With high expectations, Cheney volleyball hoping 2020 is their year
The Cardinals are seeking their first ever championship in the sport
WICHITA, Kan. (Catch it Kansas) -
The 2020 Cheney volleyball roster features a trio of standout seniors: Lexi Cline, Kylie Scheer and Camdyn Pipkin. Four juniors are among key returners: Olivia Albers, Brooklyn Wewe, Korri Lies and Lacy Luehrs.
The group are longtime best friends and have been together since Little League. The seven Cardinals made a group text when the current seniors were freshmen. They called it “State Champs.”
Entering 2020, the girls continue to engage daily on the chat.
“Even if it’s not talking about sports or anything, we are always talking in it, talking about what happened throughout the day,” Cline said.
In ’19 track, Wewe and Luehrs, then freshmen, ran on the Cardinal 400-meter relay that captured the 3A crown in 49.95 seconds. Cheney has posted excellent seasons in volleyball, basketball, softball and track, but the current group has not won a team title.
This year, Cheney returns 89 percent of its kills, along with 70 percent of its blocks and digs from a 33-11 squad that finished in fourth place in Class 3A for 12th year coach Sara Walkup. The top-four in kills are back, led by Scheer’s 265. Albers delivered 221, while Anna Martin collected 150 as a freshman. Pipkin was fourth at 143.
In basketball, the Cardinals have Scheer, the two-time 3A Player of the Year, and 99 percent of its points from a 21-3 squad. In Kansas, Scheer was third in scoring at 23.9 points a contest, and Cline, the point guard, finished top-20 in assists at 4.1 per game.
Cheney adds Scott City junior transfer Brynn McCormick, an elite basketball player and a possible role player in volleyball. McCormick’s mother, Sarah, is from Cheney, and they have family in the area.
This volleyball season will likely feature several COVID restrictions, though as of Aug. 24, Cheney is expected to have a season. Weekend tournaments will be shortened, teams won’t switch sides during matches and masks must be worn often, among other protocols.
“We have got a lot of good stuff going on,” Walkup said. “That’s why I really want to play, and I keep telling the girls, ‘Just put your masks on.’”
Scheer and Wewe are returning first team all-league volleyball, Albers was second team and Pipkin honorable mention.
Of the 21 players named to Kansas Volleyball Association 3A all-state team, nine were non-seniors. Wewe was second team, and Scheer honorable mention.
Walkup labeled the volleyball team “fierce competitors” and one of the more athletic teams she’s ever had. Walkup said the ’20 team’s versatility is rare in her tenure.
“Always talked about winning a state championship,” Cline said.
Cheney has seven athletic state championships (five girls, two boys). Volleyball and softball have never won state titles. Walkup is 361-87 with four top-three state finishes, according to MaxPreps and KSHSAA archives.
In June, respected Wichita Eagle reporter Taylor Eldridge named Walkup among the 50 most influential women in the Wichita sports community.
“I think the whole team wants to win a state title, but I think more importantly, we want to win it for her, because she deserves it,” Wewe said. “She’s the best coach I’ve ever had, and I think that she deserves it more than anybody in this gym. She knows what she is talking about.”
Girls’ basketball won in ’10 with a 26-0 mark. Girls’ track has captured three: ’89, ’90 and the school’s most recent title in ’14.
Since then, girls’ basketball has earned second in ’17 and ’19 and won its first-round state game in March before the tournament was cancelled because of coronavirus concerns. Scheer, an Emporia State commit, was first team all-league, Cline second and Wewe honorable mention.
“It was definitely devastating, because we were so close to a state championship,” Cline said. “And we all wanted it obviously, but at the same time, it’s just kind of a part of life, and so we told ourselves that we’d get it next year, and that we’d be back and stuff happens. Sometimes you’ve just got to move on. So it (stunk), but at the same time, we just told ourselves that we will get another chance and that we will be back.”
Then, spring sports were cancelled. Girls’ track had finished third, fourth and second as a team the last three springs. Softball qualified for state each of the last three years and lost in the first round each season.
