By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — It may seem odd what Troy volleyball, a team that won its second straight Greater Western Ohio Conference North championship and boasts the returning division Player of the Year, is using as a motivator this season.
Last year’s losses.
But for the Trojans, who repeated as North champs for the first time in returning division Coach of the Year Michelle Owen’s tenure, the sting of falling to Beavercreek three times last season — including a season-ending loss in the sectional title game, preventing the Trojans from making their third straight district appearance — makes that competitive fire burn brighter than just about anything possibly could.
“It is, especially with Beavercreek,” Owen said when asked how effective a motivator last year’s defeats were. “In the sectional title game, we took the first set from them and had a great gameplan, but they just had nine seniors and a lot of balance, and we were playing without an injured senior, Jillian Ross. We lost three times to them — during the regular season, during the GWOC Tournament and during the sectional tournament. It definitely stings. And the girls remember that feeling.
“It’s good when you have upperclassmen that know how it feels and can motivate themselves and the younger girls to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Of course, those same upperclassmen also know what it’s like to win — two years ago, they were the only Troy team to win the GWOC tournament in addition to winning the North and a then-second straight sectional title.
And they’ve got goals to do all of that once again.
“Our returners know what it’s like to win, too,” Owen said. “They’re setting a goal of winning the North for a third straight time — something I don’t think Troy volleyball has ever done. And beyond that, they are looking toward the GWOC Tournament. Our juniors and seniors were with us when we won it two years ago, and we definitely have a chance to win it again.
“I feel like we can play with the top teams in the league. We have a chance to win the GWOC Tournament and even get back to district.”
And that all begins with junior Lauren Freed.
The returning GWOC North and District 9 Player of the Year, Freed has been a key part of Troy’s offense and defense for two years already.
“She’s got a ton of experience,” Owen said. “She’s one of impact players, a key piece to our puzzle. She’s a huge asset at outside hitter.”
Also returning is senior setter Leslie Wynkoop, senior right-side hitter Ashton Riley and sophomore middle Katie DeMeo.
“Leslie has experience running our offense, and Katie will be another big piece of our puzzle,” Owen said. Katie and Lauren will be our go-to hitters. But the nice thing is that we have a lot of balance, so they won’t have to carry us all the time.”
Another returner that got a chance to develop last season is junior middle Drezanee Smith. She and Riley will add other options on offense and can both play defense, too. Joining the team will be defensive specialist Kaylie Marshall and sophomore outsides Victoria Holland and Miranda Silcott, as well as freshman Camryn Moeller.
The path to winning the North again, though, won’t necessarily be easy.
“There’s never an easy Troy-Butler match,” Owen said. “Piqua is a rivalry match and it’s always fun, but in volleyball lately, it’s come down to us and Butler. And the Butler match is at home this year — and we made it our ‘Volley for the Cure’ match.
“Outside of the league, Beavercreek is back on our schedule. We want to beat them after last year. And we haven’t beaten Miami East in three years — that’s another early-season match. They’re still a solid team. That’ll be a good test early on.
“If we can show good ball control and execute our scouting reports — and stay healthy and focused — we’ll be setting ourselves up for success.”
After a disappointing eight-win season, Tippecanoe is looking to turn things around with a solid group of returners — as well as some improved physical and technical attributes.
“Of our normal rotation of nine players, we have six of them coming back — and the team has some increase in height and is better in the ball control department,” Tippecanoe coach Howard Garcia said. “The team understands the system much better and are more comfortable with it, but our offense will be totally dependent on how well we improve passing and how well our first-year setters handle the second contact.”
That first contact should be under control, though, as senior libero Emily Layman returns after setting a new school record in digs with 330. Also back are outside hitters Halee Printz and Alyssa Crusey, the team leaders in kills and aces, respectively, and middle Aubrey Cox.
“We have some good firepower on the net, we are solid blocking and serving,” Garcia said. “It’s time to get it done.”
* Miami East
After two straight state championships and a loss in last year’s regional tournament to the eventual state champ, Miami East is looking to rebuild this season after the graduation of five seniors and with a new coach in Don Wood.
“This will be a reloading year for the Vikings,” Wood said. “With the loss of five senior starters, we will be looking to the experience gained by the returning varsity players, as well as a strong group of underclassmen being added to the team. The team vision is to gain another league and state championship for the school.”
The Viking offense, though, will depend on Jonni Parker, a 6-foot outside hitter/setter. The defense will be led by senior libero Anna Kiesewetter, who brings back the most experience from last year’s varsity team. Also back are Kara Nuss, Kati Runner, Karson Mahaney, Marley Roberts, Lindsey Black, Emma Monnin and Noel Dalton. Joining the team, along with Parker, will be sophomores Jillian Wesco, Taylor McCuistion and Carly Gump and freshman Kyndall Hellyer.
* Troy Christian
After a three-win season and a loss to Lehman to open the tournament, Troy Christian decided it wanted to put in the work to improve before this season’s start. Now the Eagles’ time to test themselves is here.
“After our tournament game last year, we made a pact with one another that as a program we were going to step up our game,” second-year Troy Christian coach MaryJo Weisenbarger said. “We have turned up the intensity in the offseason and now. I’m leaning on my upperclassmen to lead my underclassmen and get them on board with the changes being made to make our program substantial.”
Leading the way will be junior setter Jenna Bullock, a first team All-Metro Buckeye Conference pick last year, as well as senior middle Shawna Davee and senior outside Alliyah Lee. Senior hitters Courtney Leis and Savannah Hutchins and junior libero Kristen Winger will add depth.
“Win or lose, there will be no question that these girls gave it their all on every point of every game,” Weisenbarger said.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.