There's a strong possibility that Northern Nevada large schools prep volleyball was stronger this year than ever before.
Just consider that four Northern 4A conference players have signed to play at Pac-10 schools next year, two of whom are included on today's All-Carson Country Team: Kaitlin Leck of Carson (University of Washing) and Kellie Burton of Galena (Arizona). Jen Hucke (Stanford) and Monica Meihack (Oregon State) of two-time state champion Churchill County in Fallon are the other two signees.
Churchill County is also the first Northern large schools volleyball team to win back-to-back state titles. And since Churchill County defeated Douglas in the 4A finals last month, who can the last time two Northern teams played in the state finals?
It was an enjoyable environment to play in, according to Douglas senior setter Jamie McCreary.
"I thought it was really fun knowing that the competition was so strong," McCreary said. "You don't hear about many Nevada players going to D1 (Division 1) schools, so it was really neat. It was like, 'Wow, Jen is going to Stanford.'"
Carson coach Daryl James couldn't recall an all-Northern final for the state 3A or 4A tournaments even in the 1990s or '80s.
"I can't remember it happening," James said. "And in my own mind, it didn't stop at first and second, because Galena was arguably the third best team at the state tournament. They really had a great run this year."
Galena advanced to the state tournament semifinals and had a two-game lead over Douglas before the Tigers rallied back to win.
The Douglas success story was noteworthy simply because McCreary was the only player to return with starting experience from the year before.
"Nobody thought our team would be that good," McCreary said. "Everybody thought we were so young, but our younger players all stepped up and played great."
She felt the presence of such talent helped motivate a young Douglas squad to higher achievements this season, including the Sierra League championship and then runner-up finishes at the zone and state tournaments. Churchill County was undefeated against Nevada opponents this season, and in fact, the only game the Greenwave dropped was to Douglas in the zone finals.
"Beating them in that one game at zone, it was such a thrill knowing that we could play up to their level," McCreary said. "It made us realize we could play with them; the big difference is that players like Jen are so consistent."
McCreary, a straight-A student academically, hasn't finalized her own college plans yet but hopes to play volleyball in college. Her first choice at the present time is Southern Oregon State in Ashland.
"Jamie had a great year," Jamie said. "I thought she was the glue on that team; she's like having a coach on the floor. Kaitlin was the MVP of our league, but if you were to name an MVP for one team, it would be hard to distinguish between those two."
ALL-CARSON COUNTRY VOLLEYBALL
Kellie Burton, 6-2, senior, Galena: Burton signed with Arizona in November at the tail end of a season in which she received first-team All-Northern 4A Region and first-team High Desert League recognition. She led the 24-14 Grizzlies with 449 kills (an average of 5.3 per game), and showed all-around ability with 94 solo blocks, 339 digs and 24 aces. A 4.0 student in the classroom, Burton was included on the academic all-state team.
Kaitlin Leck, 6-1, senior, Carson: Clearly the MVP for the Senators during their 14-5 season and second-place finish in the Sierra League. Leck, who has signed with Washington, was named Sierra League Player of the Year and to the first-team All-Northern 4A Region team.
Emily Haas, 6-0, sophomore, Douglas: An intense and competitive player, Haas came up with countless hits and blocks in clutch situations for the Tigers. Haas and McCreary combined to give Douglas a lethal quick attack in the middle as the Tigers went on to the Northern 4A Regional Tournament finals (for the 10th year in a row) and a runner-up finish at the 4A state tournament.
Jamie McCreary, 5-8, senior, Douglas: An agile player who seemed to cover the entire court as a setter, and an able blocker as well, there was no doubt McCreary deserved first-team all-region and all-league recognition. An academic all-state player.
Lauren Wallace, 5-8, junior, Galena: Was more than a quarterback for the Grizzlies. "She played every point of every game," coach Teresa Burrows said. "She was a true workhorse." Wallace had 1,069 sets, 118 blocks, 368 digs and 14 aces to earn first-team all-region and all-league honors. Another academic all-state player.
Heidi Alexander, 5-4, senior, Carson: Alexander didn't figure prominently statistically, yet made the best of her back row specialist role with effective defense, passing and serving and received honorable mention all-league recognition.
3A Players of the Year
Setter - Cindy Wanbaugh, 5-4, senior, Dayton:
Setter - Cayla Reese, 5-6, senior, Dayton:
Jennifer Saunders, Carson; Rachael DeRiemer, Carson; Chelsey Myers, Douglas; Jessica LeJeune, Douglas; Tammie Nettleton, Galena; Joanna Hixon, Galena; Ashley Satterwhite, Galena; Tess Sheridan, Douglas; Chrissy Joseph, Carson; Brandee Smith, Yerington; Amy Sceirine, Yerington;Jennie Morphew, Dayton; Christen Adams, Yerington; Hannah Maxwell, Fernley.