By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — A fourth straight Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division title.
A championship in the final Greater Western Ohio Conference Tournament.
A district championship.
The Troy volleyball team is aiming higher than ever before this season — and every one of its goals are realistic ones. With the returning firepower the Trojans will have on the floor this season, they’re looking to leave a legacy unmatched in the program’s history.
“The girls have several goals this year,” said Troy coach Michelle Owen, who has won three straight GWOC North Coach of the Year awards. “The team’s motto this year is ‘Fight for Four,’ meaning they want to win their fourth GWOC North title in a row. They’d be the first team in school history to ever do that.
“This is also the last year for the GWOC Tournament thanks to the league’s realignment next year, and they want to win it again. The girls really want to close out that tournament’s run by winning the last one.”
And while, most seasons, those goals in addition to reaching the district final would be good enough, these Trojans want to take it one step further this year.
“The girls have set kind of a lofty goal — they want to win the district championship. But it’s a realistic one,” Owen said. “I think this is by far our best shot yet. Obviously, we have to perform, stay healthy and get the No. 1 seed coming out of Dayton and hopefully get a good draw for the tournament, but we can do it.”
Two-time defending GWOC North Player of the Year Lauren Freed returns for her senior season. She holds the career and single-season records for aces and is second in career kills, was one the Trojans’ first GWOC Tournament-winning team her freshman year and has been to two district finals. And while she will begin the season nursing an injury suffered in the preseason, count on her to be a force once again.
“She just brings so much to the table,” Owen said of Freed. “She’s definitely one of those important pieces to the puzzle for us this year.”
Also returning are seniors Drezenee Smith in the middle and Kaylie Marshall, a defensive specialist. And while both have improved, the Trojans will be leaning heavily one junior middle hitter Katie DeMeo for both offense and defense this year.
“We’re going to be looking to her for more defensive stops than we have in the past,” Owen said. “I’m also she can double her offensive production. She needs to have 14 or 15 kills every match for us.”
Sophomore Dana Wynkoop saw some varsity time at setter last year, and she and junior Katie Jackson will be splitting those duties. And on the outside, junior Miranda Silcott and sophomore Camryn Moeller will be back, as well, joined by newcomer freshman Payton Riley. And junior Victoria Holland has moved to libero this season after the Trojans played without anyone in that role last season — a season that saw them finish 21-4.
“We’ve got a pretty solid core group of returners, and we’ve got some good young kids around them,” Owen said. “We try to reload every year. We’ve had a good summer, and we were competitive with some really talented teams like Alter, Coldwater and Fort Loramie. Now it’s just getting those pieces to the puzzle falling in place.”
And while the North is always the first goal to knock out, it certainly isn’t the last.
“Butler is always a competitive match for us. They’ll probably be the best team we face in the division this year,” Owen said. “The girls get excited about winning the North — but we feel like we have a really good chance to win the GWOC Tournament this year, too. With it being the last one, we want to win it bad.”
And as for the district level?
“The girls are pretty realistic,” Owen said. “It’ll take all of the pieces falling in the right places. With the way Cincinnati volleyball is, we know we have to avoid the No. 1 or 2 seed out of there — because there’s a 95 percent chance they’ll win state. But we want to get that No. 1 seed in Dayton so we can control our own destiny as much as possible. The girls know how important it is to focus on every match this year, and they’re ready.”
This year is Howard Garcia’s third season at Tippecanoe, and after a 12-13 season last year, the Red Devils are bringing back a group of experienced players that knows what to expect and is looking to have a solid season.
“Based on the nucleus of eight returning varsity letters, I would think we are an experienced team,” Garcia said. “We are a very experienced team that is balanced offensively and defensively. Our success hinges on how good and how much pressure our front line provides — and that will hinge on our back row defense and the consistency of our setters.”
Four-year letterwinner Alyssa Crusey returns after a first team All-Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division season last year. She was the Red Devils’ leader in kills and aces last year and was second in digs. Also back is fellow senior Aubrey Cox, a three-year letterwinner in the middle that led the team in blocks. Senior setter Kara Trimbach is back for her second year, as is second-year senior outside/libero Jordan McMahan. And junior middle/outside Taylor Prall is back for her second year after finishing second on the team in kills and blocks last year.
After a 9-15 record last season, Milton-Union returns a solid combination of veterans and young players and will be looking to make some noise in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division this year.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs is senior outside hitter Michaela Fullmer, who was first team All-SWBL and District 9 last season. Also back will be junior setter Lauren Craig and senior outside Anna Wilson. Sophomores Morgan Magel and Abbie Goudy will also be on the outside, with senior Sarah Motz and 5-foot-10 freshman Olivia Brown in the middle. Returning senior starter Courtney Manson and junior Katie Lehman will anchor the defense.
“We’re looking for leadership and great play from Michaela. She was a setter in the past, but she’s such a good passer that we’re using her as a six-rotation player and allowing Lauren, another All-SWBL performer, to be our primary setter,” Milton-Union coach Bill Ginn said. “Our team is a mix of veterans and newcomers, with starters from all four classes.
“All of our returning players have extensive experience from last season. We don’t have a great deal of size, but they’ve shown a knack for making plays to keep the ball off the floor. Michaela is one of the most volleyball-intelligent players I have coached, and Lauren is an athletic setter who gets to a lot of things. We should be very competitive in our half of the SWBL and look to improve on our 2014 record.”
