Patriots, Spartans try to improve
Prior to the 2018 season South Knox (2008) and North Knox (2013) were the only volleyball teams in the county to win sectionals in the previous decade, so it came as a bit of a surprise when the county added two more sectionals a year ago.
Of course the surprising part wasn’t that Lincoln and North Knox won sectionals, as both clearly had the talent to do so. It’s just that they happened to occur in the same year after such a lengthy drought.
And it could happen again this season. The Alices (28-8 last year) and Warriors (23-11) both have the bulk of their rosters back, so another pair of county titles is possible.
But it won’t be easy, especially for North Knox. Reigning Class A state champion and Blue Chip Conference foe Barr-Reeve joins the Warriors’ 2A sectional due to its success factor.
Like Lincoln and North Knox, Rivet brings back nearly all of its roster from last season, and with Barr-Reeve moving out of Class A, the Patriots could be a third county team competing for a sectional.
But Loogootee will still be formidable, and Rivet must first demonstrate the improvement that’s expected from its 5-18 finish a a year ago.
With North Knox and Barr-Reeve in the fold, postseason success will be difficult to come by for South Knox (2-21), especially with a youthful roster, so improvement will be the primary focus.
The 2018 season was a banner one for the Alices, winning their first sectional since 1992. Their top player, reigning Sun-Commercial Player of the Year Alison Hein, is gone to graduation, but nearly everyone else is back, including two other all-area selections.
Lincoln should win beyond this season too as it boasts a deep junior class, but another 20-win season in 2019 is highly obtainable.
“One of our team strengths is team chemistry,” Lincoln coach Casey Bowles said. “We have a group of girls committed to the team and program. They approach situations as one unit and that attitude will lead to team success throughout the season.”
Lone senior Darrian Carmean, an outside hitter, and junior setter Callie Foster are the two returning all-area players, and they are the team leaders as well, but they have plenty of help carrying the load. Other junior returning starters are libero Kali Haynes and middle hitter Maycee Lange.
“Darrian leads by example every day, and she is one of our main forces in scoring points. She’s also an excellent passer we rely on during serve-receive. I expect Callie to be a big leader for the team. She’s a critical part of our team defense and team chemistry. Kali is a key contributor in the team’s energy and communication, and I expect her to be a key defender. At 6-0, (Lange) gets her hands on balls and makes it easier for our defense, and she’s worked hard to improve her offensive skills.”
Others Bowles expected to contribute are defensive specialist Kyndall Myers, right side hitter Maggie Schmidtknecht and outside hitter Mackenzie Newland in the junior class, and outside hitter Livie Koenig and outside hitter/defensive specialist Cameron Cary in the sophomore class. A pair of freshmen could also be called into duty, outside hitter Macy Taylor and middle hitter Faith Fleetwood.
Defending the sectional, which the Alices host this season, and a lengthy tournament run are the ultimate goals, but winning the Big Eight Conference would be a little sweeter this year. Volleyball is one of seven sports in which Lincoln has never won the Big Eight, and this is the league’s 40th and final season.
“There may be some very good competition in the Big Eight this year,” Bowles said. “Jasper is always a contender, and Mount Vernon has talented athletes returning. That’s not to take away from Princeton, Washington or any other team. If we don’t show up with our best every night in the Big Eight, we could get beat.”
Just one player graduated off the Warriors’ sectional winning team from a season ago, but it was a big one. As a four-year starter and 2016 and 2017 S-C Player of the Year, not many around meant as much to their team as Makinzi Meurer.
But six seniors return with varsity experience, and deep sophomore and freshman classes point to the Warriors still being formidable, this year and beyond.
“We are coming back from a phenomenal 2018 season with the loss of just one senior, so we have high expectations for this team to
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continue the winning tradition,” North Knox coach Tammy Meurer said. “With the loss of Makinzi, we are under the realization that we have incredible shoes to fill. The girls have been pushing themselves hard, and we have several girls vying for various positions. I’m excited with the amount of experience we have back and with the potential our newcomers and freshmen possess.”
Fortunately for the Warriors, even though they lost one of the area’s best in Meurer, they still have one of the best all-around players in the county in senior Emilee Organ. She put up a combined 662 kills and digs a year ago, and only Hein and Meurer were better in the county.
The other seniors back are Sabrina Carson, Megan Cross, Mallory Earhart, Mercedes Harbin and Grace Yochum. Sophomore Hannah Saucerman also returns to the starting lineup after a stellar freshman season as the team’s setter. Earhart shares some of the setting duties, while Cross and Yochum play mostly up front, and Carson and Harbin are defensive specialists.
