By KEVIN HARRIS
> SOUTHERN INDIANA —
The Providence volleyball team has been waiting very patiently for the 2013 season to begin ever since its heartbreaking loss to Wapahani in the Class 2A state championship match on Nov. 3, 2012 at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
On Wednesday at Silver Creek, the wait will be over.
The Pioneers’ season opener against the Dragons will start its second consecutive quest to earn the program’s first state championship.
For the past nine-plus months, coach Terri Purichia has noticed how anxious her players have been to get the 2013 campaign rolling.
“I think coming off a year like last season, we couldn’t wait to get back into the gym,” Purichia said. “We couldn’t wait to be the Providence volleyball team again. Everybody played in the offseason and had really good club [ball] experiences. [The Pioneers] are really hungry to do some things they haven’t been able to accomplish so far.
“I can almost guarantee you that for the last [nine] months, that’s all they’ve really been thinking about as they’ve been training.”
In fact according to Purichia, the Providence players were fired up to play their preseason scrimmage with New Albany on Thursday at the Larkin Center.
“They were champing at the bit all day at school to get in here and scrimmage New Albany and see what we look like against another team. They’re just ready,” Purichia said.
Providence (35-5 last season) has nine key players back from last year’s Class 2A state runner-up squad. That includes three Pioneers who made the Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association Class 2A All-State team in middle blocker Taylor Wilson, setter Patricia Mattingly and outside hitter Haley Libs. The All-State trio are all juniors.
The six other returnees are senior middle blocker Maile Daniel, senior defensive specialist Abby Spitznagel, junior right-side hitter and defensive specialist Maddie Bivens, junior right-side hitter Carlie Combs, sophomore outside hitter Jacquie Hornung and sophomore libero Audrey Shannon.
Senior defensive specialist Mary Kate Meyer joins the varsity squad after playing for the junior varsity team last season.
“I can’t explain to you how much fun it is to be around this team,” Purichia said. “They love each other and they like being here. They like being a part of this team and they like being a part of this program. The performance we had at the state finals was such a good experience, yet it was so disappointing.”
One player who will be tough to replace is last year’s lone senior and libero, Kylie Flanagan. Purichia said Flanagan, who will be playing volleyball at Marian University in Indianapolis this season, was the Pioneers’ top leader last season.
“I know we only lost one person, but it was a very critical person. She was our libero and our leader, so trying to fill a leadership role for any team is difficult,” Purichia said. “But we do have three good seniors that are doing a really good job of taking that [leadership] load on, and the girl that we think is going to earn the libero position [Shannon] is doing an outstanding job so far.”
Purichia has made some changes to the Pioneers’ already-difficult schedule to get her players battle-tested for another possible state-title run.
Providence has welcomed some new teams to play in its annual Early Bird Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 7. Those squads are Seymour, Brownstown Central, Franklin and Shelbyville. They will be joining the Pioneers, Indianapolis Cathedral, Indianapolis Roncalli, Columbus East and Jasper in the formidable tournament field.
Providence also will be in a new tournament — the Ben Davis Invitational — on Saturday, Sept. 21 in Indianapolis. The tourney will feature longtime state powerhouse Muncie Burris.
As always, the Pioneers have several tough dual matches on their schedule with New Albany, Floyd Central, Silver Creek, Brownstown and Sacred Heart Academy from Louisville.
“Our record doesn’t matter to us. It’s just the competition we’re trying to play like New Albany, Seymour, Brownstown, Floyd Central and Columbus East,” said Purichia, who also said her players are excited to be hosting a Class 2A sectional this season. “Those teams are going to put it on us each time that we face them. We want to make sure our strength of schedule was consistent throughout the season. We didn’t want a section of the schedule to be light, so we worked really hard to get that fixed.
“The whole schedule is practice. It’s all practice. We have to be ready to go once that October date hits where we’re playing sectional and playing it here. Everything up to that point is just getting us ready.”
Purichia says her and her coaching staff are trying to take a step-at-a-time approach with the Pioneers in maintaining their focus to achieve this season’s high goals, which includes a state championship.
“It’s almost like a ladder. You have to climb each rung one at a time in order to get to the top. If you want to be at the top, you can’t skip steps,” Purichia said. “I’m very lucky. They buy into everything that we’re trying to do. They’re just awesome kids. They enjoy being around each other. Everybody was a part of it last year and they can’t wait to get the season started.”
New coach Gary Timberlake says the Braves will be in a rebuilding mode with only two seniors on their squad. The seniors are Shelbie Farvour and McKenzie Smith.
Other key players returning for Borden are juniors Kristen Nestor, Bailee Kruer and McKenzie Owens. Other returnees are Joann Konermann, Katie Schaffer and Kendyl Wheatley. The Braves also welcome five freshmen, who are expected to play key roles this season.
