High school volleyball in Nebraska is a game of dynasties.

Since the first trophies were handed out in 1972, 22 schools have won at least four state championships and 18 have gone on runs of three or more championships in a row.

Humphrey St. Francis was one of those programs in the first eight years of the 21st century, winning titles in 2000, 2004 and 2005 and playing for two more in 2006 and 2007. The Flyers were also in back-to-back championship matches in 1993 and 1994.

For most teams that are more than just a one-year wonder, it often becomes two, three, four or more state titles and state title matches in a row.

St. Francis' opponent on Saturday, BDS, is in the midst of its own dynasty, winning state for the second year in a row with a starting lineup that included three sophomores and a junior. So, it would seem, the Eagles are set up for continued trips to Lincoln.

But are the Flyers?

One look at the roster would indicate continued success. The graduation of three important seniors who not only played but were three of the tallest members of the group, will give St. Francis a different look. But in terms of talent, both established and not, there are still several players capable of carrying the team back to Lincoln.

"We lose a bunch of good seniors. They've had a lot of playing time," coach Dean Korus said. "Caitlin (Jarosz) has been a four-year starter playing two different positions. Both of our middle hitters (Makenna Krings and Lauren Pfeifer) are going to be gone. We've got to grow some people, and physically grow some people."

Korus was only joking in the second half of that sentence, but there's no doubt unless growing spurts hit the team, St. Francis will be a small group in 2020.

Pfeifer at 5-10 and Jarosz and Krings at 5-9 were three of the four tallest on the roster. Allison Weidner, also 5-9, has one more year to go, but after her, there are two other unproven players at 5-9 and fellow starter Kylee Wessel at 5-8.

How much does that matter? Well, all six of Saturday's state champions had four regular players at 5-9 or taller.

BDS's lineup loses one starter at 5-11 but returns two others at 5-10 and 5-9, putting the Eagles in a similar situation.

"We'll have to make due. We'll just have to be quicker and play better defense," Korus said. "We're going to have to develop players throughout the season."

In terms of returning talent, tall or short, the Flyers bring back an All-Tournament team player in Weidner, and one that couldn't have been that far off, and might have earned the honor had St. Francis won the championship, in Wessel.

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Weidner's talent is well-known because of her offers to play Division I college basketball. Wessel's is just beginning to be discovered.

She had eight kills, an ace, a block and 11 digs in the win over Garden County, nine kills, two aces and 16 digs against Lawrence-Nelson and nine kills, three aces and 18 digs in the title match.

"Volleyball is her life. If basketball is Allison's life, then Kylee's is volleyball," Korus said. "It's nice to see I have her for three years, and I have some younger kids who, we're not going to have the height, we're not going to have the depth and we're not going to have the experience we had, but I think we can build on what we've got. I like what we've got coming back."

Also returning are setter Peighton Eisenmenger and libero Alissa Kosch. Kaylee Stricklin at 5-9 had nine blocks and 11 kills in a majority backup role but looks poised to find a role in the middle.

But of course, next year's team will come with expectations. The 2019 group was focused mostly on simply getting back to state after losing in five sets at the district final in 2018.

St. Francis might easily be one of the best eight teams in D-2 next season. Once in Lincoln though, anything can happen, as both, the Flyers and Eagles learned over the course of a wild three days.

"We'll talk about that," Korus said admitting that next year will likely come with more pressure.

In a way, the group should be used to it. State became the goal right away because of the end of the 2018 season, and no one backed down from that goal, though it was rarely discussed. It was mostly understood.

"I probably didn't preach it as much as I had in past years, because we always said, 'Let's get down here to state,' but I really thought we had the potential," Korus said. "We had the depth, we had the experience and we had the drive."

Depth, experience, height, all of it, at least to begin within 2020, will lack where the 2019 team started from. Its best players will likely be better than 2019's best players, but that's only part of the equation.

Regardless of the makeup of the team, Korus said it was chemistry and work ethic that made this year's group special. Those two elements, more than any other, can't be predicted.

"This has been one of the (most fun) groups I've had in 33 years - no drama, got along, worked hard, worked harder than a lot of teams I've had," Korus said. "We did stuff after practice that I've never done in 33 years. We'd hit the weight room or go and do plyometrics after our two, two and a half hour practices. They gave everything they had."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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