* Miami East
First-year head coach Brian Bensman takes over a Miami East program that, over the past four seasons, has won two Division III state titles and has gone to the regional semifinal twice in a row. And with all of the young players that helped the Vikings reach that level last year returning, the team looks poised to make another run.
Sophomore outside hitter Jonni Parker led the team in every way last year, and sophomore middle Kyndall Hellyer is a threat on offense and defense, as well. The Vikings also have four returning seniors in libero Lindsey Black, middle Karson Mahaney and outsides Emma Monnin and Kati Runner, all of which bring back plenty of experience. A team of six returning juniors, all letterwinners from a year ago, rounds out the roster and adds depth, with junior setter Carly Gump key among them.
“What a great group of ladies to start off my coaching career with,” Bensman said. “We have moved a couple of players to new positions to create a system that will be most efficient for our team, and we’re focusing on serve receive and ball control to run our style of offense to compete with the tough competition on our schedule.
“The ladies are stepping up and pushing for playing time at each position to keep practice very competitive. Our goals remain the same as in the past few years, too: focus on each game, compete for a conference title and prepare ourselves for a deep run in the tournament.”
Lonnie Cain takes over as Covington coach. It is Cain’s second stint with Buccaneers, where he was coach from 1987-98. He also been an assistant coach at Newton, Piqua and Lehman, where he was on the staff of two state championship teams.
The Buccs were 11-10 overall last year and 10-2 in the CCC. Graduating off that team were Jessica Dammeyer, Kenzie Atkinson, Megan Lange and Ariel Robinson.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Brooke Gostomsky and Arianna Richards and juniors Rachel York, Ashley Cecil and Savanna Schaurer. Rounding out the team are Darianne Ganger, Breanna Kimmel, Bree Deprerink, Shae Robinson and Legend Patty.
“My goal is to have the Buccs playing better volleyball in October than August,” Cain said. “I have an excellent coaching staff in place (Lori Smith, Stephanie Robinson and Amanda Walter) and we are all dedicated to creating a Covington culture in the sport of volleyball. The Buccs will be fairly young but very athletic and they are buying into the culture change. I am excited and very proud to be part of this year’s program.”
Cain hope to do well in the CCC.
“I feel that everyone in the CCC will be chasing Miami East,” he said. “I have been away from the league for so long, that I really don’t know what to expect from the other league members. My main point of focus will be on the Black and White and making sure we represent Covington by playing hard and playing with purpose.”
* Troy Christian
Mary Jo Weisenbarger returns for her third season with Troy Christian, and the Eagles continue to build a program that can be competitive in the Metro Buckeye Conference after a big improvement from 2013 to 2014.
“We had an amazing turnaround from being 3-19 in 2013 to finishing the season 11-11 last year,” Weisenbarger said. “This year is going to be another building year for us. We are trying to build a volleyball program that stacks up next to the top teams in our league and in District 9. I have confidence these girls and our program will continue to grow and surpass our previous successes.”
Senior setter and co-captain Jenna Bullock will be looked at to lead the way, with senior co-captain libero Kristen Winger anchoring the defense. Junior Emily Sloan and sophomore Faith King will be the outside hitters, with junior Jenna Grady and sophomore Kathryn Lee in the middle. Juniors Kyran Goodison and A’maria Carter will add depth on offense, and freshman setter Allison Winger will play opposite Bullock.
First-year coach Lauren Siebenaller takes over a Bethel squad that returns only two players from last year’s team — a team what went 2-21 and 1-11 in the Cross County Conference — but has plenty of young talent to build for the future with.
Senior Tia Koewler returns to the team after earning All-CCC special mention last season and will be looked at to lead the way. Junior Sarah Swisher, sophomore Alaina Hawthorn and freshman Emily Berkshire will be fresh faces and look to bring something new to the table this year.
“With only two returning varsity players from last season, we’re a brand new team with a brand new mindset,” Siebenaller said. “Several talented newcomers have filled the open spots, and we are out to be a legitimate contender in the Cross County Conference this fall.”
Greg Snipes returns for his 20th season as Lehman volleyball coach.
The Cavaliers graduated Olivia Slagle, Ava Schmitz, Margo Baker and Ellie Sargent off last year’s team that finished 15-9 overall and 6-0 in the Northwest Central Conference.
“A lot of returning faces, along with some new ones have us excited about the upcoming season,” Snipes said. “Our goals would be to win the league and be playing at the highest level possible during the tournament run. The regular season schedule should get us ready for that.”
Returning letterwinners include seniors Madeline Smith, Marianne Hissong, Allie Hall, Adriana Sehlhorst and Michelle Duritsch and juniors Sidney Chapman and Madison Hussey. The outside hitters will be Chapman and sophomore Maddie McFarland. The middles will be Hissong and Hall, with Smith handling the setting duties. The opposite hitters will be sophomore Ellie Scott and Duritsch.
The liberos will be Hussey and and Sehlhorst, with junior Camille Odle and sophomore Hailey Wick seeing time at defensive specialist. Sophomore Lauren Larger will see time at both outside and opposite hitter.
Lehman will look to defend their NWCC title.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.