“We are definitely in a rebuilding year,” Timberlake said. “My expectations for this year are like for any team I’ve coached — I expect the best. I look for us to improve.”
Tammy Nuxoll, a former All-State player at Jeffersonville and a standout at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, will try to turn around the Pirates’ fortunes as their new coach.
Nuxoll inherits five returning seniors from last year’s 2-22 squad in setter Megan Brooks, middle blocker Lauren Crowe, outside hitter Cassie Martin, right-side hitter Haley Layton and outside hitter and middle blocker Erika Broady. Junior setter and defensive specialist Keeley Couch also returns.
“I am expecting great things from my team this season,” said Nuxoll, who has coached at Clarksville and Jeff. “I am expecting a more fundamentally sound team with my seniors generating excitement and more confidence on the court. Each and every game, improvements in team play will be the goal. I want to frustrate other teams with our defense and ‘never let the ball hit the floor’ attitude.”
The Warriors (25-6 in 2012) bring back several key players from last year’s Class A sectional championship team, and they hope to make another sectional-title run in 2013.
Returning for CAI are junior outside and middle hitter Krista Boesing, senior outside hitter Emily Haworth, sophomore setter Alexis Falcone and junior libero Alex Lyons. Freshman middle and outside hitter Sierra Rayzor is expected to contribute to the Warriors’ cause.
CAI has strengthened its schedule with tournaments at Kokomo and Jeff and has added a dual match against Silver Creek.
“We look to build upon our sectional championship from last year,” coach Walter Pauly said. “Our defense and passing will need to improve in order for us to achieve our goal.”
Coach John McEwen expects the Generals (6-21 in 2012) to improve even more this season with 10 returning letterwinners. Senior middle blocker Ali Sparkman, who was named to both the News and Tribune All-Area and All-Mid-Southern Conference teams last season, will lead Clarksville.
Other key returnees are junior libero Kayla Wallace and sophomore setter Cheyenne Bledsoe. The three other seniors on the squad are outside hitter Kristen McNew, middle blocker and outside hitter Abby Hurtgen and setter Hannah Elder. The Generals also should get a boost from junior defensive specialist Danielle Pace, who transferred from Borden.
“The future is bright for Clarksville volleyball,” McEwen said. “With six wins last year after previous back-to-back winless seasons, the program should easily double last season’s win total with the goal of the program’s first winning season in a long time. We went from a program with no club volleyball players to a program with nine club players this past club season, including the entire freshman class.”
The Musketeers (14-16 in 2012) must replace hitters Krista Roberts and Kayla Beach along with two key servers and a back-row player.
Senior outside and middle hitter Brooke Rodewig is expected to pick up the slack for Roberts and Beach. Senior setter Whitney Sacksteder will run the Eastern offense, while senior Dakota Reed and sophomore Laken Heavner will provide tough defense in the back row. Another player expected to contribute to the Musketeers is sophomore Destinee Mattix.
“Many players made improvements through club volleyball to compete at the varsity level,” Musketeers’ coach Lisa Roberts said. “Our weaknesses would be that we are young and lack varsity experience in some areas. Our goals are to make every point matter, cover the floor and know all positions.”
With several returning players back from last year’s 24-11 squad, the Highlanders should be strong again and contend for the Hoosier Hills Conference and Class 4A sectional championships.
Floyd Central’s outside and middle hitters who are back are seniors Sydney Engle and Tierney Flaherty, juniors Lauren Koopman and Hannah Joly and sophomore Gwyn Jones. Junior Remington Bowman returns as the Highlanders’ setter, and senior defensive specialists Riley Kaiser and Brooke Hinton should provide some solid play in the back row.
Floyd Central will play in tough tournaments this year at New Castle and Carmel. The New Castle tournament will be very challenging with a field that includes Louisville Assumption, Muncie Central, Belmont, Penn, Avon and the host Trojans.
“This year we should have a very competitive team that has a lot of talent,” Floyd Central coach Bart Powell said. “Our schedule is extremely tough, which will make us better come tournament time.”
The Hornets (10-24 in 2012) hope to double their win total from a year ago and capture the Southern Athletic Conference title. Coach Shallon Hill expects senior Courtney Rappe, junior Kerri Cochran and sophomore Cassidy Mull, all of which are hitters, to lead Henryville to a possible winning season.
“The team goals for us are to win 20-plus games as well as win that SAC title. We’ve never won it outright in my five years, but we’ve taken shares before,” Hill said. “I expect to compete in every match we play in, give our seniors the best possible season we can, and continue building the volleyball program for years to come.”
Hill thinks New Washington and Lanesville will be the teams to contend with for the SAC crown. The Hornets’ schedule also includes Silver Creek, Providence, CAI and Trinity Lutheran along with tournaments at Jeff and Barr-Reeve.
