By Beau Wicker Pharos-Tribune
---- — Anticipation for this upcoming volleyball season is high in Berry land, and for good reason.
Logansport is coming off its fifth straight 20-win season, and its 26 wins last season was its most during that time. And the Berries have lost just two players from graduation from a year ago.
Although it’s a ways away, a sectional title is the No. 1 goal for the team this year, as they haven’t won one since 1996 which was before class sports were enacted. They came just about as close as possible last year in a loss in the championship to nemesis and perennial powerhouse Harrison.
The Berries will have the homecourt advantage this time, as they are hosting Class 4A Sectional 7 this year.
“That’s a great thing for us. We’re fortunate to get the sectional,” said Logansport coach Jon Vernon, who is in his second year at the helm.
“All the kids believe that they can do it. We’re hoping that we can make some statements and get after it and show that we’re pretty serious about winning the sectional this year.”
Vernon remembers the sectional match against Harrison vividly, and it’s been a rallying cry for his team this offseason.
“Our motto this year is ‘finish strong,’” he said. “In game one we were ahead 25-24, had the ball to serve out game one. We end up getting beat 27-25. We get beat game two. We win game three big. We had the lead in game four 20-14 and had serve and we just didn’t finish that game out.
“I think they understand we are capable of winning it. We put ‘95-92’ on the back of our shirt because we ended up outscoring Harrison during that sectional championship game by that score. If we would have finished out those games, the first game at least, I think it’s a whole different story.”
The Berries have had the great fortune of having a plethora of big hitters in recent years, including current Division I players Kelsey Victor (Valparaiso) and Katie Champion (Northern Colorado). All-around standout Alaina Page, last year’s Loganland Player of the Year, is now playing at D-II Southern Indiana.
And the Berries have another standout hitter as the team’s go-to player in Sydney Bullard, who led the team in kills last year as a sophomore. The 5-9 junior is the team’s starting left-side hitter.
Vernon will certainly be relying on Bullard heavily, but he’s hoping to have a more balanced attack than in years past. He’s got another junior attacker, 5-10 Nakeya Penny, on the right side of the starting lineup.
“She’s looked really good on the right side. She’s got a lot more power than she had last year,” Vernon said. “She’s been working really hard. She’s been around all summer, I know she’s got a basketball schedule, but she’s made the effort to be here which is great on her part.”
Paulie Frye, a 5-9 senior, returns in the middle.
“We’re going to try to get her more involved in the offense this year,” Vernon said. “She does a great job blocking with her and Nakeya on one side.”
The Berries have a veteran duo of setters in seniors Bailey Kelley (5-7) and Hannah Jones (5-5).
“It makes it easy to do what we do because the kids are used to our setters,” Vernon said.
The defense in the back row is an area the Berries have continued to improve on in recent years and this year should be no different, as they have three veteran defensive specialists back in seniors Lindsey Cheney (5-5) and Kailey Vernon (5-5) and junior Katie Easter (5-5).
“Lindsey and Kailey have really stepped up this year as senior leaders and have worked at it. Katie Easter, her serve in the sectional last year just killed Kokomo and Lafayette Jeff and Harrison in the championship,” the Logan coach said.
“We have three DS’s on the back row that we can interchange. If one of them is not having a good night we can roll somebody else in and it’s going to be fine. And they’re competing with each other which is a good thing. They’re trying to get better and they’ve done a good job.”
The Berries also have some talented youngsters that will be in the rotation. Freshman Karlee Vernon (5-7) will be at left-side hitter and sophomore Monika Ness (5-8) will be a middle hitter. Senior Lauren Pruitt (5-7) is back out for the team this year and will be a right-side hitter in the main rotation.
“We’re running a 6-2 offense because the teams we play — the NCC and the Lafayette teams — are bigger and we’ve got to have the outside block,” Jon Vernon said. “Our setters are not very big, not very tall, but they’re good athletes. So we need to keep the big blocks on the outside for the big hitters.”
The Logan coach said the team had a really good summer playing at Lafayette, the Dunes Camp and they hosted a Munciana Camp. He said that’s led to a fast start in preseason practices.
