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The Antelope

Loper volleyball returns with plenty of new faces

Bailee Sterling posted 209 kills and 63 blocks last season, photo provided by Kylie Schwab / Antelope Staff

The Loper volleyball team faces many new questions this season at multiple positions after losing seven seniors from last year. The team comes into the year ranked No. 10 in the AVCA preseason coaches poll. The Lopers finished the 2021 campaign with a 26-7 record and a loss in the Central Regional semifinals to Concordia-St. Paul.

This is the first year since 2016 that a Squiers sister won’t be on the team. Middle Anna Squiers and setter Maddie Squiers both graduated, leaving huge holes that will need to be filled.

“More than anything, setting aside the family element, you lose two really experienced players who knew what they were doing,” said UNK coach Rick Squiers. “To be really good, it takes two or three years.”

At the middle position, UNK will have some experience returning in fourth-year players Bailee Sterling, Fallon Stutheit and Michaela Bartels. Sterling posted 209 kills last year and Stutheit played well in some key matches when Anna Squiers was hurt.

The setter position will be a bit tougher to replace as Maddie Squiers led the team with 1,338 assists last season. Redshirt freshman Peyton Neff and redshirt sophomore Rhianna Wilhelm have been battling for the spot. Neff saw extra playing time in the spring with Wilhelm injured, but the competition will continue throughout the fall. 

Maddie Squiers will also be able to help the new setters as a graduate assistant this fall. 

“Having her directly communicate with our setters will be helpful,” Rick Squiers said. “That’s just a critical part of any volleyball team.” 

UNK returns its leader in kills from last year in redshirt junior Emersen Cyza. The outside hitter transfer from Wyoming posted 400 kills in 2021 and will step into a new role as team captain this year.

“I’m stepping into very big shoes to fill from Anna, Maddie, and Lindsay Nottlemann,” Cyza said. “That is just something that I’ve been working at every day trying to connect with the new players.”

The Lopers bring back experience at outside hitter this year. Redshirt junior CeCe Beahm, sophomore Asha Regier and redshirt sophomore Lauren Taubenheim all return after being key players in the past.

There are some question marks in the backcourt for the Lopers. Their starting libero in Nottlemann and starting defensive specialist in Breanna Jones both graduated and will need to be replaced.

“Jensen Rowse kind of held that position down in the spring and entered here in the fall as kind of her job to lose,” Rick Squiers said. “But there are a few talented freshmen that I believe will factor in.”

Those talented freshmen include Jordie Nekl from Columbus Lakeview and Lexi Stephens from Ankeny Iowa. Both of them will see plenty of action for the Lopers in the scrimmages before the season gets started.

“They both don’t look like freshmen right now, “Rick Squiers said. “They’re talented and we feel pretty darn good about that position. It was a real concern because you never know till they get here.”

The Lopers will open their season hosting the Rosella Meier Fall Classic on Aug. 26-27 in the Health & Sports Center. They will also travel to the Kentucky Wesleyan Invite on Sept. 2-3.

As always, the MIAA will be as tough as ever this year. Washburn is coming off a National Championship runner-up year. Northwest Missouri State and Central Oklahoma will return many of their key players. Central Missouri was also a top team in Division II last year and will still be in the mix, despite hiring a new coach this year in Caitlin Peterson. 

Although the competition is tough and the Lopers have a lot of turnover with 10 new freshmen, the goal remains the same.

“I want a ring,” Cyza said. “I want to win the Natty.”

UNK’s first scrimmage will be against UNO on Aug. 20.

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GRANT TIGHE, Sports Editor
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