Senior staff writer
Four Southside girls volleyball teams are ranked among the top 20 in two classes in the preseason Indiana coaches poll.
Center Grove, which enjoyed a No. 1 ranking for most of 2014, is No. 2 in Class 4A behind perennial powerhouse Cathedral. Reigning sectional champions Roncalli and Perry Meridian are No. 12 and 14, respectively, in 4A.
Lutheran and its rangy and powerful front line is No. 4 among Class A teams.
Overall, the impact of area high school volleyball continues to reach new heights. Last year five teams were among the top 20 in their classes at some point in the season.
The Franklin Sectional was an all-star showcase with Roncalli prevailing. The Rebels, who went on to win a regional title before losing to state runner-up Cathedral in a semistate matchup, move from that field to join Perry Meridian, Center Grove, Franklin and Southport in Sectional 11.
Lutheran, with its towering front line, was among the top 10 in Class A. The Saints dominated their sectional and never lost a set but fell to Hauser in four sets in the regional. In 2013 the Saints came within one win of reaching the state finals.
First-year Greenwood Christian Academy coach Jeffrey Fishburn, a co-owner of South Indy club volleyball, contends that the quality of play stems from a highly competitive offseason. Fishburn and most high school coaches see club volleyball as a key to developing top talent.
“It’s the difference between night and day,” Fishburn said of girls who play in the offseason. “After the high school season ends the girls who don’t play lose their edge. Volleyball is nearly an all-year thing. I see girls who play club surpassing other girls in their skill level.
“It’s a game that they love so they are constantly playing.”
Fishburn, Greenwood’s Amanda Ratliff, Franklin Central’s Sandy Moore and Southport’s Lindsey Weller are new Southside varsity coaches.
The top dozen players to watch are: Center Grove’s 6-3 senior outside hitter Madison Smeathers, sister of former Trojan basketball star Andy Smeathers, 5-11 teammate setter Taylor Hammill and 6-4 middle blocker Tonia Rumble; Greenwood’s 6-0 middle hitter Olivia Stilley, a two-time all-Mid-State team selection; Perry Meridian’s 6-3 freshman Caitie Baird, who is ranked among nation’s top players; Roncalli’s Kalyn Schreiber and Annie Strevels; Beech Grove junior libero Michela Jennings and sophomore outside hitter Katie Giller;
Lutheran’s 6-2 versatile senior Whitney Hoover and third-year libero Elise Sombke; and Greenwood Christian Academy’s senior outside hitter Katie Peters.