This fall, Cheney is a top favorite in volleyball and is expected to be the No. 1 team in preseason basketball come winter.
“We have got a lot of work to do this year, so hopefully corona doesn’t stop it,” Wewe said.
Walkup (nee Lungren) is one of the more famous athletes in Wichita State history and is in the Shocker Hall of Fame. Known for her positive attitude and Christian faith, the 6-foot-4 Walkup grew up on a farm and had two older sisters. Walkup said her family was “always looking for the good” in sports and school.
She graduated from 1A Caldwell where she participated in four sports and didn’t play club, a rarity for a high-level volleyball talent. She walked on to Wichita State, redshirted a season and then twice earned Missouri Valley Conference player of the year. Walkup played all six rotations, and briefly went to Europe for volleyball.
Walkup returned to the Wichita area and served as a long-term sub teacher in Andover. That semester, Walkup and her now husband, Casey, ran into some Cheney people at a social event.
Casey, a four-year letter winner for the Wichita State baseball and long known for his involvement in the NBC World Series and the Sunflower Baseball League, knew one of them. Conversation started that Cheney’s volleyball coach had recently resigned, and they asked Sara to apply for the job.
Cheney remains the only place she has ever full-time taught and coached.
She carries a 361-87 (81 percent) record after 11 seasons. She has picked up second place finishes in ’13 and ’17, third in ’09 and ’16. In ’17, Cheney beat TMP in pool play, and then lost to the Monarchs in the finals.
By winning percentage, Walkup is among the state’s best coaches, regardless of class.
Top CIK area coaches include Central Plains’ Lisa Crites, Wheatland-Grinnell’s Shannon Foster, Logan’s Robin Van Laeys, Garden Plain’s Gina Clark, Hesston’s Jason Peters and Phillipsburg’s Terra Keeten.
Crites, Foster, Van Laeys and Clark have combined to win six state titles, and Peters and Keeten have led a squad to a state runner-up. All have won at least 70 percent of their career matches, though Walkup is tops among the group in winning percentage, according to MaxPreps and team archives.
“That’s something we not only want for ourselves, but we definitely want one for Walkup, too, because she has been close so many times,” Cline said.
Walkup is a regular in practice, which helps to “simulate kind of what bigger girls would do” against Cheney. Often, Walkup will play with the JV and start with a 5-0 lead versus the varsity. First one to 10 wins.
Walkup stresses the defensive system. In practice, she will reward points for a soft block that was dug or a play that forced the other team to scramble. She has discussed not giving opponents “super, duper easy free” balls and being smart on placement.
“I coach the way that I would want to be coached, because that’s how I identify best,” Walkup said. “You could never scold me more than I was already in my own head scolding myself because I was a perfectionist. I wanted to be great all the time. … For the most part, I have found if you are more positive to them, you can get more out of them in the end, rather than ripping them to shreds.”
Walkup’s coaching especially helped last season. For the second straight fall, Cheney had to replace six seniors.
In ’18, Cheney ran two setters with three of its top-four attackers seniors. Scheer finished with 127 kills and a team-high 226 assists. Last year, Scheer, who could even play some in the middle if needed because of her jumping ability, upped to a team-best 265 kills and finished with 160 assists.
Albers had little action as a freshman and emerged with 221 kills. Albers’ older sister, Haley, was a second team all-state blocker in ’16. She has played in 88 career basketball games at Division II Newman. Walkup called Haley “a great middle.” Olivia became more comfortable as last fall progressed and has displayed great talent.
“Olivia crushes it compared to Haley,” Walkup said. “I mean, it’s just amazing.”
Brooklyn labeled her older sister Kristen her role model. She expected to follow her sister’s footsteps and play on the back row. Kristen was a two-time all-state libero from ’14-17.
She set in middle school and was on JV as a freshman when Cheney had a senior setter. Wewe had never played club volleyball or had private lessons, except from Walkup.
Walkup noticed Wewe had natural “amazing ball control” and the team was “really good” when she set. Wewe realized she was going to be setting more, notably after playing at the Wichita State camp.
“I figured I’d better start practicing and take it more serious, because this is what I am going to be doing,” Wewe said.
