Perhaps no high school sport has been more synonymous with the community of Ankeny than the game of volleyball.
Ankeny High School captured four state championships in a six-year period from 2004-09. Following the split into two high schools in 2013, Ankeny Centennial quickly claimed four titles in a five-year stretch from 2014-18.
“It’s fantastic to see girls fall in love with the game and for Ankeny to get such amazing and knowledgeable coaches to invest in the two programs,” said Angie Nielsen, a 1998 AHS graduate. “If I did contribute, it was an inherited contribution from the people before the teams I got to play with. The ladies who helped us get excited about the game were playing when I was in elementary school watching in the stands. I’m just grateful I got to be a part of continuing to enjoy the game and hopefully helping girls after me get excited about the sport!”
Last month, Ankeny won its fifth state championship under legendary coach Dave Whims. That means the Hawkettes and Jaguars have combined to win nine of the last 17 large-school crowns.
“The volleyball has maintained a high level of quality even after the split,” Whims said.
Ankeny is now tied with Janesville and Unity Christian for fifth place all-time with five state titles. Whims is tied for seventh all-time among coaches with his five crowns.
“Coach Whims came in and set the expectation for what Ankeny volleyball was going to be,” said Kristin Belzung, a 2003 AHS graduate. “He knew how to make us work hard and was very committed to making sure we would be successful. I loved that we trained hard, and I think that expectation of success has continued thanks to him.”
At this year’s state tournament, Ankeny defeated Centennial in four sets in the Class 5A quarterfinals. It was the first-ever meeting between the two schools in Cedar Rapids, but it probably won’t be the last.
The Hawkettes have produced dozens of all-state players since the early 1990s. Centennial has also had numerous all-staters in its brief eight-year history as a program.
So what would happen if you took the best players from both schools and combined them into one team? Well, that’s what we’re here for.
Here, then, is the Ankeny Fanatic all-time Ankeny volleyball team, comprised of 26 players on three squads:
Jaali Winters (OH). She was a four-time all-stater who starred at both Ankeny and Centennial. As a freshman at Ankeny in 2011, she led the team with 284 kills while helping the Hawkettes to a 29-9 record and a Class 4A semifinal appearance. Winters then had 356 kills as a sophomore as Ankeny went 30-7 and reached the semifinals of the inaugural Class 5A tournament. She was named to the all-tournament team. “She was probably one of the most dynamic hitters on the outside pin Ankeny has ever had,” Whims said. “She crushed the ball time and time again, and she certainly matured as a player. Every year she improved.” After moving across town to Centennial, Winters led the team with 534 kills as a junior as the Jaguars went 33-9 and reached the Class 5A semifinals. She pounded 30 kills in a five-set loss to Bettendorf and was again named to the all-tournament team. She was also selected a prepvolleyball.com all-American. In 2014, Winters capped off her career by leading Centennial to a 44-3 mark and its first state title. She was named the captain of the all-tournament team after the Jaguars swept two-time defending champion Bettendorf in the final, snapping the Bulldogs’ 47-match winning streak. “The memory that stands out to me most is winning state my senior year,” Winters said. “I’ll always remember us pouring water on coach (Jessica) Rinehart after the game and watching her be so shocked and then so joyful. I remember giving her the biggest hug while she was soaking wet! This is my favorite memory. I can’t remember a single kill I had during my high school career, and that’s ok! What I do remember are all the friendships I made along the way that I still have to this day. That’s the beauty of sports.” Rinehart vividly remembers one of Winters’ kills from the championship match. “She so badly wanted to win it all, and she almost competed unconsciously the entire match,” Rinehart said. “She was hammering from the front row and the back row. I called a timeout when we were down, 27-26, in Set 1 and I said, ‘Let’s run a 2–Jaali, if there’s a double block, tip right over it,’ and she looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I’m going to hit it,’ and I just thought, ‘Ok, she’s got this.’ There was a double block, and she did hammer it for a kill. She just had that inner drive. She wanted to be the best, and she understood the responsibility of the ‘go to’ role she was in and she wanted to fulfill it.” Winters led the team with 461 kills as Centennial earned a No. 19 ranking in the MaxPreps Top 50 national rankings. She was named the Class 5A player of the year and was also selected an Under Armour third-team all-American after finishing her career with 1,635 kills. In 2018, Winters was named one of Iowa’s top 50 players of all time by The Des Moines Register. By then, she had completed an outstanding collegiate career at Creighton, where she set more than 90 school records and was twice named a third-team all-American. As a senior, she was named Big East Player of the Year and was also the Big East Tournament MVP. After graduating, Winters has played professionally in Europe for the last two years. She is the best player to ever wear a Centennial uniform, and she might be the best player to ever play for Ankeny as well–even though she was only a Hawkette for two seasons. Let’s make Winters the captain of our all-time team. “Thank you so much for this honor!” Winters said. “It means a lot to me because so many incredible volleyball players have come through Ankeny. It really is amazing what both high schools have accomplished over the years. There’s so much talent here, along with great coaches and such a supportive community. It’s a recipe for success. It is cool to have been able to play for both high schools! I feel lucky in that respect, to have played for both schools and to have been coached by both coach Whims and coach Rinehart.”