“It’s probably been the best two weeks of practice we’ve had since I’ve been here. They’re really getting after it,” he said. “They’ve bought in. I think they bought in about midseason last year, the girls that are coming back. They really have worked hard and did a great job and I’m proud of their effort right now.”
Winning a North Central Conference volleyball title has been a pipe dream for Logansport most years, but Jon Vernon thinks his team has a chance.
New Castle has one of the top hitters in the country back in Lauryn Gillis and the state’s leading assist leader, Kiley Lingenfelter, transferred there from Wapahani this summer. But New Castle is not eligible to win an NCC title this year due to it opting to leave the conference following this school year.
And even if New Castle was eligible to win an NCC title, the Logan coach wants to take on all comers this year and the Berries will get their shot at New Castle on Oct. 12.
So the NCC could come down to Logan and perennial superpower Muncie Central. Jon Vernon, for one, is not afraid of the Bearcats from the center of the famed Munciana volleyball capital of Indiana.
“We were very close against Muncie Central last year and they lost the [Jaydn’] Pegues girl that went to IPFW. We’re right there,” Jon Vernon said. “That’s one of our goals is to win the conference.”
Logan, which went 26-7 a year ago, travels to possible sectional opponent McCutcheon on Tuesday to open the season.
The Panther have been one of the best small-school programs in the state in recent years and coach Rod Nies is hoping that continues.
Pioneer is known to take down much bigger schools on a regular basis, including Logansport in which the Panthers split with a year ago.
The Panthers should be good again and they’ll be heavy favorites to hoist an eighth straight sectional title over their collective heads in late October.
Nies said Teresa McIntire’s North White squad looks to be the biggest threat in the sectional field. If the Panthers do happen to win another sectional title, they’ll have to defend their regional title on the road, likely at senior-dominated Michigan City Marquette, according to the Pioneer coach.
But that all is a ways away. The Panthers are coming off a 25-10 season but did lose three All-Loganland players to graduation in Gabby Dunlap, Lindsey Miller and Cassidy Corn.
“We have a lot of potential but we’re not there yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Nies said. “We’ve got a good senior class and a really good junior class.”
For the Panthers it all starts with left-side hitter Sarah Dorris (5-8), who returns for her junior season. She finished second on the team in kills last season behind Dunlap.
The Panthers also have their team digs leader back in senior Kayte Miller (5-6). The other seniors are starting setter Riley Morris, middle hitter Kennedy Nies (5-11) and libero Megan Smith, who missed last season with a torn ACL but returned for basketball and softball.
Junior Hannah Tevis (6-0) is back in the middle of the front row for the Panthers. Other juniors include Shelby Roller, Lindsey Stewart (5-10) and Jessica Lawrence (5-7). The Panthers will also have a freshman in the lineup in 5-10 middle hitter Madison Kiser.
“Hannah Tevis has made a huge improvement from last season,” Rod Nies said. “Our question mark of our other left-side hitter needs to be addressed. Kayte Miller and Jessica Lawrence could play there.
“We’re going to be running a different offense, a triangle offense with three middle attackers. Stewart will be our other middle with Kiser and Tevis. We’re going to give it a shot, but there’s still a bit of a learning curve for myself. What it does is it showcases our main players Tevis and Dorris. We’ll run them opposite of one another and get the ball to them.
“We’re trying new things and hopefully it all works out. We find our quick because we have Rochester at home on Wednesday and they should be good again this year.”
The Warriors were looking to compete with Pioneer and North White for the Midwest Conference title but got a bad break before the season began when No. 1 outside hitter Taelor McClure tore her ACL in practice. The 5-6 junior is likely out for the season.
“It was looking really good until a few days ago,” Warrior coach Cathy DeFries said. “That’ll affect our whole rotation.”
The Warriors do return libero Bethany Brogdon for her senior season.
“She’s our lone senior this year. She’s a great athlete and has stepped up into a leadership role and is really doing well,” DeFries said.
Juniors include Savanna Button (5-9) and Samantha Agee, who’s missed the last two years with injuries.
