West Platte took second in the KCI Conference and finished with a winning record but bowed out in the first round of Class 1 District 15 play with a three-set loss to Wellington-Napoleon.
Overall, the Bluejays enjoyed a good season (15-11-1, 6-1 KCI), but the expectations remain higher under fifth-year coach Amber Guthrie, who returned to the sideline last year after a season away. To continue competing for championships, they must replace outside hitters Jordan Schultz and Nealie Niemeier along with setter Megan Kottman — the three key pieces to made the offense go last year.
“The girls responded really well to some adjustments that were made,” Guthrie said of her first year back. “We had our moments of greatness as a team last year with some strong returning players that came back and contributed. Although we didn’t necessarily win as many games as we wanted, we had a strong finish.”
West Platte will be undersized but returns an athletic group that will be shifted around to construct a new lineup.
Faith Stevens, a sophomore, will move into the setter role, while Guthrie expects junior Daire Stelljes and freshman Lexie Smither to take over on the outside. Stelljes moves over after a season as an undersized middle hitter.
Those moves allow senior Ciara Davies, the lone returning All-KCI Conference performer on the roster, to stay on the inside.
Karen Knox, a senior, will be counted on for defense and passing, while Emily Norman and Mikayla Lowe round out another four-senior class on a roster of 28. The Bluejays have the youth in place to start building back up but also expect to be competitive again right now.
“We have some really good senior leaders this year, and it’s helping with our team chemistry a lot, I think,” Guthrie said. “We do have a tough district — I assume it’s still the same with Northland Christian. I think if they keep working hard like they have been all summer, they do that through the season, then we can compete.
“I think we’re going to be just as strong as we were.”
West Platte won four straight entering the postseason but ended up with the fourth seed in a strong district that included KC Lutheran, which finished 32-3-1, and Northland Christian, which went on to claim the Class 1 state championship. The same road awaits again for the Bluejays, meaning the youth in new places will need to develop early in order to be ready to make a deeper postseason run.
In 2016, West Platte finished fourth in the early season KCI Conference Tournament but came back to go 6-1 in league play with the lone loss to Mid-Buchanan.