Shannon Aschoff (OH/MB). The two-time Class 4A Player of the Year played in four state championship matches in her career and led Ankeny to its first two titles in 2004-05. As a freshman, Aschoff helped Ankeny to a 38-4 record and a runner-up finish in Class 3A. In 2003, she had 220 kills and 103 blocks as the Hawkettes went 39-3 and placed second in the inaugural Class 4A tournament, losing a five-set thriller to Dubuque Hempstead in the final. She earned all-state honorable mention. As a junior, Aschoff racked up a team-high 263 kills as Ankeny posted a 35-4 mark and won the Class 4A crown, defeating Iowa City High in four sets. She was named the captain of the all-tournament team. “I wouldn’t necessarily say we HAD to get to the final first before winning (the title), but it definitely helped that we had that experience and had been there before,” Aschoff said. “In my senior year against Bettendorf, we came out and they beat us pretty handily in the first set, but then we came back to ultimately win the match (in five sets). I think if we hadn’t been in those types of intense, championship matches previously and didn’t have that experience there is a good chance we would have been scared and folded after that first set, but since we had the experience we were able to remain calm and come back and win!” In 2005, she again led the team with 331 kills and posted a .442 hitting percentage–committing only 65 errors in 602 total attacks–as the Hawkettes went 38-2 and defended their title. “I’m not sure if I have one favorite memory, but I’d say just the whole state experience and everything that went into that week,” Aschoff said. “From the daily little gifts we would get at school, the buses being decorated, stopping at CJ’s on our way out of town to go to Cedar Rapids, and then winning state championships with the friends you learned how to play volleyball with.” She was again selected to the all-tournament team after Ankeny overcame a 2-1 deficit to beat Bettendorf in the final. “She was one of the most calm, cool, collective players that possessed the ability to bring the heat,” Whims said. “She was a hard worker in practice and brought it to the gym every day. She was great at hitting the ball high off the hands of the blocker, plus seeing where the opening was in the defense. At 6-foot-2, she played middle back on defense and held her own I might add. She was a true all-around player.” In 2006, Aschoff was named the 50th greatest athlete in Ankeny High School history by the Ankeny Press Citizen. She went on to play at Northern Iowa, where she was a two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference player and ranks ninth in school history with 3,325 attack attempts. In 2007, she was the MVP of the conference tournament. Aschoff was inducted into the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union Volleyball Hall of Fame in 2012, becoming the first Ankeny player to be enshrined. She was also named one of Iowa’s top 50 players of all time by The Des Moines Register.
Chelsey Semprini (RS). She was a four-year starter who became the first freshman in the history of Ankeny volleyball to earn a starting spot on the varsity in 2005, when she contributed 98 kills in the Hawkettes’ run to the Class 4A title. As a sophomore, she led the team with 224 kills and earned all-state special mention as Ankeny posted a 25-10 record and advanced to the state tournament. In 2007, she again led the squad with 245 kills while posting a .407 hitting percentage, helping the Hawkettes to a 35-4 mark. She was named to the all-state first team after Ankeny lost to Cedar Falls in five sets in the Class 4A semifinals. As a senior, Semprini led the way as Ankeny went 40-1 and swept defending champion Johnston to win the Class 4A crown. The Hawkettes were ranked 15th in the nation by prepvolleyball.com. “I think my most memorable moment was when we won state my senior year,” Semprini said. “That was just icing on the cake for a perfect senior year and also for four years of playing varsity volleyball for Ankeny.” She pounded 40 kills in the three wins at state and was named the captain of the all-tournament team. She finished the season with 276 kills and a .444 hitting percentage. “Chelsey played at least four inches taller than she was,” Whims said. “Her team leadership stands out to me as one of the best. Every player and coach in Iowa respected her ability to play and lead her team.” She was named the state’s player of the year and was also selected the Gatorade Iowa player of the year. “We always wanted to smell those oats,” Semprini said of the annual drive into downtown Cedar Rapids for the state tournament. “That place will always be a special memory for me. I remember going there to watch my sister (Sara) play and how exciting it was. Being able to be on that stage, I’ll never forget that feeling.” Semprini went on to play for Division II Lynn University (Fla.) and was named to the all-freshman team in the Sunshine State Conference before injuries cut short her career. In 2015, she was inducted into the IGHSAU Volleyball Hall of Fame. “I never could have done it without my teammates and especially my setter, Liz Muhlenbruck,” Semprini said.