Last season, the left-handed Wewe led Cheney with 96.2 serving accuracy and 565 assists as the team’s lone setter.
“She knows exactly what we need to do to fix things, and she’s always willing to come out and help us,” Wewe said of Walkup. “…It all ends up looking good, and she doesn’t get enough credit.”
As well, Wewe likes to tip and dump over the net, especially on high balls. She contributed 85 kills, high for a setter. At times, Wewe would get down after a double hit or error.
“She is just very encouraging like mentally, like if people have a bad game, she will just encourage you or always find something good that you have done, and she will always make sure that you know that you are doing good, and that you are getting better,” Wewe said. “She does that for every single person on this team.”
Cheney has instituted “prodigy partners,” where a younger Cardinal learns from an experienced player. Cline had Kristen Wewe.
“I still think about her when we practice and play and stuff, so I try to put myself in her position and think what she would do in certain times, but yeah, she was definitely a huge role model for me,” Cline said.
After she saw limited time as a sophomore, Cline led Cheney with 357 digs as a defensive specialist in her first full season on varsity. Cline called digging and diving one of her most favorite parts of volleyball.
“Nothing goes on the stat sheet that shows her hustle,” Walkup said.
Last year, Cline suffered a minor injury in the Haven tournament when she chased the ball backward and dove – but still got the ball back up. In softball a couple years ago, Walkup recalled Cline crashing into another player trying to make a catch.
“She is always positive and uplifting towards everybody, and I think I could say that about everybody, but Lexi especially,” Wewe said.
Cline displayed her strong work ethic outside of sports. She worked three jobs this summer that collectively ranged from 20 to 60 hours a week. Cline served as a lifeguard at the Cheney pool, helped her grandparents with yard work.
She earned her Certified Nurse Aide on May 29 and has served as a CNA at Marjorie’s Home in Garden Plain, according to KDADS.
“She really is crazy scrappy, and she’s absolutely like 100 mile an hour, and there’s no in-between, like she doesn’t have like an off button,” Walkup said.
Cline gained confidence as the season progressed. As well, she learned from Walkup how to read the hitters and watch their hands and feet.
“Kind of a digging window so that the digger knows where to stand and they can put themselves in a spot to be successful to dig it,” Walkup said.
Cheney was in the 3A Haven sub-state as the third seed. Trinity Academy, with Washburn commit Austin Broadie, was ranked second in the coaches’ poll, and senior-laden Hesston was fourth. Entering sub-state, Cheney had lost its lone match to Hesston, 2-0, on Sept. 12. Cheney was 2-1 in three matches versus Trinity.
“The girls were all like ‘Ehhh,’” Walkup said. “And I went, ‘You know what, you guys, this is awesome,’ because I think you guys can beat all these teams, and if you beat all these teams, I don’t know why you can’t beat anybody else in the state, and they were like ‘Ohh.’”
Cheney, with no player above 5-foot-10, beat Haven and Trinity Academy by 2-0 scores. Haven hit negative for the match. Trinity averaged .100 and made eight more errors than Cheney.
“Having the right game plan when you go into it helps quite a bit, and honestly the last week before that sub-state, we knew exactly what we were doing with every team that we played,” Walkup said.
In the finals, Cheney defeated Hesston in three sets. The Swathers hit .061 with 26 errors, double Cheney’s. It marked Trinity’s and Hesston’s third-worst hitting percentage of the year.
“If we are going to win this thing, we are going to have to play pretty darn well the whole day, and I will say God gave us a nice little gift,” Walkup said. “And there were just so many things that went right. Not that they don’t always, but there were just a lot of things that went right that day.”
Albers finished with 13 kills and Cline 20 digs, both match bests in the championship. At state, Royal Valley won, with Beloit and Silver Lake second and third. Both Beloit and SL were very senior-laden, while Royal Valley returns at least 66 percent of its kills, blocks and digs.
“We kind of played out of our minds,” Walkup said of sub-state. “…It was really awesome for the girls to feel that and kind of see, it’s almost like a little preview of what we could continue to do even going into this season.”
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