To keep raising banners, Columbia River volleyball keeps raising standards.
In their quest for a third consecutive Class 2A state championship, this year’s Rapids team is aiming to be the best of the three.
A team that returns five seniors believes it is more polished, more mature and more confident than its two title-winning predecessors.
“The difference is that we’ve hit the ground running from the start,” Rapids coach Breanne Smedley said. “Everything has been smooth from the beginning. I think that’s a testament to us having won two state championships together.”
Columbia River showed a take-no-prisoner’s attitude Wednesday against Skyview. One day after cruising past Woodland in the season opener, the Rapids took care of the Class 4A Storm in three sets (25-11, 25-12, 25-11).
In a mostly full and muggy Columbia River gym, the rival student sections traded good-natured chants. But once River’s volleyball dominance became clear, Skyview’s students shifted their taunts toward the upcoming football game between the schools on Friday.
“It was so nice to see all the school coming together and Skyview as well,” River senior setter Macey McCoy said. “It’s always fun to have a rivalry game. The energy is really high and that brought our playing up.”
Lauren Dreves, an Auburn commit who is one of the state’s top recruits in the Class of 2024, led all players with 17 kills.
“In the offseason Lauren has really focused on her leadership,” Smedley said. “She has been doing an amazing job out there. Skill-wise she’s still phenomenal and unstoppable. But what is different this year is she has really embraced the role of senior captain.”
But key to River’s recent dominance is that it’s not just about one player. Junior Sydney Dreves had 11 kills, nine digs and five aces Wednesday. Senior libero Ellie Ogee had nine digs and two aces.
“I feel like we’re very mature,” Lauren Dreves said. “A lot of the seniors have been on the team since their sophomore year. I feel like they’ve worked so hard to build the program to where it is now.”
A crucial piece to this year’s success is McCoy, who took over the setter’s role Sophie Worden, who graduated after earning first-team all-state honors.
McCoy, who had 27 assists against Skyview, has made a seamless transition into one of the team’s most vital roles.
“She has exceeded our expectations,” Smedley said. “We knew she was going to be great but she has come in even better. She has amazing tempo. Our hitters are connecting with her so well.”
McCoy said she has been preparing for taking on the setter’s role since last year.
Lauren Dreves, who is working with her third different setter in as many seasons couldn’t be happier with McCoy.
“It’s so nice to have such a great setter,” she said. “She gives you clean, fast balls all the time.”
Since 2016, four teams Class 2A or larger have won back-to-back state volleyball titles, including Ridgefield in 2018-19. Columbia River is aiming to be the first to win three straight championships since Bellarmine Prep in 2012-14.
The Rapids know it won’t be easy.
“The coaches have pushed us really hard because they know everyone is coming after us,” McCoy said. “Oh you’ve won two state titles? We’re coming after you.”
Nebraska record reverberates
On August 30, Nebraska volleyball became the talk of the sport when it drew 92,003 fans to watch its match against Omaha. It set the world record for the largest crowd to attend a women’s sporting event.
Lauren Dreves will join the ranks of major college volleyball next season when she attends Auburn. She said watching such a massive show of enthusiasm for volleyball in Nebraska has reverberated with players throughout the sport, which has seen dramatic rises in NCAA attendance, viewership and youth participation in the past 10 years.
“It’s just awesome to see how much support volleyball gets,” she said. “It’s such a fun and amazing sport. Honestly, I wanted to be at that game. Watching Nebraska, they’re such an amazing team. Their players are so good. The fact that that many people came out to watch the sport of volleyball just shows how big the support in the community is.”