Key veterans return to top list of area volleyball players

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Layne Graffice, Marlington, sophomore

Made an immediate impact as a rookie and helped the Dukes finish 21-4 overall and 12-0 against opponents in the Eastern Buckeye Conference. Showing an all-around game and possessing the ability to make plays from the front and back rows, Graffice led the team with 187 digs, ranked second in aces with 57 and second in receptions with 208. Powerful at net and playing with several senior hitters, she still contributed with 178 kills and 20 blocks.

Claire Brunner, West Branch, senior

An outstanding outside hitter, Brunner was a force at net for the Warriors 21-5 last fall, recording 179 kills and 61 blocks. She was also an efficient server, finishing with 24 aces. Showing strong defensive reflexes, Brunner added 41 kills, securing her credibility as an all-around player.

West Branch's Hannah Rush, left, and Claire Brunner (24) defend against a return volley from Lake Catholic's Mia Schaefer during a tournament at Alliance High School on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

Cameryn Mullaly, Alliance, senior

Alliance's Valencia Davis, left, and Cameryn Mullaly (23) defend against a spike from Marlington's Mallory Bennett during their conference game at Alliance High School on Tuesday, October 5, 2021.

One of the reasons Alliance improved their record from 8-15 in 2020 to 11-12 last season was regular play by Mullaly, one of five seniors on this year’s varsity roster. The outside hitter/defensive specialist was the top server with 50 aces, while ranking second on the team in kills with 153 and service receptions with 356. She also helped extend points, recording 377 digs, third highest on the team.

Janelle Swisher, Marlington, Jr.

Playing bigger than his stated size of 5-5, Swisher orchestrated the attack, leading the team with 399 sets. Displaying a variety of sets makes her valuable in this position. However, her contributions were not limited to setting up her teammates, as she also served well, registering 33 aces which was the fourth highest on the team. Showing versatility, she added 39 aces and 82 digs. Court awareness, consistency and power are other strengths of his game.

Adele Peters, West Branch, Senior

A versatile player used as both an outside hitter and libero, Peters was a key part of a team that won 20 games in 2021. She was a productive server, leading the team with 54 aces. Peters was also successful in stopping attacks, ranking second with 189 digs. When positioned at No. 1, she was a solid hitter, adding 51 kills.

Blake Thomas, Sebring, Jr.

A productive middle hitter in her sophomore season, Thomas switched to outside hitter for her third year of high school competition. This decision is due to her development as an all-around player and her general knowledge of the pitch. Thomas did a bit of everything last fall, helping the Trojans finish 11-13 on aggregate, highlighted by a playoff win over Bristol. Thomas, who is 5-10, was a force at net, recording 97 kills and 46 blocks. She also contributed 39 aces and 45 receptions.

Blake Thomas of Sebring hits a shot during a volleyball match against Leetonia on Wednesday October 7, 2020.

AJ Burick, Louisville, Jr. Playing setter for a young team facing a demanding regular season schedule, Burick more than held up on offense, leading the team 10-13 with 588 assists. Burick also contributed in net, finishing with 85 kills and 30 blocks, which was the Leopards’ third-highest. She also made plays from the back row, recording 164 digs.

Natalie Maiorana, Marlington, senior. Bidding his time behind more experienced middle hitters in 2021, Maiorana is ready to step up to the position and make more of an impact. During her junior season, she contributed 62 kills and 23 blocks. Those numbers could go up in 2022, as she’s expected to get more playing time and she also boasts a variety of hits. Although she’s undersized (5-8) for an average hitter, she makes up for it with knowledge of the court.

X’nai Hatcher, Alliance, senior

Blessed with cat-like speed, Hatcher was an outstanding libero last year, making defensive plays consistently. She led the Aviators with 377 digs and 359 receptions, helping the opposition work hard to earn a point. Hatcher also contributed offensively, finishing with 19 service points. Although small in stature, Hatcher proved she could punch, adding seven kills.

Hannah Rush, West Branch, Senior

One of the reasons West Branch’s offense has clicked frequently, Rush is returning as a passer after finishing 2021 with a team-best 629 assists (8.6 per game). Rush was also a willing and capable defender, contributing 106 digs. She was also an asset to the offense, registering 37 aces. Showing complete play, Rush added nine wins.

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