Devyn Robinson (MB). She was a four-year standout at Centennial who played on a pair of state championship teams. As a freshman in 2016, she contributed 135 kills for a team that posted a 35-3 record and claimed the Class 5A title for the third year in a row. In 2017, she racked up 270 kills while helping Centennial to a 30-8 mark and an appearance in the Class 5A semifinals, where the Jaguars lost to Valley. She was an all-tournament pick and was also selected to the elite all-state team. As a junior, she had 225 kills as Centennial went 41-3 and swept No. 1 Cedar Falls in the final for the second time in three years. She was again named to the all-tournament team and was an elite all-state selection. “I will remember the great memories and friendships I made along the way to two state titles,” Robinson said. “My favorite memory was beating Valley in the fifth set my freshman year to go to (the final). It was just an amazing experience as a freshman to play in such an amazing atmosphere. It was so surreal.” Robinson had 11 blocks in that match, helping to neutralize Valley star Madi Kubik. “She single-handedly was responsible for containing Madi, and without Devyn’s blocking we wouldn’t have two of our state championships,” Rinehart said. “Dev is definitely the most incredible athlete we’ve had in this program. She can fly. Dev grew a lot from her freshman to her sophomore year, and I vividly remember her going up for a ball the summer before her sophomore year and I told (assistant coach Annie) Stoessel, ‘I don’t know what an Olympian looks like as a sophomore in high school, but I would guess…something like this.’ Dev also has a fun, sparky personality. She knew how to keep the mojo positive and made great things happen on the court.” As a senior in 2019, Robinson was one of the state’s most dominant players, leading her team with 248 kills despite playing in just 17 of the 33 matches. She missed the first half of the season in order to play for the U.S. Girls Youth National Team, which won its first-ever gold medal at the U18 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt. She was named to the all-tournament team. When she returned to Centennial’s lineup, she helped the Jaguars to an 18-15 record. In a five-set win over Johnston, she pounded 33 of her team’s 56 kills. Robinson, who also played on the 2018 U.S. Girls Youth National Team that won gold at the NORCECA Girls’ U18 Continental Championship, was named an Under Armour first-team all-American. She was also selected to the elite all-state team for the third straight year. Robinson was a junior at Centennial when The Des Moines Register named her one of the state’s top 50 players of all time. She is now a freshman playing for Wisconsin.
Phyona Schrader (S). The youngest member of our all-time team, Schrader has yet to graduate from Ankeny High School. She was a four-year starter who led the Hawkettes to three consecutive state tournament appearances, capped off by a run to the Class 5A crown last month. Schrader was named the captain of the all-tournament team after Ankeny defeated Iowa City Liberty in four sets in the final. She had 12 kills and 40 assists as the Hawkettes outlasted Pleasant Valley in five sets in the semifinals. She racked up 601 assists and 172 kills on the season while posting a .363 hitting percentage. She also had 63 blocks, 163 digs and 50 aces. Schrader led the Hawkettes to a 22-2 record and was named the state’s player of the year. As a junior, she led Ankeny to a 37-6 mark and an appearance in the Class 5A semifinals, where the Hawkettes lost to eventual champion Cedar Falls. She was an all-tournament pick. Schrader had 511 assists and was named to the elite all-state team. In 2018, she helped Ankeny to a 31-13 record and a state tournament berth, where the Hawkettes lost to Valley in the Class 5A quarterfinals. She was a second-team all-state selection. As a freshman, Schrader stepped into the varsity lineup and helped Ankeny to a 22-14 mark. She racked up more than 2,000 assists in her career. “She was mobile, agile and smooth, and she delivers the ball to target and can carry a team,” Whims said. “At the same time, she is humble and hungry to win. She might be the best setter to come out of our program. And that is saying something considering we have had at least two reach all-American status during their college career.” Schrader, who will play for Notre Dame next year, said she would have enjoyed playing with the hitters on the all-time team. “Playing with big hitters is a whole new game!” she said. “Playing with hitters that can contact so high brings me the need to contact earlier and higher as well and at that point we’re playing on top of the other team. And being able to not worry so much about the placement and more the speed makes everything more aggressive and fast! I would have loved (to play with these hitters).” Schrader could be a future Hall of Famer. “Her accomplishments and recognition these past two years will certainly move her into the category of possible Iowa Hall of Fame status,” Whims said. “She will be eligible eight years after high school graduation.”
