32nd District volleyball preview: Simon Kenton seeks sixth straight title

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Amy Marx liked the feeling.

Simon Kenton’s volleyball coach begins her eighth season in Independence with something she’s never experienced – 11 players (plus senior Tiffanie Alo, a transfer from Hawaii) returning from the 2022 squad that won its fifth straight 32nd District title.

The Pioneers’ 16-20 record last year was not what it seemed. The Pioneers’ schedule included matches against state semifinalist Bowling Green, defending state champion Notre Dame, 16th Region champion and state quarterfinalist Boyd County, First Region winner McCracken County, and defending Eighth Region champion North Oldham.

“If you look at our opponents, I did that on purpose,” Marx said. “We played mostly all high-level ball because I had a young squad, and I wanted them to get better. I wasn’t concerned with my record.”

Marx thought this year’s tryouts were tougher than she’s ever had.

“We had our largest tryout ever; we had to cut 17 girls from our program,” Marx said. “I’ve never had to do that before.”

Simon Kenton has height this year: 6-foot junior middle hitter Keira Hans, whose 258 kills and 333 digs led the team; 6-foot sophomore Jenna Kitchen (191 kills); and 5-11 senior Alisha Hawkins (229 kills and a team-high 52 blocks); and 5-10 senior Sophie Spanier (226 kills).

“Keira and Sophie last year were all-around players; we used them in the back row also,” Marx said. “Alisha and Jenna purely got those numbers by their front-row attacks.”

Senior setter Sadie Rehkamp is the likely the primary setter; she dished 812 of the team’s 938 assists (nearly 87%), with Alo junior Ceanna Scalf contributing.

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Simon Kenton has reached the Eighth Region final three times – 2012, ’20 and ’21.

Walton-Verona (8-22 last year)

First-year coach Katelyn Sallee is not new to Northern Kentucky – she’s a 2005 Simon Kenton alumna, and she compiled a 145-81 record at Highlands from 2014-20. She said a call from Walton-Verona athletic director Kyle Bennett persuaded her to lead the Bearcats.

“My family’s in the district now …,” Sallee said. “I think my daughter might want to play someday, too.”

Junior setter Amber Hall and sophomore hitter Bella O’Brien are back. Hall served 316 assists last year, and O’Brien’s 146 kills were a team-high.

Walton-Verona’s Bella “O’Brien (right) and Amber Hall. Photo provided | Katelyn Sallee

“(Hall) might not be the only setter; she might not be the only one, but she’s definitely one of our leading setters,” Sallee said. “(O’Brien’s) definitely one of our best offensive weapons.”

Walton-Verona also has some front-line size; freshman Chloe McIntosh and sophomore Lily Vandiver stands 5 feet, 10 inches, and O’Brien’s next at 5-9.

Sallee wasn’t sure which formations she’ll use.

“I’m not trying to be secretive, but I don’t know yet,” she said. “We have a lot of options; we’ve got potentially three setters. They’re working hard – I’m working hard – to figure out what’s best.”

What Sallee and the Bearcats know: they want the first winning season since 2020 – and to win more than eight games.

“We’re shooting for quite a bit more than that,” Sallee said. “We’ve got a lot of goals, and (winning more than eight) is one of them.”

Williamstown (15-13)

The Demons were the district’s lone over-.500 team in coach Maddie Morgan’s first year, but just 2-4 in the district.

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This year’s squad is youthful with just two seniors, middle hitter Gracey Crump and setter Jolee Litz, whose 369 assists were a shade over 90% of the team’s 408.

Junior middle hitter Abby Knarr had 116 kills and 44 blocks.

Grant County (10-10)

The Braves, the district runner-up, continued an upward spiral – they were 0-8 in 2020 and 6-11 in 2021.

Senior setters Jill Saylor and Kaidyn Hudson had 139 and 105 assists, respectively. 

Senior middle blocker Sarah Russell and senior outside hitter Amelia Dawalt could be front-line threats. Dawalt amassed a team-high 92 kills, and Russell had 71 kills and 87 blocks.

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