on 95 % accuracy.

Junior Lily Goos was an outstanding weapon in the middle and on the outside. She finished with 193 kills, 91 digs and 50 blocks.

Emma Strottman, another junior, contributed 163 kills and 45 blocks. Sophomore Isabelle Nelson tallied 47 kills and 28 blocks.

Freshman Dakota Hendricks took over at the libero and sophomore Mady Gibson at setter. They both had big years as underclassmen.

Hendricks finished with 459 digs. She also handed out 60 assists and had 49 aces.

"I have so much fun coaching her," Sneiderman said. "Her energy is infectious, and the kid is a fearless competitor. Someone with her ability, potential and experience will lead to a tremendous impact over the next three seasons she has left here."

Gibson dished out 739 assists and finished with 165 digs. She also was excellent at serving despite having to do it underhanded due to an injury, finishing with 10 aces on 93 % accuracy.

Mady Gibson stepped into the setter role and played at a high level for Nevada in 2021.

"Mady is a brilliant student so I knew she would be able to wrap her brain around the mental side of setting," Sneiderman said. "It just takes so many reps to develop the confidence in the skillset though. Her youth showed at times but by the end of the season things were clicking. I will be excited to see her rehab her shoulder to get her traditional serve back, however part of me hopes that we aren't totally done with the underhand serve forever." 

Sophomore Reagan Davis had 53 digs and 12 aces. Junior Emma DePenning and freshman Savannah Vary both had 33 digs in the back row and sophomore Olivia Axmear finished with 32.

Freshman Mya Spykerman contributed 20 digs and 12 aces.

 It won't be easy for Nevada to replace its outgoing seniors in 2022.

"Each senior took on a bigger playing role than I probably initially thought they would, but I am so proud of how they stepped into their role and how they brought their teams along with them," Sneiderman said. "Mayzi and Maddie were freshmen when I volunteered at Nevada and all of them were on varsity for my three years here so far. They are each shining examples of a great work ethic."

But Sneiderman next year's team will be able to take a few steps forward and challenge for a conference title and state tournament berth.

"I think we have reached the point at Nevada that we reload rather than rebuild," Sneiderman said. "We return 12 varsity players. There are a handful of players that saw playing time throughout the season that will return as well. Next year's incoming freshman class will be loaded and this year's JV went undefeated in conference. Our schedule changes slightly. Instead of attending the Osage Tournament next year we will head to Iowa City West for the Caroline Found Memorial Tournament. Each tournament is loaded with ranked teams and I can't wait to see our team battle. I need a few weeks to enjoy life, but I am excited by Nevada's future."