Kristin Belzung (S). Like Schrader, Belzung was a left-handed setter who was also a powerful hitter. As a sophomore in 2000, she helped Ankeny to a 28-4 record in Whims’ first season at the school. The Hawkettes advanced to the state tournament for only the second time ever, losing to Sioux City Heelan in four sets in the Class 3A quarterfinals. In 2001, Belzung had 375 assists and 203 kills while helping Ankeny to a 26-12 mark. As a senior, she missed the first half of the season due to a broken finger, but then returned to the lineup and led the Hawkettes to a 38-4 record and a runner-up finish in Class 3A. In the final, Ankeny won the opening set against Dubuque Wahlert–becoming the first Iowa school to take a set against Wahlert–before the Golden Eagles rallied to win their third straight title. “There is nothing like the energy and atmosphere of a state tournament,” said Belzung, who was an all-tournament pick. “I also remember our team being very close and having good culture. Especially now as a coach, I realize how important that was to us buying in and trusting coach Whims to lead us.” Belzung finished the season with 169 kills and 336 assists. She was selected to the elite all-state team as well as the academic all-state team. “Kristin was a smart player and she not only set, she played the opposite hitter,” Whims said. “So she got to hit and block in the front row. She was totally a gamer and a strategist determined to win. When she got injured her senior year, she was out for the first 20 matches of the season. But she came back and never missed a beat. She led us to the championship match.” Belzung went on to become a standout at Northern Iowa, where she was a two-time first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference pick and ranks sixth in school history with 4,256 assists and 1,672 service attempts. She helped the Panthers to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2006-07 and was the MVP of the conference tournament in 2006. In 2014, Belzung was inducted into the IGHSAU Volleyball Hall of Fame. She has been the head volleyball coach at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y., since 2017. She guided the Seawolves to back-to-back America East championships in her first two seasons. Belzung began her coaching career as a graduate assistant at South Carolina, where she then became the director of operations before spending three years at South Dakota State as an assistant and four years at Wyoming, where she was the associate head coach in her final season.
Kylee Macke (L). She played on all three of Centennial’s state championship teams from 2014-16, racking up nearly 1,000 digs in her career. As a junior, she had 493 digs as the Jaguars posted a 39-5 record and defended their title with a four-set victory over Bettendorf in the final. “I always dreamed of winning a state championship as a kid, but to be honest I never thought that I ever would,” said Macke, who was named to the all-tournament team. “I think the memory that sticks out to me the most is winning my junior year. I don’t think anyone expected us to win, but I just remember the emotions from the senior class and the coaches. Those emotions are something you really never forget.” In 2016, Macke had 436 digs as Centennial captured a third consecutive crown with a sweep over No. 1 Cedar Falls in the final, becoming the third large-class school to earn a threepeat. “She was feisty and a competitor,” Rinehart said of Macke. “She was an athlete and would find a way to win. She led with grit and was willing to do whatever it took to keep a rally alive. She’s just a winner and tough as nails.” Macke was a repeat all-tournament pick and was also selected to the all-state first team. “When I was growing up I was actually more into basketball as a kid,” said Macke, who also helped Centennial to a girls’ basketball title in 2016. “I liked volleyball, but basketball was always my first choice. But, I remember watching Jaali (Winters) when she was a freshman and was like, ‘Wow, this girl is so good!’ I knew I wouldn’t be an outside (hitter) because of my height, but watching her when she was a freshman definitely piqued my interest in volleyball.” Macke went on to become a standout at Drake, where she helped the Bulldogs to back-to-back 20-win seasons in 2017-18. She currently ranks second on Drake’s all-time list for career digs with more than 1,600, and she also owns three of the top 11 single-season totals in school history. She will play a spring season with the Bulldogs in 2021, then has the option to return next fall for one final campaign. That will give her a chance to become Drake’s all-time leader in career digs–Alana Wittenburg set the mark of 2,423 from 2007-10.
Iwa Belisario (DS). She played a vital defensive role on Ankeny’s back-to-back championship teams in 2008-09, helping the Hawkettes to a 79-2 mark over those two seasons. As a junior, she racked up 341 digs and earned second-team all-state honors. Ankeny’s only loss during the regular season came in a five-set marathon against Johnston, but the Hawkettes then bounced back to win their final 27 matches and avenged the loss to the Dragons in the Class 4A final. Then, as a senior, she totaled 357 digs as Ankeny went 39-1 and claimed its second straight title with a four-set victory over Iowa City West. Belisario banged her head on the floor late in the opening game and spent part of the match on the bench, but was eventually able to return. “It feels the same (as winning the title the previous year),” Belisario said. “It’s a different group of girls, but our goals were the same and we did it.” Ankeny extended its winning streak to 58 matches before losing to Sioux City Heelan at the Heelan Classic, but then rebounded to capture the crown. The Hawkettes were ranked 25th in the nation by prepvolleyball.com. Belisario was named the CIML player of the year and was also selected to the elite all-state team. “She’s the only libero ever to captain the Des Moines Register volleyball team,” Whims said. “She just showed true grit. She was smart, quick and read the game on the floor like no other. The Western Christian coach told me that Iwa is the first and only libero to ever make her think a libero was the reason she lost to a team. She was just a great server and defender. She was recruited by a Division I university, and most of the time liberos are asked to walk on and earn their position as well as a scholarship.” Belisario started her college career at Mississippi State before transferring to Grand View, where she helped the Vikings become one of the top NAIA programs in the nation.
