Over the summer, The Forum will be catching up with a different Bearcat team each week for our ‘State of the Program’ series where we will check in on where the program is now and what new faces they are bringing in for next season. We began that series last week with women’s basketball and it continues this week with volleyball.
MARYVILLE, Mo. — Over the past eight seasons head coach Amy Woerth and associate head coach Alana Wittenburg have worked to build a winning culture with the Northwest Missouri State volleyball program.
“At the beginning of our culture change, you are really trying to sell it without having the record to stand on,” Woerth said. “Now because we’ve been here long enough that we can show them that what we are doing has some validity to it. And really, honestly, you try to find people that buy into your story that you are selling when it comes to the recruiting side and people who fit your culture.”
That winning mentality was on display last season when the Bearcats were picked to finish sixth in the MIAA by the conference coaches, but the Bearcats kept the conference race going throughout the year and pushed eventual conference champions Nebraska-Kearney to a five-set thriller in the final match of the regular season. A win would have give the Bearcats a share of the MIAA championship.
“The takeaway for me is to continue to trust in the progress, because that is what got us to where we are,” Woerth said. “Can you tweak things along the way that you are going to need to improve? Yes, but just continue to trust in the process.”
For their tremendous season, the Bearcats were heavily recognized after the year with outside hitter Maddy Bruder winning the MIAA Player of the Year and becoming the first First-Team All-American in the history of the Bearcat program.
Now that Bruder and along with three other key players from last season’s squad have graduated, Woerth — last season’s MIAA Coach of the Year — has turned her attention to making sure that she is bringing in new players with that same winner’s mentality.
“The collective theme with all of our players is that they have some accolades under them when it comes to all-state and all-conference, so I think that is a positive, but also almost all of them have some experience playing at a high level when it comes to high school and going to state with their team,” Woerth said. “We have to remind ourselves that it is great to have the accolades individually, but we belong to a team.”
She believes she has done that with the six-person recruiting class that she has brought in for 2019 and the proof of that seems fairly obvious with the state championships and state appearances that this group has achieved.
The player with the most team success from her high school years is 6-foot-1 Sydney McDermott. The Omaha product helped guide Skutt Catholic to three state titles the past three years.
“The expectation is there, she wants to step in here and win a championship — it is just what she does,” Woerth said. “I love that mentality that we get from Sydney.”
McDermott had the opportunity to pursue either volleyball or basketball at the college level and although she chose volleyball, her basketball background is no surprise as she is the daughter of Creighton men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott and the sister of NBA player Doug McDermott.
“When I watch her play, she is so determined and intense,” Woerth said. “She gets the job done and as she gets comfortable, our players are going to feel that from her.”
Woerth and Wittenburg weren’t done recruiting Omaha with just McDermott though and are also adding Emmy Grant from Milliard North. The 6-foot-1 middle hitter prides herself on her defense and was rated as one of the top 25 blockers in the nation by Prep Volleyball.
“Her favorite thing clearly is to block so I think that is fun,” Woerth said. “She takes a lot of pride in that which is fun to see and clearly the other sides of her game are very strong, but you can tell that she really likes that side of it defensively.”
The Nebraska trend continued as Woerth was able to attend the Nebraska State Tournament and get a look at the top talent in the Cornhusker State on the biggest stage. The Bearcats are also adding Lincoln’s Jaden Ferguson and Wahoo’s Alyssa Rezac.
Rezac is a 5-foot-7 setter from Bishop Neumann High School. She is a three-time all-state honorable mention selection and with current Bearcat setters Jordyn Musselman and Maddy Ahrens each being upperclassmen, adding a talented young setter was certainly something the Bearcats wanted to do.
“What I see out of her is just leadership ... just consistency, character player who gives everything every single point,” Woerth said. “She is your blue-collar kid and that is what you want to see out of you quarterback, your setter. ... She is tough as nails, this kid.”
Ferguson is another talented dual-sport athlete as a two-time all-state selection in both volleyball and basketball, but the Bearcats are happy she chose volleyball.
“Jaden has such a drive to be the best that she can be individually,” Woerth said. “You can see that and it is not just on the court, you can see that academically. I think that fits us as well.”
The Kansas City area produced the other two members of the 2019 class with Leawood, Kansas, native Londyn Gartner and Blue Springs product Hannah LaPour.
Gartner is an undersized middle hitter from Blue Valley North High School. Despite just standing 5-foot-11, Gartner has proven to be effective both offensively and defensively.
“She is a competitor, she hates to lose and you can see that within her — 5-11 isn’t a very big middle,” Woerth said. “She is a fast, quick player who comes off one foot really well behind. Some of those things just bring a different look.”
LaPour is a 6-foot versatile weapon for Woerth to deploy from Blue Springs South High School. LaPour was an all-state player as a junior.
“She has an extremely fast, heavy arm and we just want her to be athletic,” Woerth said. “Go be athletic and go do your thing.”
The Bearcats will open their new season on September 6 at the Washburn Invitational and their home opener is September 18 against Missouri Western.
*For more from Woerth, visit the Maryville Forum’s YouTube channel for the full interview.