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SPOTLIGHT
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Thunderhawks looking for state title

Published on -10/25/2012, 9:58 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Setter Brooke Ostmeyer and defensive specialist Brandi Goetz are the two seniors for the Wheatland-Grinnell High School volleyball team and have enjoyed well-decorated careers.

Coach Allison Polifka calls the duo "by far" the team leaders. Ostmeyer is a two-time all-state selection and has 741 assists this season and 1,932 career assists, easily the school record for Wheatland High School (records kept since 1996).

Goetz has recorded 851 career digs and recently broke the school mark. The seniors were part of the 2010 Thunderhawk team that finished as Class 1A, Division II state runner-up to Hutchinson-Central Christian. Last year, Wheatland-Grinnell narrowly lost in the sub-state championship match in volleyball and basketball.

This fall, the Thunderhawks have returned to the state tournament looking for a missing line on their resume: a state championship.

"I think maybe they are a lot hungrier," Polifka said of the veteran group that returns five players who saw significant action on the 2010 squad. "They are very focused. They have their goals, they have worked hard all offseason, so it's kind of a different attitude out of them. More of a 'We're not going to quit.' They don't give up as easily, I would say."

Wheatland-Grinnell has the No. 5 seed at 29-9 and is in Pool I with three other teams, including No. 1 seed and defending state champion Baileyville-B&B (35-5).

"They are pretty solid," Hoxie coach Shelly Hoyt, who has seen the Thunderhawks as both a coach and an official in the last several years, said. "They don't hurt themselves. That's a big key in volleyball. Don't hurt yourself. They are well-coached."

The Thunderhawks' first match is at 9:30 a.m. Friday at Gross Memorial Coliseum. Polifka considers B&B the favorite. No area team has won a volleyball crown since Weskan won Class 1A in 1996.

"Since they made it to state and made it to the championship game, just making it to the tournament this year I don't think is enough," Polifka said. "They are happy to be there, but I think they all feel like they still have more work to do. They know what it feels like to be in that championship game. They know what it feels like to lose."

Ostmeyer, a second-team all-state selection as a sophomore and an honorable mention pick as a junior, has led a team that has continued its success without Megan Heier. Heier, a two-time all-state hitter, is now playing at Hutchinson Community College.

"We are more balanced than we have ever been," Polifka, in her fourth season as head coach and fifth with the program, said. "The last two years, we have ran everything through Megan Heier."

Ostmeyer has set for the varsity all four years and runs a 5-1 offense this fall. At first, Ostmeyer didn't want to play setter as a freshman. But Polifka, knowing Ostmeyer has strong court sense and hands, talked her into running a 6-2 when she was a freshman.

"She was mentally tough enough," Polifka said. "To be a great setter, you have to have that mental toughness, and you have to have the smarts, knowing how to distribute the ball. ... Her decision-making is wonderful. You can watch, every team we play is always guessing where the ball is going, and she never goes into the same pattern."

Goetz was the libero in 2011 and plays more on the outside this year. The other four starters are: junior outside hitter Tristan Rathgeber, sophomore right side Tenille Tholen and juniors Hannah Gillespie and Paige Ramey play in the middle.

Rathgeber leads the team with 265 kills, and Ramey has 240. Polifka calls one of the team's greatest strengths its intelligence.

"(Brooke) runs the team," Polifka said. "She runs the offense. She does a great job of it. Brandi anchors our defense. After that, it's really great, because between all six of them that play, it just depends on the night. They take turns on carrying the team."

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