Lady Lions relishing chance for state title rematch to open season

Jason Brown
The Leavenworth Times
Shown from right are Lansing seniors Caitlin Bishop and Olivia Mae Van Der Werff.

One of the most exciting matchups of the Kansas high school volleyball season will be one of the first as Lansing is slated to face Saint Thomas Aquinas to open the season at the St. James Volleyball Slam. 

It will be a rematch of the Class 5A state championship game that saw the Saints come out on top. The Lady Lions earned the runner-up finish but are loaded with returning talent this season and ready for another shot at the champs. 

"We are really looking forward to the Spectrum Slam to face the Saints," head coach Lindsay Zych said, "that will be one fun match."

Zych is entering her second season with Lansing after taking over for Julie Slater. After taking third place at the 5A tournament in Slater's final year with the team, Zych's squad went 25-1 in the regular season and made it to the state championship match. 

The Lady Lions seemed unfazed by the lack of a normal offseason last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now will be coming off a full offseason of activities including a tournament. 

"The offseason has been great in our gym and through our strength and conditioning program at Lansing," Zych said. "It has been a little difficult getting us all there at the same time since so many of our upperclassman are on college visits throughout the summertime. We hosted an eight-team tournament at Lansing High School where we beat Mill Valley in the championship."

Lansing returns nearly all of the major pieces of its runner-up team including all-state selections Olivia Mae Van Der Werff, Caitlin Bishop, Iyannah Jackson and Kamryn Farris, as well as all-conference selection Skylar Weaver. McKenzie Moburg, Makenzie Manthe, Ashlynn Jaccard, Anna Laincz, Viriginia Van Der Werff also return with plenty of varsity experience. 

"She is a player who cannot come off the floor," Zych said of Bishop, "not only because of her skill and high volleyball IQ but because of her leadership. She is definitely a player to look out for on our team this season, she is a major piece of our puzzle that dictates our demeanor and competitiveness."

Zych said despite the strong group of returners, there were still important spots on the roster that would be filled during the first week of practice and tryouts. 

"We have some defensive positions open and it has been fun to see the competition in our gym this summer," she said. "These newcomers will be crucial to our team's success this year."

While it is hard to imagine how a team like Lansing needs to improve after such an impressive season, Zych said she wanted the team to add a different element to their game.

"(We're) focusing on setter/hitter connections and digging in system," Zych said. "Being competitive and finding ways to score. Last year we were known to be scrappy and this year we want to be scrappy and smart when competing."

Beyond having a successful season on the court, the program is putting an emphasis on off-the-court activities and helping athletes get ready for the next step in their academic and athletic careers. 

"We are going to focus a lot on goal setting and team-building activities throughout the season," she said, "in hopes of helping our team stay connected in the ups and the downs of this quick season, also helping the upperclassman prepare for what they will be doing day in and day out at the collegiate level."

"One of our goals as a staff is to help these female athletes grow into confident women with life skills that will carry over throughout their lives."

The Lady Lions and the Saints are set to begin their state title rematch at 5 p.m. Saturday at St. James Academy. The match will be broadcasted on Spectrum Sports.