State champs Pioneer, top area setters represented on All-RTC volleyball team
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The local high school volleyball scene was dominated by Pioneer. Ranked No. 3 going into the state tournament, they went on a storybook run to the state title. They beat powerhouse teams like Northfield, Lakewood Park, Cowan and Loogootee along the way.
This was also the year of the setter. We had three great ones in the area: Pioneer’s Olivia Brooke, Rochester’s Molly Conley and Tippecanoe Valley’s Hannah Engstrand.
Setters like Culver’s Maddie Shedrow and Winamac’s Aubrey Gearhart also had outstanding seasons.
It was the year of “Jo” (Pioneer’s Mackenzie Walker) and “Gigi” (Engstrand) and “Bel” (Caston’s Isabel Scales).
As far as choosing an area Player of the Year, it seemed like a choice between three Pioneer players. Olivia Brooke was the brains of the team, Madison Blickenstaff was the soul, and Hailey Cripe was the heart.
This is our list. We make the rules. So let’s split the award three ways. Brooke, Blickenstaff and Cripe are co-Players of the Year.
This list was compiled after spending quite a few weeknights in high school gyms this fall as well as one memorable Saturday morning in Muncie.
We thank area coaches for helping educate us, but this list is our own, and we take full responsibility.
All-RTC volleyball team
Olivia Brooke (Pioneer) – Brooke was imposing but also thoughtful, more athletic than your typical setter but she was also one step ahead of the opponents all year. She was a master at the jump set.
Madison Blickenstaff (Pioneer) – The Ohio Christian recruit was a punishing hitter and capable of hitting any shot on any line.
Hailey Cripe (Pioneer) – Cripe was a complete player – serving, digging, hitting and, most importantly, competing.
Maggie Smith (Winamac) – Smith might best be known as a middle hitter, but she was a do-it-all player. She could play front row or back and was a great server, hitter and blocker.
Kaitlin Rogers (Rochester) – Rogers had 310 kills for a sectional championship team, and she also had 50-plus blocks and a strong serve. Quite simply, she raised her game to another level.
Mackenzie Walker (Pioneer) – Walker had the first 500-500 season I’ve ever seen in 17 years of covering the sport. She had over 500 digs and 500 serves received. She also had 88 kills, and all of them were timely.
Hannah Engstrand (Tippecanoe Valley) – Engstrand graduated with basically every assist record in Valley history – in a match, in a season and in a career. She was a very athletic player who had eyes in the back of her head.
Molly Conley (Rochester) – Like Engstrand, Conley also finished with over 2,000 career assists. She disguised her sets well and her variety gave the Lady Z offense extra spice.
Maddi Smith (Caston) – Caston went from eight wins last year to 12 wins this year, and one could argue they played a tougher schedule this year. Smith led the Lady Comets in kills, digs and serves received.
Delaney Wagoner (Tippecanoe Valley) – Wagoner could jump through the roof and her crosscourt shot from the outside was typically automatic.
Hannah Houston (Rochester) – Houston had 182 kills and 58 blocks and was an absolute jumping jack in the Lady Z front row.
Maddie Shedrow (Culver) – Shedrow led Culver in kills, aces, blocks, digs and serves received. She was extraordinarily valuable to her team.
Dalanie Chipps (Rochester)
Mackenzie Robinson (Pioneer)
Isabel Scales (Caston)
Chloe Harris (Rochester)
Ella Gearhart (Winamac)
Brayden Baney (Tippecanoe Valley)
Aubrey Gearhart (Winamac)
Bree Sheetz (Tippecanoe Valley)
Carlie Morris (Pioneer)
Abby Williamson (Caston)
Addison Zimpleman (Caston)
Brooklyn Borges (Pioneer)
RTC CO Volleyball Players of the Year (All from Pioneer)