Renee Stock, who coached the Red Devils (10-22 in 2012) from 2001-04, returns to coach at Jeff this season and has several seniors on her roster.
Leading the Devils will be senior setter Jena Reinhardt. Jeff’s other seniors are Shelby Moore, Rachel Williams, Makenzi Johnson, Emma Coons, Hanna Samuel, Sara Garwood and Anika Enkhbayar. Stock also will be expecting big things from junior middle hitter Mary Pat Geary, sophomore middle hitter Hailey Lacy and varsity newcomers Brooklyn Garrison (junior) and McKenna Woodard (sophomore).
Stock worked a lot with her predecessor, Tim Cox, the past few years as she coached volleyball at River Valley Middle School.
“Coach Cox and his family put a lot of time and energy into this program the past few years. He got a lot of the kids involved in club ball. I am grateful for the hard work they put in with these girls,” Stock said. “We have some excellent athletes, scholars and leaders on our squad. Our team has a new positive motivational motto this year. We are going to ‘push’ ourselves physically and mentally to become a competitive force. I always tell my players to push themselves, so I thought it was fitting to use this to inspire our team this season.”
The Bulldogs (22-12 in 2012) welcome back several starters from last year’s squad. Those starters include senior middle hitter Kelsey Guess, senior right-side hitter Olivia Balmer, junior middle hitter Alexis Lete and junior left-side hitters Audrey Donastorg and Brook McCoy.
Other New Albany players who return are junior setter Lindsey Harper, junior defensive specialists Madison Dibble, Madison Almon and Cory Schamore and sophomore right-side hitter Emma Balmer. Freshmen Sadie Meyer and Parker Andres also are expected to play key roles for the Bulldogs.
“I’m really looking forward to coaching this group,” coach John Breeding said. “I like their work ethic and their attitude. But I’m concerned about their varsity experience. I think this group will get better as the year goes on.”
Breeding says Floyd Central, Columbus East and Seymour will be tough to beat in the HHC. New Albany’s schedule also includes Providence, Brownstown and a new tournament at Heritage Hills.
The Mustangs (20-10 in 2012) have a solid nucleus with five seniors. They are middle blockers Caroline Ricks and Ashley Johnson, setter Courtney Amick, outside hitter Kaitlyn Schindler and opposite blocker Tara Edens.
Coach Michelle McCutcheon expects freshman middle blocker Brianne Cochran to be productive this year. McCutcheon says the Madison Tournament is always a challenge for her team and thinks the SAC and Class A sectional will both be very competitive.
“I expect our team to have a winning season. We should win some games that we are not expected to, and I want to compete to the highest level every time out,” McCutcheon said. “Our schedule will be balanced. Some teams should be easy, some right on our level and some far above our level.”
ROCK CREEK ACADEMY
Coach Jennifer Brown expects the Lions (8-14 in 2012) to be much improved after going through a rebuilding season in 2012.
Senior right-side hitter Marissa Weedin and senior middle hitter Susan McCoy are expected to provide leadership. Several juniors are back for Rock Creek in right-side hitter Kylie Tincher, middle hitter Brittney Page, setter Katie Clapp, left-side hitter Holly Whitworth and libero Ahyenday Thornton.
“This will be a challenging season, but the girls are better prepared and ready to meet the challenge,” Brown said. “The girls have been working hard, they had a great camp this summer and their skills are in place. The challenge will be keeping them focused and mentally prepared. They are a wonderful group of young ladies, and I look forward to the upcoming season.”
The Dragons (25-11 in 2012) should lack leadership as they have seven seniors. Leading the senior group are middle blockers Danni Densford and Kendra Kirchgessner, outside hitter Morgan Reining and opposite blocker Mady Niemann. Other seniors are Aleisha Brown, Emily Crase and Lauren Roberts.
Junior setter Caitlyn Ramser, junior outside hitter Liz Mann and sophomore libero Brynn Ware also are key returnees for Creek. Plus coach Jeff Zimmerman expects big things from junior Kelsi Scott.
“We have had an outstanding preseason this year,” Zimmerman said. “The girls have accepted every challenge we have given them. This is a group of girls that wants to be pushed to the limit. With seven seniors on the squad this year, we have some outstanding leaders. Our younger kids are stepping up and pushing the upperclassmen to make practices very competitive. The seniors have very high expectations and we as a staff feel we have the personnel to meet those expectations.”
The Dragons’ slate has gotten stronger as they will play in the Indianapolis Brebeuf Invitational and the Brownstown Central Invitational. Zimmerman says Brownstown Central is still the team to beat in the MSC. Silver Creek’s nonconference slate includes Providence, Seymour, New Albany, Floyd Central and Christian Academy.