Kenna Sauer (OH). She was a two-time all-state pick who led Centennial to a pair of state titles. As a sophomore in 2016, she pounded 345 kills as the Jaguars completed their threepeat. She was named the captain of the all-tournament team. In 2017, she had 105 kills while playing in just 22 matches due to a leg injury. Her struggle to get healthy proved to be costly as Centennial failed to win a fourth straight crown, falling in the Class 5A semifinals. “I used to think about that (loss) a lot, and it still does cross my mind,” Sauer said. “I’ve learned to let the ‘what if’ go, because I realize now that without that setback I probably wouldn’t be as tough as I am now, and we may not have won state the next year. I think the craziness of my junior season prepared everyone for dealing with adversity and being grateful for every day we had, and we were able to carry that into our senior season and ultimately use it to our advantage.” Sauer then returned to her previous form in 2018, when she led the Jaguars to another championship and was again named the captain of the all-tournament team. “Kenna is a winner,” Rinehart said. “She wanted to be the best, but she put in the work to be the best. She is by far one of the hardest day in and day out workers we’ve had. Kenna’s best moments came in crunch time. The tougher the competition, the more stressful the situation, the better Kenna was. Pressure didn’t phase her–it made her rise. My favorite memory was watching Kenna hammer the championship point. There was no question where the ball was going and there was no question what was going to happen once she got set. Game over.” Sauer finished the season with 439 kills and a .317 hitting percentage. She was selected an Under Armour second-team all-American. “What I’ll remember most from those state championship runs is the memories I made with my teammates throughout the season,” Sauer said. “You’d think I’d say something like all the hard work we put in, but the time with my teammates outside of the court is one of the the most important things to me and I think is a huge factor in being able to work together. It makes winning so much sweeter because you know you got to do it with people you love, and now I can look back on those seasons and think of all the fun memories I have with those people.” Sauer was one of the best all-around athletes that Ankeny has ever produced. She was a state runner-up in the long jump as a freshman and was also a standout on the basketball court. Now a sophomore on Missouri’s volleyball squad, Sauer is the co-captain of our second team.
Sarah Oexmann (OH/MB). She teamed up with Aschoff to form a potent duo on Ankeny’s first two championship teams in 2004-05. As a junior, she had 225 kills and was named to the all-state first team. She was also an all-tournament pick after the Hawkettes defeated Iowa City High in the final to end the season with a seven-match winning streak. In the quarterfinals against Davenport Central, she had a kill to give Ankeny a 16-14 victory in the fifth set. “Sarah was one of two players who made up the twin towers during her career,” Whims said. “The most memorable moment for me was that match against Davenport Central. We were ahead 15-14 and got into a scramble volley, and Sarah was at the net controlling the middle. The ball popped up in front of her, and she hit it to the back left corner and it dropped in for the match point. The entire team went nuts on the court, and we went on to win our first championship.” In 2005, she pounded 309 kills and was selected to the elite all-state team. She had 28 kills in the final against Bettendorf and was again named to the all-tournament team. “I remember in game five, coach Whims kept giving me the jump serve signal when I would go back to serve,” Oexmann said. “I remember being tired and being nervous, but those topspin serves kept landing in!” Ankeny swept all five of its conference opponents in three sets for the third year in a row, extending its winning streak against league opponents to 27 matches. The Hawkettes also closed out the season with a 14-match winning streak. She went on to play for Northern Iowa, where she continued to be Aschoff’s teammate until her college career was cut short due to a knee injury. Oexmann is now an assistant coach at Centennial. “Winning a state title with your best friends, especially when you get to repeat during your senior season, is an unforgettable way to cap off a career,” Oexmann said. “I do remember that win as a team effort, and coaching has shown me that in the end–in those state title games–it really does take everyone, which makes the victory that much sweeter. Every year that we are fortunate enough at Centennial to make a state run, I am always so excited for that particular group of girls to get to experience what I did as a player. Walking into that arena will never get old, and I hope my opportunities to experience that as a coach continue.”
Lauren Cummings (OH/MB). She helped Ankeny to a pair of second-place finishes in 2002-03. As a junior, she had 255 kills and earned all-state honorable mention. In 2003, she led the team with 272 kills and was named to the elite all-state team. She was also selected to the all-tournament team after the Hawkettes lost to Dubuque Hempstead in the Class 4A final. “She was one of the best jumpers I have ever coached,” Whims said. “She would go up, hang (in the air), look around and then hit the ball. She was totally a delight to coach and watch play. And she was, without a doubt, the most mentally tough girl I have coached.” She started her college career at Northwest Missouri State, where she was the MIAA Freshman of the Year in 2004. Cummings then transferred to Iowa State, where she stepped in for the Cyclones on the right side in 2006 and proved to be the most efficient hitter on the team. Her team-high .317 hitting percentage ranked 10th in the Big 12 and was the second-best single-season percentage in school history. As a senior, she placed second on the team with 422 kills, the 10th-most by any Cyclone in a single season. She had 14 kills as the Cyclones upset No. 8 Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. She had 25 double-digit kill efforts on the season and 39 in her career, which ties for 11th all-time in school history. She recorded 706 kills and 206 block assists in just two years at Iowa State.