Sophomore Taylor Jones also returns at outside hitter. Lexi Hanson will be the setter. Dakota Heims, Jaclyn Jacobs, Raychel Davis and Marlynn Martindale are other sophomores in the mix.
“We’re young, we lack experience,” DeFries said. “We’re relying on a lot of kids playing all-around.”
The Warriors are in a new sectional format this season with Delphi, North Judson, North Newton and Rensselaer.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame,” DeFries said. “With Rochester out of the picture it opens the door for a lot of teams.”
The Warriors are also hoping to improve on their 17-15 record of a year ago.
“It was definitely one of the worst seasons we had since I’ve been here. It was good to finish over .500 but there were a lot of matches we lost that we’ve never lost,” DeFries said. “We’ve got a good group coming up that has played club since the second grade and they’re starting to filter into our system.”
The Warriors open their season at home against Twin Lakes on Monday.
The Kings are looking to post an improved season with a veteran group returning.
“I’m excited. We’ve got a pretty confident group, a pretty tight-nit group that knows each other well,” Cass coach Gretchen Crum said. “We’ve had good practices, a good summer again. This group is pretty dedicated.”
The Kings went 7-22 a year ago and finished tied for fourth in Mid-Indiana Conference play. Crum is looking for the squad to improve upon its record this year and compete for the MIC title.
“We have to have better ball control. That’s a big one for us,” she said. “We’re not tall, we have a 6-footer in the middle, but we have good athletes. Our track teams have been successful and we’re trying to translate the jumping, hustling and quickness into volleyball and it’s been happening.”
The Kings have three seniors this season in left-side hitter Claire Crum, setter Gabi Hartley and libero Kassi Zeck.
“Our three seniors are really good leaders,” Gretchen Crum said.
The squad has just one junior and a deep sophomore class. Other returnees include 6-foot Trisha Hartley (MH), Tori Powell (OH), Aubrey Young (MH), Brooke Langley (OH), Bailey Gremelspacher (S) and Carly Arion (DS).
Karli DeHaven is working hard to return from a second ACL tear in as many years.
“We have 18 girls and all but one played club, so they like volleyball,” Gretchen Crum said. “They’re all three-sport athletes and they still play club in the winter. That says a lot about how much they like the sport. And it’s great for them to get that many more reps.”
The Kings travel to Twin Lakes on Thursday night to open their season.
The Comets have a new coach in Taylor (Farris) McFarland, a standout in her playing days at Maconaquah who went on to play at Cincinnati Christian University.
The 23-year-old is a 2008 graduate of Maconaquah, where she helped the Braves win two sectional titles. She coached Maconaquah’s eighth grade team last year and was set to be the JV coach at Kokomo this year before she got an unexpected call from Caston to be the new varsity head coach.
“It’s exciting to start my own program,” said McFarland, who also has coaching experience with the Pioneer club team.
“So far I can tell we need to get the feeder program going. We need to improve the fundamentals at the high school level. They don’t know some things they should know.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to take some time.”
McFarland has the good fortune of having a standout player to help her get started in Year One in senior all-arounder Haley Hoover (5-7),
“The team is definitely going to be based around her,” McFarland said. “Her defense is great. We’re going to be working on her quickness, but she’s so great at reading where the ball is going.
“She wants to play in college and we’re getting video for her and that’s a goal for her this year.”
Other seniors on the squad are Adrienne Frye (5-9), Mickayla Rans (5-8) and Morgan Clupper (5-6).
“Adrienne Frye didn’t play last year and she’ll be one of our middle hitters this year,” McFarland said. “She’s strong and quick. We don’t have a lot of height on the team so we need quickness.”
Juniors include Haley Small (5-5) and Jacqueline Rans (5-6) and the sophomores are Madison Martin (5-1) and Tori Rentschler (5-7).
“Tori is a good hitter and back row player. Madison Martin is going to be a good setter. Jacqueline Rans is not tall but she’s a very quick middle hitter who can jump through the roof,” McFarland said.
“We’ve got good athletes. Most of our kids are three-sport athletes. We’re working on making them better volleyball players.”
The Comets travel to Carroll on Tuesday to open the season.
Beau Wicker is the sports editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.