Central Texas volleyball: Our top preseason teams and players
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By Butch Hart - American-Statesman Correspondent
PRESEASON TOP 10 TEAMS
(Records from 2017)
1. Westwood (32-15, 6A regional quarterfinalist)
The Warriors have a veteran lineup, returning outside hitter Maddie Kriz and five starters along with eight letter winners. Westwood hasn't missed the playoffs since Tara Nelson took over as coach.
2. Westlake (28-17, 6A area finalist)
The traditional power has a new coach, former Flower Mound coach Marci Laracuente. But retired Hall of Fame coach Al Bennett left a full cupboard after 29 straight playoff seasons. Rylee Baptiste, Rory Williams and Jada Birkel anchor a class of 10 letter winners with the deepest talent pool in Central Texas.
3. Hutto (25-20, 5A regional quarterfinalist)
The Hippos are tall and talented; 6-foot-3 Texas Tech pledge Cadi Boyer will control the middle, and 5-10 outside attacker Kylee Becker is a dominating hitter.
4. Vandegrift (40-7, 6A area finalist)
Second-year coach Melissa Southall did an excellent job last season as the Vipers posted 40 victories. While graduation will slow Vandegrift a bit, Southall is reloading from a deep talent pool.
5. Cedar Park (29-15, 6A area finalist)
Another second-year coach, Rachel Altman, will bring along several younger players, but 5-11 Shelby Epley in the middle, 5-10 Olivia Meyer on one side and 6-1 Jaelyn Grimm on the other will give the Timberwolves plenty of firepower. They should go as far as their ball control will allow.
6. Round Rock (28-12, 6A playoff qualifier)
Junior outside hitter Lauren Malone has a lightning-fast arm, and while the Dragons lack the height they traditionally have, their ball control should be significantly improved. They have 26 playoff appearances in the past 28 seasons.
7. Rouse (50-4, 5A state finalist)
The Raiders lost four starters off the 2017 state finalists, but the key returning player is outside hitter Grayson Schirpik, who should help them challenge Cedar Park for district top honors.
8. Dripping Springs (35-13, 5A regional semifinalist)
Five straight district titles, a state championship in the recent past, an advantageous district and Tulsa pledge Avery Kalsu are good indicators that the Tigers are favorites for another playoff run.
9. Georgetown (21-21)
The Eagles just missed the playoffs last year, but with setter Emily Herman — an All-Centex utility selection last season — they are poised to challenge Hutto in the realigned District 18-5A.
10. Bowie (26-18, 6A area finalist)
Coach Miguel Saenz worked his magic last season — the Lady Dawgs did not field their starting six until the final district match. Hampered by injuries and a revolving door of accidents, Bowie won its second straight district title, and it will be highly competitive in the new 25-6A.
Others to watch: Lake Travis, St. Michael's Academy, Crockett, Hays, Liberty Hill, Burnet, Giddings, Lago Vista and Thrall
PRESEASON HONOR ROLL
Kylee Becker, 5-10, Sr., Hutto
Becker has a solid arm swing and is quick to the attack. An all-district selection who also plays solid back row defense, she averaged nearly four kills per set last year.
Jada Birkel, 6-1, Sr., Westlake
The Memphis pledge has shown a knack for a high hitting percentage with few errors and strong ball control.
Lauren Malone, 5-10, Jr., Round Rock
The all-district selection was the Dragons' most consistent and efficient hitter, averaging more than three kills per set in 2017.
Grayson Schirpik, 5-9, Jr., Rouse
The high-flying Schirpik averaged more than three kills per set for the state runner-up Raiders. Her flawless defense is a key to Rouse's ball control.
Moorea Wood, 5-11, Sr., St. Michael's
Wood, who has committed to Duke, led the Crusaders to a 2016 TAPPS state championship and a return trip to the state tournament last year. She's an honors student with superior court presence.
Cadi Boyer, 6-3, Sr., Hutto
The Texas Tech pledge was an all-district player last year, averaging more than three kills per set. She's the middle presence anchoring the Hippos' district title hopes.
Maddi Kriz, 6-1, Sr., Westwood
An All-Central Texas selection last year, Kriz excels as both a middle blocker and an outside hitter; the District 13-6A MVP had more than 400 kills last year. She's also a Division I beach volleyball player and was an all-district goalkeeper for Westwood's soccer team two years ago.
Tessa Marshall, 6-0, Sr., Stony Point
As the lone returning starter for last year's district champions, the powerful Marshall will be called upon both offensively and defensively. She's the anchor of the defense.
Delaney Dilfer, 5-8, Jr., Vandegrift
The 2017 Central Texas newcomer of the year led the Vipers to 40 wins, recording 821 assists.
Emery Herman, 6-0, Jr., Georgetown
The All-Central Texas selection was District 19-5A's setter of the year. She added nearly three kills per set for the Eagles.
Avery Kalsu, 5-8, Sr., Dripping Springs
The Tulsa-bound Kalsu has led the Tigers to three straight district titles and has shown incredible court presence in spreading the attack.