Lindsay Robinson (RS). She was an athletic hitter who had 182 kills for Ankeny as a junior in 1995, then developed into a star as a senior, when she led the Hawkettes to the most successful season in program history at the time. She set school records with 463 serving attempts and 397 serving completions as Ankeny went 34-6-2 and qualified for state for the first time. The Hawkettes won the CIML National Conference title with a 7-0 mark and broke 17 school records. Robinson had 244 kills and posted a team-high .345 hitting percentage. She also had 90 ace serves. “She was extremely motivated to be successful,” said Terry Carlson, who was the first Ankeny volleyball coach. “She was first-team all-state her senior year, and that was a first for the program!” She went on to play for Iowa State.
Megan Ballenger (MB). She was another dominant hitter who played in four state tournaments for Ankeny, helping the Hawkettes to a 131-29 record from 2011-14. “The thing I’ll remember most is having the opportunity to represent Ankeny and AHS,” Ballenger said. “There is something to be said about representing the place you grew up and being able to showcase your talent in front of people who taught you how to play the sport from a young age. Having the opportunity to play with my sister (Alyssa in 2013-14) was also something both of us will remember for years to come.” As a freshman, she contributed 172 kills. In 2012, she led the team with 364 kills and was named the CIML player of the year. After the split into two high schools, Ballenger set a school record with 514 kills as a junior and led the Hawkettes to a 37-5 mark that included a 21-match winning streak. She was again named the CIML player of the year. In 2014, she earned all-state honors for the third time after pounding 441 kills and finishing her career with 1,491 kills, which set another school record. Unfortunately, Ballenger never played in a championship match–her Ankeny teams lost in the semifinals twice and in the quarterfinals twice. “Not advancing to the finals at state is something that is bittersweet as I reflect back on my high school career,” Ballenger said. “I wish I would have had that experience, but it is such a testament to how difficult it is to get to state and ultimately win there. There were and still are so many great volleyball players in the state, making every match a challenge.” Ballenger demonstrated her versatility early in her senior season, when Whims was forced to move her to the setter position following an injury to teammate Liv Winker. She compiled 65 assists and was later named an Under Armour honorable mention all-American. “Megan led our program through the rebuilding years following the split,” Whims said. “She was a great competitor who crushed the ball, but she also had a very deceptive roll shot that fell in for points. She was a very effective hitter from everywhere on the court, and she played all the way around. She was a silent leader who led by example, and we had to build our team around her.” Ballenger went on to play for Creighton, where she helped the Bluejays to four consecutive Big East regular-season titles and NCAA Tournament appearances. As a senior in 2019, she averaged 2.07 kills per set while hitting a team-leading .297. She was a first-team all-Big East honoree and was also selected to the all-East Region first team. She ranks in the top 15 in program history in career kills, starts and blocks. Ballenger was also named one of the state’s top 50 players of all time by The Register. Let’s make her the co-captain of our second team along with Sauer. Both of them just missed making the first team.
Angie Nielsen (S). She helped lead Ankeny to a 94-17-4 record from 1995-97, including the school’s first trip to the state tournament. As a sophomore, she dished out 665 assists. In 1996, she had 786 assists as the Hawkettes reached the Class 3A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Dubuque Wahlert. As a senior, she racked up 856 more assists and earned all-state honors for the second time after Ankeny went 32-5 and reached the regional final before losing to Marshalltown. “My favorite memory is all the time spent with teammates,” Nielsen said. “Before and after practice, on the long bus rides, going together to the football games, and all the moments in between. I had the privilege of playing with some truly wonderful people!” Nielsen set several school records, including career marks of 2,307 assists and 183 aces. “Angie was a cerebral setter!” Carlson said. “She knew who to set when points were needed. She had a unique talent at reading the defense and finding the weak spot.” Nielsen went on to become a three-time all-American at Central College, where she helped the Dutch to three straight NCAA Division III national titles in 1998-2000. She was the Iowa Conference MVP in 2001 after leading her team to a fourth consecutive league crown. She holds school marks for career assists (5,828) and has the top four spots on the chart for most season assists, including a record 1,585 in 2000. She ranks fifth in career service aces (175). In 2006, Nielsen was named the 44th greatest athlete in Ankeny High School history. She was inducted into the Central College Athletics Hall of Honor in 2017. She is married to Ryan Sears, who was earlier named to Ankeny Fanatic’s all-time Ankeny boys’ basketball team.
Jill Hoeck (S). She played on Ankeny’s back-to-back runner-up teams in 2002-03. As a junior, she served as Belzung’s backup and had 218 assists. “Jill was a great setter, but she had to wait her turn because of the many great players we had,” Whims said. “I knew she would be an all-stater her senior year, and she proved me right. We went to a 5-1 offense, and Jill ran the show. She was a hard worker, smart and had a high skill level for setting and ran a great offense.” In 2003, she racked up 777 assists and set a school record with 478 serve attempts as the Hawkettes opened the season with 33 consecutive victories before going 6-3 down the stretch. She was named to the all-tournament team after Ankeny’s loss in the Class 4A final and was also selected to the all-state first team. Hoeck went on to play for Carlson at Indian Hills Community College, where she was a first-team all-American and twice led the Warriors to the NJCAA national tournament. She easily smashed every record for assists in the history of the program, finishing her career with 3,254 assists–a mark that she broke by 1,396 assists. Hoeck was later inducted into the Indian Hills Athletic Hall of Fame, becoming only the second volleyball player to be enshrined. “Terry Carlson was the same coach at Indian Hills that started me playing volleyball at Ankeny when I was in fourth grade,” Hoeck said. “I was friends with his daughter. We grew up playing volleyball together and after (Carlson) took the Indian Hills job, I always went to the school to visit.” Hoeck then completed her college career at North Carolina-Wilmington, where she started every match in her two seasons and compiled 2,073 assists, which currently ranks sixth all-time in school history.
