It probably seemed like the Cardinal Stritch volleyball team was just treading water a few weeks ago, but Sara Turner-Smith and her Cardinals teammates were determined not to mail in the rest of the season.
Stritch was 9-6 at one point but has won five straight matches and nine of its last 10 to improve to 18-8 after bringing home Division IV sectional and district titles in the past two weeks.
“We play for each other 100 percent of the time,” said Turner-Smith, a 5-foot-10 senior captain. “Our entire theme of the season has been trust — trust our teammates, trust ourselves and trust our coaches. That slogan carried us through the entire season. We wanted to have a good year. We didn’t want to have any regrets with anything that happened this season.”
|The Cardinal Stritch volleyball team celebrates a district championship.
(Press photo by Doug Karns/Katerischools.org)
First-year coach Chad Rutkowski said the Cardinals’ turnaround has been all about trust and, perhaps more importantly, confidence.
“We talked to the girls all year about just making sure they’re learning every day and putting forth a good effort, and it will all come together,” Rutkowski said. “Our theme of the season was, trust all of the coaches and trust each other and good things will come. Obviously that also comes with doing the proper training.”
The Cardinals gained some measure of revenge last Thursday when then dealt Ayersville a 25-19, 25-22, 25-15 loss in the district finals at Defiance. The Pilots (19-6), the Green Meadows Conference champion, defeated Stritch in straight sets in last year’s district finals.
Rutkowski said he didn’t play the revenge card heading into the match against Ayersville, but Turner-Smith admitted that the Cardinals couldn’t help wanting to return the favor this season.
“That’s on any athlete’s mind,” said Turner-Smith, a three-year starter and a two-time first-team All-Toledo Area Athletic Conference selection. “They beat us last year and we had to take it from them this year. But, regardless of what team you’re playing against, as long as you know you did everything you could do as a team, it was a good night. It definitely was one of our better nights.”
The win gave the Cardinals their first district volleyball championship since 1999, and just the third in school history. They advanced to the regional semifinals against sixth-ranked Buckeye Central on Wednesday at Elida and suffered a 25-13, 25-17, 25-15 loss.
Rutkowski said he had a good feeling the Cardinals were going to beat Ayersville for the district title, just like he had a good feeling they were going to beat Fayette, Hilltop, and Edon at the sectional and district tournaments.
“I’ve had a good feeling since we started the tournament,” he said. “Our goal all year has been to leave our mark on the school. We have championship boards in the gym and the girls say they want to see ‘Volleyball 2012’ on the board and leave their mark on the school. Our seniors have never won a championship where their name is on one of the boards in our gym, and they wanted to leave that mark where they did something substantial.”
Turner-Smith, who has played for three different head coaches in her four years at Stritch, said getting the volleyball team’s accomplishment on the championship board was huge.
“Things like that (district title) haven’t been done very often at our school,” she said. “We’re the third team in volleyball to get up on the championship board. We wanted to make our mark and get the program going in the right direction again.”
Turner-Smith led Stritch with 13 kills with 11 digs in Wednesday's loss to Buckeye Central.
"It's a tough way to end our season," Rutkowski said. "Buckeye Central is a very talented team and I would not be surprised if they make a legitimate run at the state title. Our seniors have been the key to our success this year and without their leadership, dedication and trust, this year would not have been nearly as successful. The nice thing is, we have a tremendous group of underclassmen that are ready for the challenge. They have seen the bar set high and they know that expectations are high."