Prep Volleyball

For Cedar Rapids Jefferson volleyball, 'the possibilities are endless'

Senior class of 11 has sights set on more than just a return to state

Maddy Baxter sets the ball at a high school volleyball practice at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids last Tuesday. Baxter is a returning second-team all-stater, a Drake University commit and one of 11 seniors this season for the J-Hawks, who are coming off a 39-7 season and a state-tournament berth last year. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Maddy Baxter sets the ball at a high school volleyball practice at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids last Tuesday. Baxter is a returning second-team all-stater, a Drake University commit and one of 11 seniors this season for the J-Hawks, who are coming off a 39-7 season and a state-tournament berth last year. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s an uncommon class, these volleyball seniors at Jefferson High School. Eleven of them have made a mark.

In the next three months, they’ll try to make a deeper one. A brighter one.

A memorable one.

“The possibilities are endless,” libero Kaylee Donner said.

Last fall, Jefferson (39-7) captured the MVC Mississippi Division title, then advanced to its first state tournament in 20 years.

Maddie Slagle has moved on; she’s playing at the University of Iowa now. But all the other key parts are back, both talented and experienced.

“It feels a little bit like a last hurrah,” said Amy Norton, who shares coaching duties with her husband Will.

The Nortons became co-head coaches the same year the current seniors were freshmen (six were on the varsity), and progress has been steady.

From 16-21 to 18-18 to 39-7, to ... well, as Donner said, the possibilities are endless.

“This is our last year, and we’re going to go for it,” outside hitter Sydney Kloubec said.

The J-Hawks already have enjoyed success throughout the summer. Four of them — Donner, Kloubec, setter Maddy Baxter and defensive specialist Raya George — played on a club team that finished second in a national tournament in Detroit. Then they joined the rest of the J-Hawks and won a tournament at Lincoln, Neb.

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They’ll be tested early this season. The Nortons raised the degree of difficulty by entering the J-Hawks into a 16-team event Saturday at Ankeny Centennial. The competition includes defending state champions Cedar Falls (5A) and Dike-New Hartford (2A), plus other big-school title hopefuls Centennial, West Des Moines Valley and Linn-Mar.

They should be up for it.

A University of Northern Iowa commit, Donner is one of four J-Hawks that have made Division-I volleyball vows. Baxter selected Drake, George chose Tennessee Tech, and middle hitter Peyton Brokovich picked North Florida.

Kloubec (2.69 kills per set, .246 kill efficiency) is the top returning hitter, followed by Lindsey Culver (2.43, .309), who is known more for her slugging skills in softball. Meghan Prohaska (1.36, .381) and Maggie Peters (1.12, .330) provide good options out of the middle, with Brokovich ready to assume a significant role.

“A lot of people can play different spots,” Baxter said. If somebody is off, we can change things around ... change our tempo, give a different look.”

Baxter and Donner are the floor generals.

“I need to be more vocal. I need to stay positive,” Donner said. “I need to take up a lot of court and get the ball up every time so the offense can run.”

Jefferson’s state appearance last year was brief, a three-set first-round loss to Linn-Mar.

“I think all the excitement, it was a little too big for us,” Amy Norton said.

Maybe the J-Hawks snuck up on some people last season. Maybe they didn’t. Surely, they won’t this year. They carry a 5A No. 3 preseason state ranking.

After Saturday’s gauntlet at Centennial, Jefferson will begin pursuit of another divisional title. The MVC teams have been reshuffled, and the J-Hawks’ competition in the Valley Division includes Linn-Mar, Dubuque Hempstead, defending 4A state champion Dubuque Wahlert and Iowa City West.

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“There will be no surprising anybody this year,” Norton said. “There will be some long days, some long matches. We didn’t play any fifth sets last year. We have to be prepared for that.

“We won’t win on reputation or expectations.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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