OMAHA, Neb. (BVM) — High expectations come with the territory when you’ve won five consecutive state titles.
When you’ve won five consecutive state titles and are also considered to be the best high school volleyball team in the country, the expectations are unparalleled. But don’t expect pressure to be the Omaha Skutt SkyHawks’ undoing this season.
“We embrace it,” Skutt coach Renee Saunders said, “We want to be that team. We look forward to the challenge and we want everybody’s best shot. … It’s not like it’s something we’re afraid of. Pressure is sometimes used as a negative word and I think we’ve learned to use it in a positive way.”
The pressure actually makes the SkyHawks want to win even more.
“We have that much bigger of a reason and drive to be the best that we can be,” said senior Lindsay Krause, the reigning Gatorade Nebraska Volleyball Player of the Year. “There is pressure, but we just use it to our advantage. We use it to help us rather than hurt us.”
Skutt was ranked No. 1 among all prep volleyball teams competing this fall in both the MaxPreps and AVCA/USA Today preseason ratings. Led by the returning senior All-American duo of Nebraska commit Krause and Arizona State pledge Allie Gray, the SkyHawks will be favored to win their sixth straight Class B state championship, which would tie the all-class state record for most consecutive state titles. Both Shickley (1987-92) and Bellevue West (1992-97) have previously accomplished the feat.
The chance to make more history isn’t lost on the SkyHawks, but it’s not something they’re focusing on.
“I told the girls that my goal for them was for them to enjoy this year, not be worried about a record or winning state or being No. 1 in the nation,” Saunders said. “They’re cherishing every moment they have together. I think being in a COVID world right now, it makes you not take anything for granted and it makes you appreciate the little things a little bit more. Things that maybe you took for granted before, you’re not now.”
That statement holds true even for a player like Krause who’s already accomplished what most players could only dream of at the high school level and is headed for a college career with one the most successful Division I programs of all time.
“I want to go out staying on top and I want to go out with a bang,” said Krause, a 6-foot-3 hitter who averaged 5.4 kills per set last season and is ranked by prepvolleyball.com as the No. 2 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2021. “You just want to work harder for it and you want to make sure that everybody on your team is working for each other and we’re gonna be able to do this for each other and hopefully the younger girls understand and everybody understands the culture of what we expect in this program.”
If their early-season performance is any indication, opponents can expect the SkyHawks to be just as tough to compete with as they’ve ever been. They’re off to a 7-0 start and have yet to drop a set. One of those wins came against defending Class A state champion Papillion La Vista South, which was rated No. 9 in the AVCA/USA Today national preseason rankings.
“Part of the goal with this team is to maintain a high level of play from start to finish this season,” Saunders said, “and that means in every set, in every match, in every practice and that’s something that we’re really focused on.”
The SkyHawks’ focus is unwavering — regardless of the sky-high expectations and pressure that come with being the team everyone is waiting to see get knocked off its perch.
“We know we’re the target and we’re just going to push every day to continue being No. 1,” said Gray, a 5-11 setter who averaged 12 assists per set last year is ranked by prepvolleyball.com as the No. 34 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2021. “I don’t think that pressure really means anything to us right now. We’re kind of just going; we’re grinding and we want to be the last one standing and that’s what we’re shooting for.”