CARDINGTON — The Pirates enjoyed a breakthrough volleyball season a year ago.
Cardington won its first-ever Knox Morrow Athletic Conference volleyball championship and the program’s first league title in 38 seasons. It was also Cardington’s first ever district championship and regional place in the sport.
Now is the time for an encore.
“I hate to do this, but we’re favorites again,” Cardington manager Ryan Trease said. “Centerburg will be the biggest challenge for us this season.”
The Pirates have plenty of reason to be optimistic. The leader among them repeatedly brings All-Ohio back outside of hitter Audrey Brininger, one of Ohio’s top 22 volleyball comebacks for 2022, according to a USA Today Network-Ohio poll. Joining her in the starting lineup are senior middle hitter Izzy Wickline, senior outside hitter Payton Goodman, senior right hitter Madison Linkous, senior setter Jadine Mills, senior middle hitter Alexis Crone and senior libero Cadie Long. Wickline, Mills and Long were selected in all leagues and districts last year.
Cardington have lost graduates Emalee Artz, Olivia Holt, Kayleigh Ufferman, Maggie Wade and Riley Burchett, but the team is confident they can continue what has been started.
“The goals are the same,” Trease said. “Twelve and 0 in (future) KMAC league champions, district champions, win regionals and make the Final Four.”
The Highland dynasty, despite the graduation of Kendall Stover (Grand Valley State) and Ashlynn Belcher (Old Dominion) as a pair of All-Ohioans, seems to be sticking around.
Longtime Scottish coach Rob Terrill will rely on second-year hitters Kameron Stover and Larsen Terrill, with Terrill also on the pitch, as well as Zoya Winkelfoos from the seniors returning to setter and outside hitter Brooke Schott at center hitter and Alexis Easey at outside and fullback.
The Scots won’t be as deep as they have been but they will be solid in service, ball control and pitch awareness as they look to continue their winning streak in the league as well as their conference championships and their district title. appearances go.
“We’re hoping to challenge River Valley and Galion for the MOAC, and Pleasant and Shelby are also expected to wrestle,” Terrill said.
River Valley brings back Marion County’s best returning hitter in senior 6-foot middle hitter Haleigh Creps along with senior setter Morgan Nemeth, senior opposite hitter Janelle Hoback, senior outside hitter Reagan Hummel and senior libero Eden Osborne.
While the Vikings will miss longtime Libero Nichole Green, blocking record holder Hannah Logan and defensive specialist Samantha Osborne from an 18-win squad, longtime RV coach Jayne Klingel has shown his ability to reload without giving up.
“We would like to win the MOAC,” Klingel said.
So would Pleasant under first-year coach Kory Ute, who comes to the Spartans after stints in Elgin and Ridgedale.
Pleasant went .500 last year and will miss deceased seniors Ellie Smith, Ella Chase, Lauren Gierhart, Elizabeth Blubaugh and Aleah Robinson. However, the program returns to Sydney Smith, Emerson Williams, Audrey James, Kenna Ambrose, Lexi Olt and Maddie Aurigemma.
“This team is hungry to win. They are growing and learning fast,” Ute said. “Our biggest concern is to stay strong and be mentally focused throughout the game.”
At Marion Harding, Olivia Davis is taking over as head coach as the Presidents look to improve on their six-game winning streak in 2021.
“We have a very experienced senior class that will help each other and lead the underclasses in the right directions. We hope to capitalize on this leadership strength and develop individual skills and team strategy around it,” said Davis. “We have a sports team of girls capable of playing in more than one position.”
Harding lost Alex Vanderborne, Kamry Thompson and Layla Byers until graduation, but Jada Adams at libero and Taylor Myers at right side and setter return all leaguers to accompany Paige Powers, Ayris Rich, Myla Sharp-Holmes, Keyani Jackson. , Jaela Woods and Sami Torassa.
Also in Marion County, Ridgedale wants to build on what he started a year ago in his first season in the Northwest Central Conference. The Rockets won the league and went to the district tournament in 2021.
As they lose productive graduates Raylynn Mullins, Jordyn Nutter, Dani Mergy, Emily Mulvaine and Caitlyn Thiel, they return senior Grace Staton, junior Lauren Leslie and junior Lilly Ruth along the net, junior Hannah Cook at setter and senior Mya Brown in the back line.
The Rockets know how to communicate with each other, but they need to avoid injuries because depth is an issue as three freshmen will play roles this season.
“If we focus on our goals and play as a team, great things can happen to us,” Ridgedale coach Tyler Clark said.
At Elgin, Alyssa Harrer succeeds longtime coach Wendy Muselin.
“One of the main strengths that will be beneficial this year is having all but three players who have some kind of college experience. We have players who have played against you or four years of college and understand how much point the game can be fast. We have some key players coming back this year to lead our offense and control our defense,” Harrer said.
Mikayla Hill, Tiffany Hix and Katie Yates have graduated, and libero Gracie Isler will be running out of time with a knee injury suffered over the winter for Elgin. Still, the Comets have hopes of a fight in the NWCC, led by seniors Kamryn Meloy, Mekena Smith, Emmalee Hunter, Sarah St. Germain and senior Alyvia Roth.
“Going into every game is going to be a challenge, mentally, physically and emotionally. We will rise to the challenge and do our best in every game to overcome our own mindset,” Harrer said.
Northmor lost five seniors – Lexi Wenger, Reagan Swihart, Riley Yunker, Racheal Ervin and Maggie Tuttle – through graduation, but the Golden Knights bring back seven winning letters to seniors Madelyn Blunk, Abby Conant, Amanda Kincaid and Emily Zeger, juniors Maggie Brewer and Chloey Keen and sophomore Lizzie Erlsten.
“Our greatest strength is our defense,” Northmor coach Josh Lehman said. “Offensively, we have to overcome some height disadvantages compared to the big schools. We went from D-IV to D-III this year and expect the competition to be much tougher.”
At North Union, seven letter winners are back with Hope Hall senior, Ellie Keever senior, Zoe Wedding junior, Sienna Ballinger junior and Abi Zimmerman junior being the most experienced of the group.
According to NU coach Alexis Maenz, the Wildcats will be scrappy, determined and disciplined. They will have to be when they move from Division III to II for the playoffs.
“They are ready for the challenges the season has in store for us and have the mentality to keep growing and improving every day,” Maenz said. “They also believe in and encourage each other well, which overall brings a positive atmosphere to the gym and promotes success.”
≫ For a capsule look at all area high school volleyball teams for 2022, visit MarionStar.com and its app.