Juniors Mattyson Hoffman and Rayne Held return with varsity experience, and Tessa Haag and Shelby Haag complete the class. The other sophomores are Abigail McKinley, Emma Wampler, Keanna Thomas, Mallory Rogers and Jacqui Alsman. The freshmen are Kylee Messel, Shelby Shaw, Layna LeRoy, Emma Saucerman, Briley Yochum, Geneva Halter and Abby Irvine.
“The girls showed amazing dedication over the summer,” coach Meurer said. “We played in various scrimmages and tournaments and attended the Indiana University team camp. We also had strength training sessions and open gyms throughout the summer. We’ve also had 90 percent of our roster play club volleyball this past year. The commitment these girls have shown in the offseason has paid great dividends, individually and for our team.”
Barr-Reeve stands in the Warriors’ way, both in the Blue Chip Conference and now in the sectional. Loogootee could also push North Knox in the league, while Linton is another team to watch in the sectional.
With only one player lost to graduation and both all-area picks returning, the Patriots have the talent and experience to greatly improve last season’s record.
Only 14 are on the roster, and two of those play soccer, so Rivet won’t have a junior varsity team, but the girls they do have, including six seniors, are mostly battle-tested. The two all-area picks back are seniors, libero Macee Hamilton and setter Hannah Schneider.
“Macee returns to anchor our back row, and we’re expecting a lot out of her. Hannah is another senior with a lot of experience,” Patriots coach Jill Ballinger said. “Our hitting has improved, and the more hitters we can get in, the better.”
The other seniors are middle hitter Livia Trent, defensive specialist Maddy Allen, outside-middle hitter Bella Atkinson and outside hitter Olivia Lankford. Ballinger added that Trent has been one of the team’s hardest workers over the summer and should step into a leadership role, while the other three should also see their share of playing time.
The juniors are middle hitter Lauren Carie and outside hitters April Tripp and Avery Vantlin; sophomores are hitters Elise Lowe, Emma Spurgeon and Avi Strange; and outside hitter Natalie Buchanan and setter Kenadee Frey round out the freshmen class. Vantlin and Frey are splitting time with soccer, while the 6-1 Carie returns after sitting out last season.
“The return of Lauren helps us out offensively and defensively in the middle,” Ballinger said. “Frey had a good summer and will get a lot of playing time. She hustles and gets to a lot of balls, but she also has to make the jump from eighth grade to varsity, so there’s still a lot for her to learn.”
Ballinger noted that Barr-Reeve is the favorite in the Blue Chip Conference, but added that Loogootee, North Knox and Northeast Dubois are tough as well. With the Vikings moving up to 2A, the Lions become the favorites in Rivet’s sectional according to Ballinger, but she isn’t counting out her team.
“I think the sectional is wide open, and the team that has the best run going can take the title,” she said. “The biggest thing is to improve on everything from last year. We want to have a better record, finish higher in the conference and do well in the postseason.”
Experience still remains for the Spartans as just a pair of players graduated, but with just two seniors and two juniors among the 21-player roster, it’s still a rebuilding job for second-year coach Caryn Atkins.
“This season is all about improvement,” she said. “We’re still a very young team, so gaining more experience is still big on our list. With nine sophomores and eight freshmen, developing skills and gaining game experience is huge for us.”
The returning seniors are outside hitter Hannah Ivers and opposite hitter Lanea Holscher. Juniors are middle blocker Hallie Kirk and setter Lauren Loudermilk. Ivers is currently nursing an ankle injury and could miss the first few games.
“We’re fortunate to be returning quite a few of our players from last season. We’ll miss some leadership (from last season), but I think the seniors and juniors are on the right track to helping make this program stronger,” Atkins said. “(The seniors) are both strong hitters and can be good leaders for our youthful team. Hallie is going to be working hard in the middle, and Lauren is back at setter. Both of them gained a tremendous amount of varsity experience the last two years that will help round out the rest of our team.”
Sophomores vying for varsity playing time are hitters Savannah Benjamin and Leah Ellerman, middle blocker Bailey Kempfer, defensive specialist Mallory Obermeyer and setter Kaylee Parrish.
“Bailey is our other middle blocker, and Mallory is looking to be our defensive specialist. I feel comfortable with her controlling the back for our team,” Atkins said. “Leah and Savannah are going to be versatile players for us, and Kaylee is a consistent setter, moving into a full-time varsity role.”
Barr-Reeve moves into South Knox’s 2A sectional and becomes the favorite in the now seven-team field. The Vikings are also the team to beat in the Blue Chip.
“The best part about our conference and sectional is that we play many incredible, competitive teams,” Atkins said. “We see (sectional teams) Linton, Forest Park and Eastern Greene during the season, but Southridge is a new team we won’t see until the sectional. We’re just going one game at a time and trying to play the best we can while continuing to learn.”