By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
After two weeks of practices it is finally go time for volleyball teams across the state.
The first volleyball matches of the season are Monday starting a busy three-month stretch that concludes at the state tournament at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids Nov. 7-10.
As the curtain raises on this season here are some of the top storylines to follow leading up to the state tournament.
Show Time at Liberty High
It’s a clean slate for the Lightning and head coach Randy Dolson as Liberty High debuts its varsity program this fall.
Dolson was named head coach in April and has a history of building up programs quickly making nine state tournament appearances in 10 seasons at Dubuque Hempstead and West High.
This is different for Dolson as the Lightning will feature a roster of almost entirely freshman and sophomores while competing as a Class 4A squad this fall.
The debut team at Liberty High will be lacking experience and height this fall but Dolson likes the energy and enthusiasm of his first team.
Liberty hosts Solon in its first varsity contest on August 22.
New Faces in Familiar Places
Dolson isn’t the only coach in a new spot in 2017 though the other two first-year coaches in the area are anything but strangers.
Scott Sanders takes over for Dolson at West High after eight years as an assistant coach at West and Jordyn Akers returns to her alma mater, taking the reins of the Regina program from Kara Kimm.
West High is coming off a 23-15 season that ended with a third consecutive trip to the Class 5A state tournament.
Sanders inherits a team with just two returning players with starting experience but plenty of young talent with a blueprint for winning.
Akers makes her head coaching debut at her alma mater after spending the past three seasons as an assistant at Solon.
She becomes the second member of her family to lead the volleyball program at Regina. Her mother Robin was the head coach at Regina from 2006 to 2009.
Home Court Edge
The Mississippi Valley Conference Tournament has seemed to bring out the best in City High over the past several seasons.
City High won the MVC tourney title in 2014 before falling in the quarterfinals each of the past two seasons.
This year the Little Hawks will have home court advantage on their side as City High hosts the one-day marathon tournament on Oct. 14.
City High finished 20-15 last season.
The Road Back to State
West High was the only area team to reach the state tournament last season with City High and West Branch both falling in regional final matches.
No area team has a state tournament draught longer than three seasons, with Regina the only team to not have qualified for state since 2014.
The Regals are after their first state tournament appearance since 2013 while Clear Creek Amana, Solon and City High last reached state in 2014 and West Branch qualified in 2015.
Well Known Champions
Last season was a good one for traditional powers around the state.
The five state champions last season own a combined 51 titles with perennial powers and 2016 champions Dubuque Wahlert, Dike-New Hartford and Western Christian accounting for 45.
Dubuque Wahlert won its state-best 18th title capturing the 4A crown, Dike New-Hartford won title number 12 with the 3A title and Western Christian won its 15th title and second straight 2A crown.
The other two title winners are no strangers to the winners’ circle.
Ankeny Centennial won its third straight Class 5A title while Janesville won the Class 1A crown for the third time in four seasons.