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Meet the new stars of Oregon high school volleyball: 2023's breakthrough players

Which players around the state became stars this fall?

The Oregon high school volleyball playoffs kick off this week, and as teams prepare for the stretch run, looking to advance to Forest Grove (6A/5A), Springfield (4A/3A) and Ridgeview (2A/1A) high schools for the state tournaments, we asked coaches to nominate someone as their breakthrough player this season. 

Earlier lists of top players: 

Liberos | Setters | Middles | Hitters

OH/MH Mayenabasi Akpan, South Medford, sophomore

Akpan was a solid player as a freshman for the Panthers but broke through this year to become their top offensive threat with 420 kills (.279 hitting percentage), 38 blocks, 175 digs and 28 aces through Oct. 10 to help them return to the 6A state playoffs.

MB Abbygayle Beals, Mazama, senior

After Cali Bitzer broke her collarbone midway through last season, Beals stepped into the starting lineup for the Vikings, and she’s remained a key player for the Skyline Conference champions, with 98 kills, 65 digs and 59 blocks through Oct. 10. “She dedicated herself to getting better in the offseason and has become a top-notch middle blocker,” said assistant coach Samantha Fenner.

S Payton Becker, Portland Christian, freshman

The Royals returned several big hitters from last season such as Alyssa Baird and Finley Marine, but the addition of Becker to the lineup has transformed them into champions of the Northwest League. She averaged 28 assists per match and had 53 aces and 48 kills in their first 16 matches. “Payton has really been the key to our dynamic attack this year, giving all our hitters the opportunity to be versatile in their attacks,” coach Denetia Cimuku said. “Her physical and mental capability as a freshman stepping into a key position has been beyond what a coach can dream.”

MB Thianna Deng-Gomez, Eagle Point, junior

Deng-Gomez — T for short among her coaches and teammates — started playing volleyball a year ago after Eagles coach Jacob Schauffler watched her playing basketball and encouraged her to try out. She picked up the game quickly. She was averaging 4.5 kills per set, and Schauffler thinks she could play in college. “We have a solid group of seniors, many of whom have been playing varsity since their sophomore year, so she is the newcomer to this group,” Schauffler said. “But you would never be able to tell by the way she plays.”

OH Maxine Deroo, Sunset, senior

The Apollos were the only Metro League team to win a set against Jesuit this season, and Deroo (137 kills, 115 digs, 17 aces, 1.92 passing rating) helped them to the No. 7 seed in the 6A state playoffs.

RS Addie Emerson, Valley Catholic, junior

How about this for a breakthrough season — going from a second-team all-Lewis and Clark League selection a year ago to league Player of the Year this fall, finishing the regular season with 245 kills (.287 hitting), 68 aces and 194 digs as a six-rotation player. “She is invaluable to us,” said Valiants coach Becky Kemper. “Addie is that dream player that you want to lead your team because she always thinks of team before herself.”

OH Precious Forbes, Jefferson, senior

Forbes takes on a lot of responsibility for the Democrats as their only club player, leading the team in digs and kills and stepping in at setter after their starter suffered an injury. She helped Jefferson make its first playoff appearance since 2009 and only the school’s second all-time.

S/RS Brooke Friesen, Sprague, freshman

Friesen is the younger sister of all-state outside hitter Sidney Friesen, and when Sidney is off at Western Oregon next season, Brooke will uphold the family tradition at Sprague. Through Oct. 10, Brooke had 275 kills (.270 hitting percentage), 56 blocks, 258 assists, 179 digs and 25 aces.

OH Anna Gladwin, McDaniel, junior

Gladwin is a three-sport standout who has become a key player alongside sophomore RS/S Lily Mae Buerkle, helping the Mountain Lions finish third in the PIL for a second consecutive season. “Watching her play and improve as a player has been so fun,” coach Kyla Henry said. “Nine times out of 10, she gets a kill.”

OH Grady Heinle, Central Catholic, sophomore

Heinle didn’t receive much court time last season as a defensive specialist, but first-year coach Kealia Rosa converted her to an outside hitter this season, and she rarely leaves the floor now in helping the Rams win their 18th Mt. Hood Conference title in the past 19 seasons. Assistant Emma Adams said that “with an explosive vertical and fast arm swing, she is racking up kills all over the court. And given her experience as a libero, her ability to play six rotations is apparent.”

