Big year brews in summer heat/Player profile on Karli Schmidt

This could be awesome.

Last season, the reputable prep volleyball program that Lansing High School has become once again delivered on its promise, qualifying for the 2016 Class 5A state finals in Topeka.

The Lions fell in the quarterfinals, but knowing they would be returning a ton of talent back was enough to make the program well aware that success would continue a year later.

Now they not only have players like Lacey Angello, Rachel Fairbanks, Courtney Rexroat, Kennedy Farris and more coming back, but they have also added some heavy hitters through transfers and development.

What was once a smallish team that dominated with its defense and precise hitting with the occasional bomb by Fairbanks has morphed into a squad with the potential to hit missiles from all points of the floor, put up a bigger block and bomb away at the opposition. 

Yes, the Lions could be a 5A state champion for the first time ever especially with six or seven potential DI recruits on the roster, including a few that have already verbally committed to programs (Angello at Kansas, Farris at Missouri State).

“Before we were 5A we won a state title in 4A in 2002,” coach Sara Slater said during the team’s camp in June. “Since the jump to 5A the best we've done at state is fourth place (2007, 2009, 2010) so we are anxious to get back and do some damage. 

“We had a ton of talent in our gym this week. A lot of these girls are playing high level club volleyball in the offseason and I think they're bringing that type of competitiveness back to Lansing. They're certainly pushing each other on the court, but get along like family. A long-time tradition for our Lansing volleyball program is to say, ‘humble in victory, pride in defeat,’ before every game and I know these girls will carry that on and remain humble with any success that comes our way.”

The returning players see what has come their way in the offseason and understand what is in front of them.

“A lot of the girls coming up from the JV team and new girls coming from other schools are really tall,” Farris said. “We’re going to have a block and still have good ball control. That’s going to have a huge impact this year and our results. We have the potential for sure, but it will depend on how we play together and our chemistry.”

Farris acknowledged that the drive for a first 5A title ring has kept the team grounded.

One thing that should be grounded is the floor below as the team will be able to take some pressure off of Fairbanks as Lansing’s lone player able to terminate over the top of defenses. That will open up more scoring for the smart hitting of players like Angello who should see more solo-block opportunities to devastate.

“It’s going to be very important because now it’s not going to be only about finding the holes (in the block and defense), but you can smack the ball and it’s going to work because it’s so hard driven,” Angello said. “The height on our team definitely changed this year. Instead of strictly having a ‘bomb’ defense, now we have a really good offense. With that it’s not more about who can see the holes, but who can actually put the ball away. We have options.

“The changes the other teams are going to make is to either step up more because we can terminate or putting up a bigger block. They might put a triple block up in the middle or something along those lines to keep us off-balance.”

Despite the new bomb squad available for the Lions, the team still hangs its head on defense.

“It will be a lot easier too, because we have a block to play off of, so it won’t just be anywhere and everywhere,” Farris said. “We will also get better at practice because we will have big hitters to hit at us to help us improve.”

Angello has enjoyed summer volleyball even though she would like to be hitting the pool a bit more.

“I like summer volleyball because it’s before season and is a time for everyone to get used to each other,” Angello said. “We get used to how we play, personalities and who has good attitudes, maybe bad attitudes. You have a chance to see what the season will look like and so when we get into season, nobody is shocked because we have a better bond.”

Camp gave the coaching staff the ability to assess what the Lions have to work with and it’s clear that the preseason prognostications of a potential title is bonafide.

“After having team camp this week, I'd have to say this is probably the highest level of volleyball I've ever seen being played at Lansing,” Slater said. “There were moments I was just in awe of how much talent and depth there is this upcoming year. Our offense this year will be the most powerful it's ever been. 

“Rachel is looking better than ever and has no fear when she plays so we're excited about her being a leader up in the front row for us. Then we'll be able to balance that out with a stellar defense led by Lacey and Kennedy and a great senior setter, Courtney. We're definitely going to be missing sophomore McKinzie Weaver this year who will be out with an ACL injury all season, but are hoping for a healthy recovery for her.”

Despite being blessed now with an embarrassment of riches and tall bodies, the Lions have kept their head down and kept grinding.

“Even with all of the talent they have, these girls don't let it get to their head,” Slater said. “We've created a strong culture here at Lansing and put the team first always. We have no issues with egos so that makes it easy on us coaches. We're going to have a lot of goals we want to accomplish this year and I trust they will remain focused and hungry in trying to achieve those.”

PLAYER PROFILE: Karli Schmidt

Former Raider makes move, plays like a Lion

One set of doors closed and another opened for Lansing High sophomore Karli Schmidt.

Schmidt is new to Lansing and not because she transferred to the school just to do so. Schmidt was a student who attended and enjoyed the offerings of Immaculata High School before its sudden closing at the end of the recently completed school year.

Before departing the school after her first year of high school, Schmidt made her mark on the volleyball court, becoming one of the best players in the state in Class 1A-I for a Raiders’ team that missed the state finals by one match.

Needing a new home, Schmidt matriculated to Lansing and is now being considered a key member of a very good Class 5A volleyball squad.

“We're very excited about Karli coming to our program,” Lansing coach Sara Slater said. “We've been watching her for a long time and have always been impressed with her play. She's extremely coachable and respectful and seems to really be mixing well with the girls on and off the court.”

Her new teammates appreciate her presence on the Lions.

“She’s a beast,” junior veteran Lion Kennedy Farris said. 

“Playing-wise the block is definitely there and that’s something we didn’t have last year and we didn’t have a good go-to,” senior Lacey Angello said. “Now, I feel (setter) Courtney (Rexroat) is going to have options and Karli is going to be one of our go-tos this year. She definitely can put the ball away. If she is having a bad day, we have other options, but she is definitely fitting in.”

Schmidt isn’t afraid to admit her disappointment in IMAC’s closing, but also how well she has fit in with her new program.

“It’s a good transition and momentum going into the season and I see us doing great things,” Schmidt said. “But, also with my school closing, it was a blessing and a curse. It’s going to work out, though.

“IMAC was tight-knit and a family and here, going into this, it’s not that different and everyone seems to get each other. We could do great things with the chemistry we have.”

Playing at a 1A school like IMAC and then moving up to Class 5A play against bigger bodies across the board and in most cases, more athletic opposition will be in an adjustment, but Schmidt also acknowledges that her freshman year with the Raiders came in quite handy.

“It was my first year playing in high school and playing in varsity and knowing what high school is all about,” Schmidt said. “I think last year I was pushed and helped me be the player I am now.

“Here, you have to really fight for your position and that will help you become a better player in the long run. 

“We had a lot of potential at IMAC and had a lot of momentum. We are going our separate ways now and I’m sure they will all succeed wherever they go.”

When she isn’t making the transition from IMAC to Lansing, Schmidt still finds a way to just be a kid – by playing more volleyball.

“All I really do is play volleyball,” Schmidt said. “I do sand and I practice it all the time. Track and working out in the offseason helps me push myself so I can be a better player. 

“I do watch a lot of Netflix. I watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ for a while. ‘Untold Stories of the ER’ is a good one and I watch ‘New Girl.’ That’s good.”