Claire and Haley Wandrey (L/DS). The final spot on our second team goes to the Wandrey sisters, who were two of the top defenders in Ankeny’s history. Haley played on the Hawkettes’ championship team in 2008 and then filled a larger role as a junior in 2009, when she finished with 103 digs. She replaced Belisario in the championship match and had a team-high 19 digs as Ankeny defended its title. As a senior, she racked up 427 digs as the Hawkettes posted a 35-4 record and came up one victory shy of a threepeat, falling to Iowa City West in the Class 4A final. “Both teams definitely played hard, but it seemed like (Iowa City West) had prepared well and all the things that they thought we were going to do, they had an answer,” said Haley, who was named to the elite all-state team. In 2011, Claire joined the varsity as a sophomore and had 370 digs. As a junior, she racked up 454 digs as Ankeny reached the Class 4A semifinals for the second straight year. In 2013, she totaled 558 digs and finished her career with 1,382 digs, setting a pair of school records. She also set career marks for successful serves (1,039) and serve attempts (1,093). She earned all-state honors for the third time after the Hawkettes went 37-5 and qualified for state in the first season after the split into two high schools. “They were two great liberos,” Whims said. “Tenacity, drive, determination describes both of them. Haley followed (Belisario), and she wanted to be as good as her predecessor. A few years later, Claire came up and took over the libero spot. Her goal was to break the records her sister had in digs.” Claire went on to play for Truman State, while Haley played for Northern Iowa. Now, they are both coaching at Bondurant-Farrar.
Amber and Angie Aschoff (OH). Both Amber and her cousin, Angie, deserved to be on the all-time team as well, so we’ll let them share one of the positions on the third team. Angie was a second-team all-state pick in 1995, when she had a team-high 288 kills and set five school records. She went on to play at Southeast Missouri State, where she earned all-Ohio Valley Conference honors for four straight years and finished her career ranked among the school’s all-time leaders in hitting percentage (6th, .332) and block assists (9th, 347). She played in multiple NCAA Tournaments and was later inducted into the Southeast Missouri Athletics Hall of Fame in 2018. “Angie was an uncanny blocker with great timing and anticipation. She was very good in blocker transition,” Carlson said. “Angie was also a fantastic leader!” Amber, who is Shannon’s sister, later became the third member of the Aschoff family to star for the Hawkettes. As a junior in 2008, she led Ankeny with 297 kills, including one that closed out the Class 4A title match against Johnston. She was a second-team all-state pick. In 2009, she had 308 kills and posted a .353 hitting percentage as the Hawkettes defended their state title. She was an all-tournament pick and was named to the elite all-state team. Amber went on to play for South Dakota, where she had 713 kills in her career and was a three-time selection to the Summit League Commissioner’s List of Academic Excellence.
Lindsey Petersen (OH). She helped Ankeny to a 114-6 record from 2007-09, including the back-to-back titles in her final two seasons. As a junior, she had 199 kills and set a single-season school record with 125 aces as the Hawkettes captured the crown. She was named to the all-tournament team and earned all-state special mention. In 2009, she had 220 kills and broke her own AHS mark with 146 aces as Ankeny defended its title. She was again named to the all-tournament team and was selected to the all-state second team. There is no doubt that Petersen is the best server in Ankeny’s history–nobody else has even come close to her number of aces. By comparison, the Hawkettes had 182 aces AS A TEAM en route to this year’s crown. Petersen went on to play for Augustana (S.D.), where she started 40 matches in her first two campaigns before suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2012.
Alyssa Ballenger (OH). She followed in her sister’s footsteps and became the most prolific hitter in Ankeny’s history. After pounding 223 kills as a freshman in 2013, she had 268 kills as a sophomore and earned all-state honorable mention. Following Megan’s graduation, Aly became the focal point of the Hawkettes’ offense in 2015 and racked up 538 kills, breaking her sister’s single-season record. She then surpassed her own mark with 604 kills as a senior in 2016, allowing her to become the school’s all-time leader with 1,633 kills. She was named to the all-state first team. Ballenger went on to play for Wayne State College, where she is currently a senior. She immediately became a starter as a freshman and has twice been named to the NSIC All-Academic Team.
