Last year’s battle for the Western Reserve Conference championship ended when Kenston and Chardon met Oct. 12. The contest went in favor of the Bombers, 3-2, and they won the conference absolute title as they went 12-0.
The Hilltoppers had to settle for a 10-2 mark as the two parted ways with the rest of the field. In order to do that again this season, both teams will have to make some big adjustments.
Starting with the Bombers, up front sees a host of new changes as center hitter Julia Sell and setter Elena Liodus graduate. Coach Christian Jolley is excited about the mix of talent his side bring this season.
“It’s a really different offense for us because we have kids playing everywhere,” Jolley said. “I asked four or five different players to play on the right or in the middle in different places on the pitch and to be really versatile. There are young people who were not in the team last year and others who were and who played these different roles.
While the first half sees a host of new names, the defense sees a trio of experienced players led by senior libero Maria Insana. Last season, Insana led the region in total digs with 483.
With the experienced back line, Insana said this will allow the front line to find its place at the start of the season.
“Last year we had a lot of experienced talent, while this year we have a lot of young talent,” Insana said. “I think that this year, our versatility is going to be one of our great strengths to accompany the return of all our defense as well. Our team is very complete and ready to take up the challenge.
Maria Insana and all @Kenston_KBV have worked to gel up and be ready for the season. They know there’s a target on their back after a 12-0 conference record a year ago, she knows she and her teammates are ready for any challenge. #NHVolleyball pic.twitter.com/HfYN5ZeLOn
— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) August 21, 2022
On the other side of the court, Chardon has revenge in mind. But coach Alison Fisher said the Hilltoppers aren’t ready to challenge the Bombers just yet. She hopes leaders like junior hitter Emma McCartney and senior setter Annabel Frieden can continue to build chemistry with the team.
While the players already had a good start on their chemistry, Fisher knew that adapting the new names to the college level was the No. 1 priority.
“We’ve worked hard to fill the void we had with a lot of graduating seniors,” Fisher said. “We still have a lot of talent, but the depth was what hit the hardest. So we worked hard to get those positions, like finding a new No. 1 in the middle. We also need to deliver the energy consistently.
McCartney had a stellar second season. She finished seventh in the region with 229 kills. But she spent her offseason improving other facets of her game, including digging and serving.
Emma McCartney and the @thistleVB the team has made it a point this year to spend more time working on team bonds this off-season, especially with an ever-challenging WRC roster #NHVolleyball pic.twitter.com/saUDCve9ta
— Ben Hercik (@BHercikNH) August 21, 2022
“We’re trying to keep the energy going because last year we had a problem with sustain,” McCartney said. “We would hate it if we lost a few points in a row, so we try to keep going. We have also improved our service reception a lot and this is something we really needed to improve. We’ve also worked hard on our defensive side of the game as we know strong defense will be important throughout the season.
If the two teams know that they will face each other in the WRC, they cannot ignore any of their opponents, in conference or not. The season will present challenges for teams to overcome.
Fresh off the best season in school history, Chardon and McCartney have high hopes of at least replicating the regional semifinal appearance. But she also knows the Hilltoppers will have to be on their ‘A’ game every time on the court.
“For the regular season, we can’t just go into a game thinking we’re going to win easily,” McCartney said. “Because then we will play at their level. We believe that every team will be like Kenston and cannot go lower than what we know we are capable of.
The Bombers also have a grueling non-conference schedule as they start with Lake Catholic and Mentor on Aug. 22 and 23, respectively. Insana knows the non-conference schedule will help prepare Kenston for Chardon’s challenges.
“Our conference has always been very competitive,” Insana said. “We always have a lot of games going into extra sets. We know that Chardon is going to be a very serious competitor for us. But we think our defense works very well together and we have good communication so we are ready for a challenge like this.
The two meet for the first time on September 15 at The Barn in Chardon and again on October 11 in Kenston.