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5A, 4A volleyball preview: The top players, state title contenders from the Treasure Valley

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After years of looking up to Eastern Idaho powers, the Treasure Valley’s 5A and 4A high school volleyball teams enter the season gunning to bring a title back to the Boise region.

No 5A Southern Idaho Conference team has won a state championship since Rocky Mountain in 2010. And the only 4A titles to ever come home to the Treasure Valley were Skyview’s in 2016 and 2017. Skyview has since moved up to the 5A ranks.

So who can contend for a coveted blue trophy as the state tournaments move to Northern Idaho? And which players will make the largest impacts this fall?

These are the top candidates.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Megan Schulte, Timberline

The outside hitter broke out as a sophomore last year as a middle blocker, putting fear into opponents as a high-flying and powerful hitter. The junior has verbally committed to a Division I scholarship from Lehigh in Pennsylvania.

“Megan is an extremely physical hitter who can absolutely take over a game,” Skyview coach Kevin Murphy said. “She’s a great athlete who can score just as well out of the back row. She’s strong and talented enough to put a team on her back and carry them.”

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Skyview’s Karen Murphy fires a shot down the line for a point during last year’s district championship match against Timberline. Darin Oswald doswald@idahostatesman.com

Karen Murphy, Skyview

All the Division-I talent flowing out of Skyview has overshadowed Murphy at times. But the senior setter enters her fourth year as a starter, where the seasoned veteran keeps Skyview and its potent offense rolling. The reigning first-team all-state selection remains a threat to score as a setter or off the serve, and she’s secured her own Division I future with a commitment to Dartmouth.

“She’s a high-level player that knows the game like the back of her hand,” Rocky Mountain coach Courtney Toney said.

Maddy Baldwin, Eagle

After earning second-team all-conference honors, multiple coaches describe the senior outside hitter as a weapon who swings a heavy arm. Her athleticism and tenacious drive allow her to play bigger than her listed size.

“She swings to get the kill and has the want to win,” Toney said.

Miya Koch, Centennial

Koch made a name for herself on the all-conference first team as a sophomore. Now the junior setter and right-side hitter has made herself even better, opposing coaches noted. She’s stepping into a larger role as a setter, where her court vision pays off. And she’s still a load to handle at the net.

“She puts up a big block and has an arm to match,” Murphy said.

Morgan Lamb, Timberline

The Wolves gambled and started Lamb as a freshman setter. Three years later, Timberline is rewarded with a weapon with two years of starting experience under her belt who is only improving by the day. Opposing coaches praised her for her attention to detail, excelling at facets of the game that don’t always show up in the box score.

“She runs an efficient offense, has great court awareness and always puts her hitters in a position to be successful,” Boise coach Ashley Holt said.

Isabell Ipsen, Centennial

The senior middle blocker will remain in the state next year after verbally committing to Idaho State. But opponents still have to contend with her commanding presence at the net for one more year, and she remains the Patriots’ unquestioned leader on and off the floor.

“She’s a quick attack and a big block that can change the momentum of the game in an instant,” Toney said.

Cece Fitz, Bishop Kelly

The 6-foot middle blocker and first-team all-conference honoree has verbally committed to a Division I scholarship from La Salle in Philadelphia. Her athleticism, aggressiveness and intensity at the net make her a force that alters game plans night in and night out.

“She’s a playmaker who poses a threat on offense and defense,” Columbia coach Cathy Curtis said.

Courtney Weatherby, Kuna

The Kavemen can turn to Weatherby all over the court. A first-team all-conference pick as a sophomore, she returns for her junior season primarily as an outside hitter. But she can also step back and pose a threat as a setter.

“Courtney will be a challenge to defend when she is attacking in the front row and will pass and serve very solid in the back row,” Emmett coach Brittany Regli said. “She will take a lot of teams out of their system.”

Carissa Chainey, Middleton

The junior outside hitter won’t tower over defenses. But she packs a powerful swing. And more importantly, she can adjust on the fly to locate and exploit holes in the defense.

“She excels as an attacker,” Regli said. “She’s a smart player who uses smart shots to find ways to score.”

5A SIC BREAKDOWN

THE FAVORITE: Timberline, last year’s district runner-up and fourth-place finisher at state, returns five starters gunning to retake its place atop the 5A SIC. Schulte and Lamb give the Wolves two potent offensive weapons, but Timberline also has depth all over the court, including four players who can contribute in the middle.

THE CONTENDERS: After missing state last year, Eagle remains a favorite to make it back with four returning starters. Baldwin and senior middle blocker Brecklyn Reese give the Mustangs a potent front row. But Eagle coach Collin Hartman said the Mustangs have improved as passers and severs, leading to a more balanced attack than in recent years.

Opponents will struggle to put away points against Rocky Mountain with senior libero and defensive specialist Anna Kjaer leading a tough defense. She’ll team with outside hitters Ella Ebright and Grace Cooper to fire the ball back at opponents. But consistency with a young squad remains a concern, Toney said.

THE DARK HORSES: The move to 5A didn’t slow Skyview, which won a regular-season title, its eighth consecutive district championship and reached the state finals for the fourth year in a row. You won’t find a Bower on the court this year with Morgan and Whitney at BYU and Eden out with an injury. But Murphy and four-year starting outside hitter Molly Anderson give the Hawks two potent weapons to build around.

Centennial returns four starters after missing state, but the Patriots field a multi-talented roster. Ipsen and Koch remain two of the league’s top weapons. Senior outside hitter Gianna Haener already has two years experience as a captain and can play all six positions. And sophomore London Ipsen can also play anywhere on the floor.

4A SIC BREAKDOWN

THE FAVORITES: Middleton edged Kuna by a single point in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Vikings stand as the league’s regular-season champ, reigning district champ and placed third at state a year ago. Middleton remains an offensive force, but it starts the year short on experience with just two returning starters.

Kuna, on the other hand, returns all six starters after finishing behind Middleton at every turn a year ago. Weatherby and senior Ryann Halladay give the Kavemen two dynamic outside hitters to lead an athletic lineup bent on dethroning the Vikings.

THE CONTENDER: Bishop Kelly returns a deep and experienced lineup with five returning starters after missing last year’s state tournament. All that returning talent has the Knights strong on defense, where Fitz serves as the first obstacle alongside senior setter Analise Hitchcok and senior libero and outside hitter Helen Sullivan.

THE DARK HORSE: Columbia brings back four starters from a team that snapped the school’s nine-year drought of state tournament appearances. The Wildcats don’t have the height of the state’s top programs and must find a replacement for Madison Anderson after an ACL tear. But tough serving and defense remain hallmarks of the program.

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Michael Lycklama has covered Idaho high school sports since 2007. He’s won national awards for his work uncovering the stories of the Treasure Valley’s best athletes and investigating behind-the-scenes trends.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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