Virginia Hoss (MB). She was the first dominant player in Ankeny history, twice earning all-state honors under Carlson. As a junior in 1993, she set school records with 344 kills and 79 blocks while leading the Hawkettes to a 22-10-2 record. Then, as a senior, she was a second-team all-state pick after helping Ankeny to a 28-7-1 mark and a trip to the regional final, where the Hawkettes lost to eventual state champion Marshalltown in five sets. The Bobcats trailed in the final set, 14-10, before scoring the last six points. Hoss finished her career with 827 kills and was the holder of seven school records. “She was our first big-time attacker,” Carlson said. “At 6-foot-2, she dominated the net with blocks and kills. She was the first player that could put down a spike inside the 10-foot line!” Hoss went on to play for two years at Iowa State.
McKenna Pierson (S). She was a role player on Ankeny’s 2012 team as a sophomore, contributing 62 assists as the Hawkettes reached the Class 5A semifinals. After moving across town to Centennial, she became a star for the Jaguars, racking up 905 assists in 2013. She then had 1,090 assists as a senior in helping Centennial to its first state title. She was named to the all-tournament team and was also a second-team all-state selection. “McKenna was the ultimate leader,” Rinehart said. “We expect our setters to be our quarterbacks, and she embodied that. She was our first setter in my first year, and she knew exactly where we wanted to go and what we wanted to accomplish. She was disciplined and smart and knew how to instill confidence in her hitters. One of my favorite memories of McKenna was in the first set of our championship match when she set Tasha (Vipond) a slide. Tasha missed it and told McKenna to set someone else…and McKenna looked at her and said, ‘Run it again. I’m setting you–get a kill,’ and she did. Those littles things are what kept hitters in a match and allowed us to get our first championship.” Pierson went on to play for Lewis University (Ill.).
Rheanna Egli (S). She racked up nearly 1,300 assists from 2007-09 and helped Ankeny to back-to-back titles in her final two seasons. As a junior, she had 423 assists and played a key role as the Hawkettes bounced back from a loss to Johnston during the regular season. Egli addressed her teammates in the locker room after the loss. “Rheanna told them that we might have lost the conference championship, but we could still win the state championship,” Whims said. “And that’s what we did.” In 2009, Egli had 462 assists and earned second-team all-state honors as Ankeny defended its crown. She went on to play college basketball at Emporia State (Kan.). Egli was earlier named to Ankeny Fanatic’s all-time Ankeny girls’ basketball team.
Taylor Goetz (S). She served as Egli’s backup in 2008, then joined the regular rotation as a junior and had 353 assists as Ankeny captured a second consecutive crown. In 2010, Goetz became the primary setter and racked up 538 assists as the Hawkettes reached the Class 4A final before falling to Iowa City West. The Women of Troy overcame a 20-14 deficit in the first set to post a 28-26 victory and went on to complete a sweep by scores of 25-23 and 25-16. “Games can go either way,” Goetz said. “They had all the momentum in the world and we tried to get it back, but we just came up a few points short.” She was named to the all-state first team. “Taylor had a great opportunity to play with some of Ankeny’s best players,” Whims said. “She will be considered as one of them.” She went on to play for Iowa State, where she played in 20 matches as a senior in 2014 and racked up 132 digs.
Jordyn Rittman (DS). She was a defensive standout on the first two teams in Centennial history. As a junior in 2013, she had 247 digs as the Jaguars reached the Class 5A semifinals. Then, as a senior, she led the team with 435 digs as Centennial claimed its first championship. She was named to the all-tournament team. “When I think of Ritt, I think of natural touch,” Rinehart said. “Jordyn could be standing on one foot, backwards and the ball would go straight to target. She was naturally good. Her serve would single-handedly change the momentum of matches mid-game. Jordyn was another player that was at her best when the pressure and competition was the strongest. In tight moments, Jordyn would elevate to a whole other level that was beyond anything we would see in practice. She was a competitor and a great player.” Rittman was also a talented soccer player who accomplished a rare feat in high school–she won state championships in two different sports at two different schools. As a sophomore, she led the Ankeny girls’ soccer team with 18 goals as the Hawkettes captured the crown in their final season as one varsity program. She went on to play volleyball at DMACC before finishing her college career at Grand View.
A lot of great players, including many all-staters, did not make the all-time team. Here are just some of the other players who were considered for the all-time team: Miranda Greathouse, Mackenzie Heston, Hannah Johnson, Kara Johnson, Savana Johnson, Jenna Lago, Lindsey Leonard, Megan Lively, Maddie Manning, Riley Morgan, Tammy Peter, Ava Reynolds, Lauren Rieck, Erin Roggenburg, Olivia Sandquist, McKenna Scheib, Meredith Sieck, Tasha Vipond, Liv Winker, Ari Winters and Chelsea Wood.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ankeny Fanatic teams were selected by publisher Dan Holm, who consulted with former and current coaches before making his picks. An effort was made to build the first team using a traditional 6-2 offense. The most deserving players were selected to the second and third teams, regardless of position.)