When the 2021 campaign started, Springville volleyball coach Claude Howard Jr. knew he had an extremely special collection of talent capable of doing some amazing things on the court this fall.

The only question? Could the Orioles win the ‘big’ game and get over the hump and become a true state championship contender?

After earning their eighth state tournament appearance in school history this past fall, their sixth in the last seven years and seventh in the past nine, could the Orioles make it past the semi-final round and give themselves a shot at a coveted state title?

Anyone who watched the Springville girls compete this past fall knows the answer to all of those questions.

A resounding yes!

“All season long the strength of this team was a collective feeling that they wanted to always do their best to win for each other,” said Howard Jr., who guided the Orioles to one of the greatest campaigns in school history not only reaching the class 1A state tournament championship game against top-ranked Burlington-Notre Dame earlier this month, but winning Tri-Rivers Conference regular season and tournament titles as well.

“I think they all learned valuable lessons about the mental and emotional strength it takes to be truly successful. The kids persevered all season through a number of tough moments and won the right ones. The last two seasons they lost a lot of big games. This season they won almost all of them. Our offense had the second-best overall efficiency in program history. We had record-setters on offense and defense and we had kids really learn how to be their best in every situation.”

The pain of past losses led the Springville girls to a phenomenal 35-5 overall record this past fall that also included a perfect 7-0 mark against a loaded Tri-Rivers Conference West division field.

The Orioles’ run through the class 1A regional playoffs was also historic not dropping a single set against Don Bosco (quarter-final), Edgewood-Colesburg (semi-final) and St. Ansgar (final).

“Once we beat (top-5 state-ranked) Lisbon at the beginning of the season (Sept. 9), I knew things would be different this season and felt good about the conference,” said Howard Jr., as his team stayed among the top-5 ranked teams in 1A all season long.

“That game defined our mental capacity and emotional toughness. The kids prepared better through film this season and really embraced the one game at a time mantra. I think the development of Kennady Breitfelder as a six-rotation player/dominant hitter and Lauren Wilson embracing being a primary outside hitter made the difference this season. It was big to have that much offensive power at our pins. We were already strong in the middle, so that made a difference.”

Wilson was one of an impressive collection of nine seniors on the Oriole roster this fall, five of whom (Wilson, Savannah Nealman, Grace Matus, Morgan Nachazel and Kelcie Clothier) were regular rotation standouts.

Matus completed one of the greatest back row campaigns any Springville player has ever witnessed coming up with 445 digs while also serving the volleyball at a 97-percent clip with 40 going for aces.

“Grace as been a mainstay defensively and a team captain the last two years” Howard Jr. said. “She is the best libero Springville has ever had and kept the team moving forward with her defense.”

Wilson led a loaded Oriole offense with 266 kills.

“Lauren has been a hammer, but allowing her to serve this year and just be a volleyball player was tremendous for us,” Howard Jr. said. “Not her favorite sport, but she was a difference-maker for us.”

Nealman was another in the long line of outstanding hitters Howard Jr. had at his disposal drilling 178 kills while also adding depth to the serving corps connecting at a 95-percent clip with 68 aces (second on the team).

“Savannah has been steady her whole career,” Howard Jr. said. “No flashy numbers, but loves volleyball and loves her team. I would not have wanted to have these last few years with her, and a team captain.”

Nachazel adjusted roles this season and made the most of it patrolling the back row after spending the first three years in the program as a hitter in the front row.

“Morgan made a position change this season to a defensive specialist and embraced the role,” Howard Jr. said. “She was steady all season and the best mindset I have seen from her since she started playing. She grew and the team was the better for it.”

Clothier took advantage of the chance at cracking into the varsity line-up this fall and made a difference with her play on the court.

“Kelcie made her biggest impact this year and was an important role player for this team,” Howard Jr. said. “She finished strong with a great state tournament, too.”

Liz Blakely, Abby Christensen, Kailee Hoge and Kailee Jacobs added to the incredible success of the program as role players.

“Abby backed up Nia (Howard) and was amazing to practice against,” Howard Jr. said. “She may have never had the chance to the ‘the kid’ out there, but having her in this program made all our kids better.

“Liz has been a wonderful leader and cares deeply about her team. Kailee Hoge and Kailee Jacobs were great in their support roles as well. You miss them because they have been with us since the fifth grade. A lot of experience walked out of the Alliant Center.”

While over half of the roster won’t be back next season, Howard Jr. still returns a bevy of talented players led by his own daughter Nia, who put together one of the greatest campaigns in school history not only setting a school-record 920 assists, but she added 121 kills, 289 digs, 27 blocked shots and served the volleyball at a 94-percent clip with 71 aces.

Breitfelder, Lily Clark, Molly Stamp and Ashlynne Zaruba also return with vasty experience and were extremely important cogs in the 2021 run while Hannah March only adds to the depth for next season’s team.

Breitfelder was sensational in 2021 hammering down 228 kills while Clark not only led the defense with 62 blocks, but also drilled 182 kills and at a team-best .399 efficiency.

“We have five kids coming back who have played three years of varsity and have been to three state tournaments,” Howard Jr. said. “Molly and Lily as middles, Kennady on the right side, Nia setting and Ashlynne taking over the libero role. That is a great core for our team next season. The great thing is that they all have the same feeling about winning and are great leaders. They will attack next season hard and want to match this success.

“We have some young kids who will develop in the off-season. Hannah is up and coming and will have an impact next season. We also have kids like Rachel and Renee Brecht, Allisun Fah as well as Carsyn Clothier who could contribute. Our in-coming freshmen have some talent as well. I think if we can have a good off-season and summer, there is no reason the 2022 team isn’t looking at another conference title and state run.”

Recommended for you