Eastwood’s volleyball team isn’t thinking about capturing its fifth straight conference title this season.
The Eagles aren’t thinking about making it back to the Division II regional tournament, where they lost in three games last year to top-ranked Parma Padua Franciscan. Fifth-year coach Jeff Beck has his squad thinking in more practical terms this season.
“We take it one point at a time, honestly,” Beck said. “We take our matches and look at them as being the first team to five points, the first to 10, then 20 and then 25. We look too far ahead, we’re not focused. We have to take that small chunk. We almost lost to Otsego. It was 20-18 in the fifth (set), but this team finds ways to win.”
Last year’s team, which finished as the 12th-ranked team in the state coaches’ poll, won the school’s fourth straight championship. Eastwood won or shared the final two Suburban Lakes League titles, and they’ve won the first two Northern Buckeye Conference championships.
“They don’t want that to end,” Beck said. “They don’t want to be the seniors who ended the streak. These girls know how to compete and fight. It’s ugly sometimes, but a win is a win.”
Through Wednesday the Eagles were 8-2 and 7-0 in the NBC, with wins over Cardinal Stritch Catholic, Lake, Genoa, Elmwood, Otsego, Fostoria, Woodmore, and Rossford. Five league wins have come in straight games, but Stritch took the Eagles to five games. Eastwood’s losses were to D-I schools Clay, ranked 19th in the state coaches’ poll, and Anthony Wayne.
“We beefed up our non-league schedule and we’re competing well with those teams,” Beck said. “It’s helping us be prepared for our league opponents. Our strength right now is our offense. We have some girls who jump well and have good hand to ball (coordination) and are aggressive. I expected that. I expected our passing and defense to struggle in the beginning, and it did. It’s really started to pick up, and it’s getting better every match.”
The Eagles are without the services of libero Aricka LaVoy for the first time in four years. A four-year starter, LaVoy was the NBC and District 7 Player of the Year in 2012 and is now playing at Owens Community College.
“The girl taking over for her, (sophomore) Mackenzie Albright, is really stepping in and doing a nice job,” Beck said. “She played varsity as a freshman and is an all-around athlete. She was a shortstop on the softball team last year and helped her team to the final four. She’s just good under pressure.”
Eastwood has four returning starters in senior outside hitter Elise Wolff, senior middle hitter Cassidy Rolf, senior right side hitter Sara Klink and junior setter Jaci Juergens, a first-team all-district and all-conference performer last year.
“She’s the top setter in our league, hands down,” Beck said. “She just knows how to run an offense. She’s been doing it since her freshman year. She holds every setting record Eastwood has, and she got those as a sophomore.”
Wolff, a first-team All-NBC and all-district player, is a four-year starter and leads the Eagles in kills.
“She has improved a lot,” Beck said. “She has separated her kill to error ratio, and she’s our go-to hitter.”
Rolf, a three-year starter, earned honorable mention All-NBC honors last season.
“Cassidy is literally our all-around player,” Beck said. “I can put her in any position, which is so helpful to our team. She has played middle, she played libero in the summer, she plays right side - anywhere I need to play a body for someone who’s struggling.”
Eastwood’s other starters are 6-foot senior middle hitter Emily Hayward, sophomore outside hitter Bri Hoodlebrink and sophomore DS Ally Decker. Hayward had an ACL tear last year and missed the season.
“What a pleasant surprise she has been,” Beck said. “Right now she is our top middle (hitter), as far as kills, and is showing vast improvement. She’s really surprised me just how fast she’s bounced back.”
Beck said a solid season of club volleyball has advanced Hoodlebrink’s skill set. She is second on the team in kills.
“She came in ready to take that position from the senior who graduated last year,” Beck said, adding that Decker “is another all-around athlete who is fast and very good defensively, and she has a nice, aggressive serve.”