Marion County tourney opens today
By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
Three highly ranked Southside volleyball teams enter their stretch drives this week with the Marion County tournament, which serves as a warm-up to the state tourney later this month.
Class 4A No. 1 Roncalli, 4A No. 8 Perry Meridian and Class A No. 3 Lutheran are in position to live up to their high expectations.
Reigning county champion Lutheran (17-5) and Roncalli (19-2) are in the upper bracket of the tourney, which opens today at four sites, while the Falcons (13-4) and unranked Franklin Central (13-6) sit in the lower bracket.
“There is no easy road,” Perry coach Patrick Baker said of the path ahead for the top Southside teams.
The Falcons went 2-2 Saturday at Cathedral’s tournament by defeating Columbus East and New Castle before falling to the Irish and then to 4A No. 2 Center Grove 25-10, 25-18 in the third-place match.
Lutheran was 3-1 in the Blue River Class A Showdown with victories over Springs Valley, Clinton Prairie and Lafayette Central Catholic. The Saints lost to Wes-Del 25-14, 25-22.
Here’s a look at the county’s three ranked Southside teams:
Roncalli – Senior defensive specialist Olivia Gillum was quick to point out a reason for the Rebels’ success. “We have good chemistry (because) most of us have been together for three or four years,” she said. “And we have depth; we don’t have any weak players on the floor.”
The Rebels, under seventh-year coach Missy (Abbott) Marsh, have a veteran team of seven seniors and four juniors. Only Providence and Cathedral have defeated the Rebels, who are entering the teeth of their schedule.
“Our team is mostly the same as last year,” said Marsh, the wife of Perry Meridian football coach Scott Marsh. “The kids are comfortable with each other, and they have high expectations for each other.
“We are experienced in our leadership, and we have a sense of calmness on the floor; if we get behind we don’t hit the panic button. This team exuberates confidence on the floor; they just know how to play together.”
Team leaders include seniors Bailey Schnell, 161 kills; Samantha Fogg, 188 digs, Lizzie Britner, 138 digs; and setter Kenzie King, 415 assists and 133 digs, and junior Annie Strevels, 35 blocks.
“We’re not the tallest of teams, but we don’t let the ball hit the floor,” Marsh said. “Our defensive specialists (Fogg, Britner, Gillum and Libby Stahl) keep the ball off the floor, but we’re still able to put the ball away. When we change our DSs, we don’t have any letup.”
Schnell is a four-year starter who has matured into an all-around player, not just an outside hitter, Marsh noted. Strevels and classmates Kalyn Schreiber and McKenna Lundy are offensive factors up front. Senior A.J. Lux is a middle blocker.
Roncalli captured the Yorktown and New Castle invitational tournaments earlier this season.
“We don’t have a watered-down schedule by any means,” Marsh said. “We have been able to sustain that start. We schedule up to prepare ourselves for the postseason.”
Perry Meridian – Baker wants the Falcons to have fun while winning along the way.
“We like to have a lot of fun,” he said. “We have had a tremendous season so far. These kids have been excellent to work with. They bring spirit and fun to practice, bus trips and matches.”
Team leaders are seniors Abbey Ketchem, a four-year varsity player who’s No. 2 in digs with 135 and No. 3 in kills with 131; middle hitter Sarah Clem, 155 kills and 70 blocks; libero Jenny Strack, 255 digs; and Kristen Mitchell, No. 2 in kills with 123 and No. 3 in digs with 104. Junior setter Riley Taylor leads is assists with 525.
Clem, Taylor and junior middle hitter Jenni Castoe are three-year varsity players.
“We’ve had a lot of these kids in our program since seventh grade, so they know what it’s like to win and to be successful,” Baker said. “This is a close-knit team, really positive, no drama and no issues.”
Baker admits that this has been an up-and-down season, but he also knows the Falcons have faced a brutal schedule with losses to the top 4A ranked teams, Roncalli, Center Grove, Avon and Cathedral. They have quality wins over Franklin twice, Noblesville, Northview and Columbus East.
“We don’t have a lot of size,” he said. “But when we defend, it generates our offense to a high level.”
The Falcons won the county tourney in 2011 and ’12.
Lutheran – The smallest school in the county won the tourney last year and came within one win of reaching the Class A state championship match.
The Saints do it by playing a rugged schedule that features 16 opponents in 2A, 3A or 4A.
“Our goal is to expose our kids to all kinds of different situations,” coach Kathy Anderson said. “You have to play against quality teams. It helps us improve because we’re always facing good athletes on the other side of the court.”
In some ways the Saints are a surprise team this season. They graduated six seniors, including Erin Kurz and Casey Koons, after a 31-8 campaign. However, they returned with a savvy group of young players that features 6-2 junior Whitney Hoover, team leader with 232 kills and co-leader with 43 blocks; junior Alex Engler, 43 blocks; sophomore Elise Sombke, 258 digs; and junior Julia Simons, 399 assists of the team’s 433 assists.
“We’ve made up for the height we graduated by doing things a little differently,” Anderson said. “We had four returning players – two middle hitters, a libero and a defensive specialist – so we were able to build around those key positions.
“We’ve worked more on blocking this season as a fundamental skill. Offensively, we move the ball around a lot trying to keep the other team on their toes. And we have a very intelligent team, and that has made the gap (loss of graduates) a little smaller.”
The Saints’ motto this season is “Our family against your team.”
“These kids have found they love playing volleyball, playing for Lutheran High, so that passion comes out at practice and in games. It’s the way we’re connected,” Anderson explained. “We’ve molded around that, and for this family (team) it is paying off.”