L Ashlyn Hicks, Beaverton, freshman

Beavers coach Ashley Waggoner called Hicks “a rising star who has swiftly ascended to the varsity starting lineup.” In her first 11 matches, she was serving at a .974 rate with 25 digs and a 1.90 serve receive rating with only five errors. “Her impact to our serve receive is undeniable,” Waggoner said. “Ashlyn has instinctive, natural ability to read the movement of the game and anticipate opponents has added a crucial defensive edge to the lineup.”

L Mady Lebeck, Westview, freshman

Lebeck has proven more than capable of filling the shoes of graduated all-state libero Kennedy Cheung, leading the team in digs (150) in Metro League play to go with 23 aces and 23 assists. “She plays all six rotations in the back row, is a very aggressive server, plays with a competitive spirit, and is very scrappy on defense,” coach Janelle Brandt said.

MB Paige Lindsey, Westside Christian, senior

Lindsey led the Eagles’ turnaround last season that saw them return to the 3A state playoffs for the first time since 2016, and she was set for a big senior year before breaking a hand at practice just before the season-opening jamboree. She returned a couple of weeks ago, and in her first eight matches, she had 58 kills (.306 hitting), 15 aces and a 2.0 serve receive rating. “She went onto that court with fire and determination to finish the rest of the season strong,” coach Kristina Thom said. “I can’t adequately put into words just how much this player still contributed in heart and leadership during a time when she could have just gone inside herself.”

MB Ryland Minnick, Crosshill Christian, sophomore

Minnick is a 6-foot-1 lefty who has quickly become one of the Eagles’ mainstays, with 91 kills, 101 digs, 44 aces (24% ace efficiency) and 19 blocks through 20 matches. She also is a primary passer in their serve receive (1.8 rating out of 3). “She has grown from being a player that needed the perfect set to a player that is able to effectively handle any set,” coach Julie Bennett said. “She is a consistent and strong serve receiver for us and combines with our other blockers to form a formidable block reading hitters well.”

OH Claire Mueller, Irrigon, freshman

Mueller stepped into a starting role after the Knights graduated five seniors in June, and through Oct. 10, she had 212 kills, 57 aces and 74 digs while leading the team in serve receive rating to help them qualify for the Blue Mountain district tournament. “Claire has been reliable, consistent, and is always eager to get better every day,” coach Kylene Briggs said. “She is a huge reason for our success this season.”

MB Madison Oelhafen, Willamina, junior

Oelhafen started the season at outside hitter, but Bulldogs coach Heather Hughes moved her to the middle because her hitting percentage was better there. Oelhafen averaged nearly six kills per match and led the team with 149 passes in the back row to go with 53 digs, a team-high 46 aces and 24 blocks. “A very stoic player and wants to get the ball,” Hughes said.

S Saebrah Rogers, South Umpqua, senior

Rogers had a career-high 43 assists and 16 digs against Douglas, highlighting a solid senior season. She also runs the school’s blood drives. “Saebrah is an outstanding athlete and student and gives her all,” said Lancers coach Seantae Wells. “She is coachable, kind, hardworking and never gives up.”

S Lauren Rohman, Marist Catholic, freshman

Spartans coach Shari Pimental called Rohman “a game-changer for us this year” who helped them tie defending 4A state champion Marshfield for first place in the Sky Em League. “She can set anything from anywhere as well as hit,” Pimental said.

MB Kathryn Scholl, Sisters, junior

Scholl started her career as a right-side hitter for the Outlaws but moved to the middle last year. She suffered a significant back injury in the spring but returned in time to help them win the Mountain Valley Conference title with 169 kills (.317 hitting percentage), 26 blocks and 19 aces through Oct. 10. “She is aggressive and has become a viable threat in the middle,” coach Rory Rush said.

OH Yana Tuioti, Sheldon, sophomore

Tuioti is the sister of University of Oregon freshman linebacker Teitum Tuioti and Irish junior Manu Tuioti, and Yana has the potential to become just as big of a prospect. She had 177 kills, 43 aces, 216 digs and 11 blocks with a 1.96 serve receive rating through Oct. 9. “Yana leads by example on and off the court,” coach Martine Wodke said. “She has great ball control and plays with calm confidence. She sees the court and is explosive.”

Earlier lists of top players:

Liberos | Setters | Middles | Hitters