Any conversation about the metro prep volleyball prospects for the 2016 season has to start with Cedar Falls.
The Tigers rolled to a 37-5 mark last season, reaching the Class 5A state semifinals where they lost a five-set heartbreaker to Bettendorf.
Cedar Falls returns five starters from that squad, including first-team all-Mississippi Valley setter Tayah Mahi, who piled up 1,114 assists last season (10.61 per set) and was second on the team with 43 ace serves.
“We will be a good passing team and a much improved defensive team from a year ago,” Cedar Falls head coach Matt Johnson said. “We need to replace a big piece of our offense with the graduation of Alicia Harrington, as well as the leadership our four seniors provided.
“We are really excited about some of the new players who will see the floor for us as they provide a good combination of size and experience playing high-level volleyball.”
The Tigers also return second-team all-MVC pick Grace Burken, who had 295 kills and 72 total blocks. Outside hitter Taylor Lynch is back after posting a team-best 309 kills, while Claire Gerdes had 227 kills and 77 total blocks in 2015. Defensive specialist Abby Hendrickson also returns.
Cedar Falls will face plenty of stiff competition in the Mississippi Valley.
“Our conference will be loaded this year,” Johnson said. “Iowa City West returns everyone, while Iowa City High only lost one rotation player. Linn-Mar, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Dubuque Wahlert and Dubuque Hempstead will all have very good teams, as well.”
Waterloo West returns three starters from a 14-25 squad, led by Sydney McFarland (183 kills) and Kaylissa Arndorfer (169 kills). Allison Trenkamp also returns as a starter with four other letterwinners in the fold.
“I believe in our athletes. We will have increased athleticism from last year,” West coach Aaron Reinhart said.
Waterloo Columbus went 20-15 in a tough North Iowa Cedar League and returns four starters. Lauren McManus and Anna Sinnott each topped 300 kills last season with 324 and 312, respectively. Bri Eighme had 99 kills and 41blocks, while Kate Shannon served as libero.
“Quick and athletic,” is how Sailor head coach Hanna Nuss described her team.
Waterloo East returns a wealth of experience, including five starters from a 12-22 team. The Trojans’ top returners are McKayla Ryan (170 kills) and Madi Hyke (33 blocks), along with Bri Netty at setter, Lexi Wroe at outside hitter and Indya Beaman at libero.
“We have a lot of returning players and some upcoming young talent,” East coach Meghan Sullivan said. “We need to improve on our blocks and hits and continue to communicate.”
Valley Lutheran has four returning starters for new coach Len Brokenshire, including Geneva Basye, who had a team-best 114 kills in 2015. Alex Kapanka added 107 kills a year ago, while setter Susan Hecker had 285 assists.
Waterloo Christian returns three starters and six letterwinners from an 8-12 team.