Local contenders quiet this year, building for next

J. Patrick Eaken

        There are no league volleyball champions or regional qualifiers in the Eastern Maumee Bay community this season, but there are definitely up and coming teams.
        The usual suspects, Eastwood and Clay, were in the hunt for a league championship but could not quite close the deal. For the last two years, Lake has become a force along with Eastwood and Otsego in the Northern Buckeye Conference, and Clay has to deal with the perennial contenders — St. Ursula and Notre Dame in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference.
        There is plenty of star power on both the Lake and Clay teams, with Lake senior outside hitter Kortney Ellison and Clay senior middle hitter Olivia Henneman-Dallape this year’s Alan Miller Jewelers All-Press Co-Players of the Year.
        “Kortney was a captain for us this year and a big reason why we went 20-5,” Lake coach Amy Vorst said. “She was a six rotation player that serve received well, played defense, and was one of our strongest hitters. She led us in kills in almost every match of the year.”
        Ellison averaged a team-leading 10.2 kills, had 10.2 digs (second on the team) and 1.8 service aces per match.
        Ellison earned first team All-NBC and first team District 7 honors. Vorst’s team lost to what she called an “amazing Liberty-Benton team” in three sets during a Division III district semifinal. Ironically, the L-B Eagles (24-2), ranked second in the state coaches poll, were continuing play in the regional tournament, held at Lake this week.
        In the NBC, Otsego went unbeaten in league play at 14-0, Lake finished 12-2 and Eastwood was 10-4, Rossford 6-8, Woodmore 5-9, Elmwood and Fostoria both finished 4-10 and Genoa was 1-13.
        Even perennial NBC powerhouse Eastwood was quiet this year, but never really out of the mix, losing league games to the Flyers and Knights.
“We don’t even talk about a league title,” Coach Jeff Beck told The Press. “It’s always our goal…We know our future is bright. For a lot of these players it’s their first time at the varsity level. Once that leadership develops, these close losses are going to be victories.”
        However for Vorst, who was part of Eastwood’s 1993 state championship team, and the rest of her team at Lake, this is not done yet. She has the program on its way to getting even better with plenty of talent in the underclass ranks.
        “We’ve improved a little bit every year so it’s exciting. We’re definitely going to miss our seniors when they graduate, but the two freshmen who are on the team are doing a pretty good job and then our three sophomores on the team are filling their role and we have one junior who is playing her best so far. And, our eighth grade class is doing pretty well, too, so we’re excited for the incoming class of kids next year as well,” Vorst said.
        “I think the big thing is a lot of those younger kids are playing club volleyball, and it’s good to get them excited to do that stuff because if they are playing all year round, it’s obviously going to be better for us in the long run. And, we actually do have a pretty good biddy program — we have 60 to 100 kids sign up every year. So, we’re trying to get the little ones excited early and get them the skills they need to know for when they get to junior high so it’s not just brand new volleyball for them.”
Program building everywhere
        Every TRAC volleyball championship since the league started has been won by Clay, St. Ursula or Notre Dame and it looked as if Clay had a shot to get the title back this year, but the Arrows (20-3) were just too good and are still playing in the regionals this week. One of their top players, Aly Finch, is from Oregon and rotates into the lineup.
        Clay was returning four players who earned all-conference honors a year ago. Hannah Blausey, a 6-foot outside hitter, was a first-team pick, while 6-1 senior middle hitter Olivia Henneman-Dallape and junior setter Jaiden Karrick made the second team. Junior libero Kendall Seimet was honorable mention.
        While Karrick and Seimet are the only two returning of the four, Clay reloads from year to year and has been the only public school in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference to consistently challenge St. Ursula and Notre Dame in recent seasons.
        Blausey is a team captain along with Henneman-Dallape and Karrick. Blausey, Henneman-Dallapse and Seimet are All-Press first team selections this year, Karrick is second team.
        “She (Blausey) is a big outside hitter,” Clay coach Carrie Wagoner said. “If she’s on, we’re golden. If she’s off, it’s going to be a struggle. Same with Olivia. If she’s off, it’s not going to be a good day for us. Those three are my leaders on and off the court, my go-to girls. We really rely on those three to put the ball down and run plays and lead the team.”
        There are other local programs which you don’t hear as perennial contenders, but that doesn’t mean coaches are not working on getting there.
While Cardinal Stritch has always been a contender in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, this year Northwood made waves. Northwood coach Josh Jordan saw three seniors and a junior get All-Press recognition.
        “The season went very well for us,” Northwood coach Josh Jordan said. “We are definitely on the upswing in my personal opinion. 
        “We have a team that went 13-9 in the regular season defeating Cardinal Stritch twice in the regular season and finishing third in the TAAC. We are a much improved team with the ability to continue building with the youth we have coming up in our system.  It was unfortunate to lose the three seniors this year as they were absolutely our core leadership, but they left us with a lot of momentum and heart to keep building off of.”
        Oak Harbor is another program we typically hear from year to year as contenders in the Sandusky Bay Conference, but coach Jacki Gezo’s squad finished 14-10 overall and third in the Bay Division behind co-champs Huron and Willard. The Rockets defeated Perkins in a first round tournament game, but lost to Vermilion in the district qualifier.
        Not a single player was voted on the All-SBC first and second team, which carries over onto the All-Press Teams. Same went for Gibsonburg in the River Division. The Golden Bears finished with only three league wins — two against Danbury and one over Lakota. It, too, is a program on the rebound.
        “Not a good record but the girls enjoyed themselves and grew as a team,” coach Kristi Foos said. 
        Then you have Waite, which finished fourth in the Toledo City League, but has a group of young players who were in championship matches at East Toledo Junior High.
        First team All-Press junior middle hitter Monica Wilson had 58 blocks this season, second team freshman setter Valencia Alvarez led the team in aces, and second team libero and outside hitter Angel Juhasz led the team in digs.


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