Fresh faces galore as teams replenish with talent

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

It’s time to break out the nets and knee pads as volleyball season is upon us once again. As the leaves turn brown so do the white spots on the uniforms, as girls dive for digs and elevate for blocks at the net to compete for sectional supremacy and beyond. Here’s a preview of the area volleyball teams that will be hitting the court this season.

Herald File Photos
Taylor Wildman, Reagan Egbert and Riley Merder will be three key players that the Jasper volleyball team will look to utilize this season as they search to get back to the sectional championship. Just like all four other area teams, the Wildcats are looking to replace their graduating seniors with a plethora of young players.

Jasper Wildcats

Last year
Won the Big Eight Conference after finishing with an undefeated 6-0 record (24-11 overall) before falling to Castle in a five-set heartbreaker in the sectional title game.

Opening match
At Loogootee on Aug. 13, first home match on Aug. 14 against Castle

Returning Players
Rylee Hedinger (Sr., defensive specialist)
Natalie Wigand (Sr., libero)
Taylor Wildman (Sr., middle hitter)
Reagan Egbert (Jr., outside hitter)
Kate Green (Jr., setter)
Meredith Hilgefort (Jr., defensive specialist)
Riley Merder (Jr., outside hitter)

Key Newcomers
Laura Gobert (Jr.)
Taylor Greulich (Jr.)
Grace Kizior (Soph.)
Allison Mair (Soph.)

Notable: Last year was Jasper’s first dance in Class 4A for volleyball and they found their way to the sectional final before losing a close match to the Castle Knights in five games. Coach Liz Milligan has lost seven seniors from that team, but she has the benefit of reloading with a lot of rising players who saw significant action last season.

Seniors Natalie Wigand, Rylee Hedinger and Taylor Wildman will be major pillars on which the Wildcats will build their house this season. Wildman will be slotted in as the middle hitter, Hedinger retains her role as a defensive specialist, and Wigand will be moving into a new role from setter to the more defensively oriented libero position. Juniors Reagan Egbert (outside hitter), Riley Merder (right side hitter) and Kate Green (setter) will also be key contributors for Jasper as well. Junior Meredith Hilgefort will move from libero to a dual role as an outside hitter and defensive specialist.

Milligan thinks that the team has the potential to make some noise this season despite the loss of the seven seniors. The girls currently on team have already developed good chemistry since they have a lot of experience playing together, and they’ve been working on their communication skills to further their on-court synergy. They may not be a very tall team, but Milligan thinks that they can make up for that by using their serving and defense to create opportunities and keep themselves in games as they march their way back to the sectional finals (or beyond).

Quotable: “I have the utmost confidence in this team,” said Milligan. “I think they have a chance to do something very special. The sectional last year stung a bit, so if we were to advance again I know a goal of ours is to win sectional. I would consider that a great accomplishment.”

Anna Altstadt will be one of the key hitters and blockers for Southridge this year as they look to bounce back from a disappointing 2017 season.

Southridge Raiders

Last year
Finished with a 7-19 record and struggled in Pocket Athletic Conference play (1-7), fell in first round of sectional to Evansville Mater Dei

Opening match
Aug. 14 at home against Washington

Returning Players
Amanda Brewer (Sr., outside hitter)
Kenzie Neukam (Sr.)
Mady Neukam (Sr., setter)
Anna Altstadt (Jr., right-side hitter)
Tatiana Delgado (Jr., defensive specialist)
Savannah Goeppner (Jr., setter)
Anna Kappner (Jr.)
Luxey Neukam (Jr., right-side hitter)
Rose Tempel (Soph.)

Notable: Southridge will be welcoming back a familiar face this upcoming season as  Mande Keusch returns as the volleyball coach after nine years away from the program. She brings with her a staff that is also new to Southridge, but she says they are all excited to get to work with the team and get to know the girls as they all learn and grow together during the season.

Keusch thinks that defense will be the strong suit for the Raiders this season. Amanda Brewer and Luxey Neukam will fortify the middle with their blocking, and Tatiana Delgado figures to be a defensive anchor along the back line. Southridge will also be looking to use their aggressive serving to put pressure on their opponents when it comes to offense.

Keusch said she wants to focus on growing the team’s strategic skills so that nothing catches them flat footed on the court. She also wants them talking more, calling out things they see during a match so that everyone on the floor is on the same page and working as a cohesive unit.

Quotable: “Working on growing as a team is our game plan,” she said. “I think if we learn the game a bit more, I think we have a very good shot at sectional.”

Forest Park's Courtney Borman cheered while Northeast Dubois' Madison Knies looked on during the Jeeps 3-0 victory over the Rangers last year. While both teams seemed to be going in different directions last season, the two programs have high hopes for where things are heading this year.

Forest Park Rangers

Last year
Ended the season with a 6-19 record (1-7 in PAC play) and fell in the first round of the sectional tournament to South Spencer

Opening match
Aug. 11 at home against Evansville Reitz

Returning Players
Courtney Borman (Sr., right-side hitter/middle hitter)
Jaylyn Giesler (Sr.)
Bailey Leonard (Sr.)
Jordyn Wiseman (Sr., right-side hitter/defensive specialist)
Bralyn Boehm (Jr.)
Megan Gogel (Jr.)
Kennedy Sermersheim (Jr.)

Notable: Forest Park coach Alexa Rasche said the Rangers made some good strides last year as a program, and she hopes to continue the trend in the coming fall. A lot of players who played key roles as sophomores will be coming back a season older and wiser, which Rasche believes will offset the loss of the seniors from last season.

Rasche is looking for the juniors to do the heavy lifting for the team offensively and for the seniors to anchor the Ranger defense. The coach also said that the team’s athleticism and  versatility will be a big key for them as she’ll be plugging girls into the lineup at different spots to create matchup problems for other teams.

Rasche said a big factor outside of physical talent or Xs and Os will be team confidence. Forest Park hasn’t had a lot of success in the recent past in volleyball, but the improvement from last season has gone a long way in eroding that mental wall. If the girls can band together when things get tough and determine that it’s not over until it’s over, then Rasche believes that the sky’s the limit for Forest Park.

Quotable: “I truly believe we can go as far as these girls allow themselves to go in the tournament,” said Rasche. “As long as we can stay out of our own way, I think we’ll make some noise in the (sectional) tournament.”

 

Northeast Dubois Jeeps

Last year
Won the Blue Chip Conference with a perfect 7-0 record and finished 24-6 overall, fell to Tecumseh in the sectional championship

Opening match
Aug. 13 at home against Wood Memorial.

Returning Players
Brooklyn Dodd (Sr., libero)
AJ Kirchoff (Sr., outside hitter)
Molley Lueken (Sr., middle hitter)
Taylor Dodd (Jr., outside hitter)
Chloe Terwikse (Jr., setter)
Mia Smith (Soph.)
Kayleigh VanPelt (Soph., outside hitter)

Key Newcomers
Hadley Fuhrman (Fr.)

Notable: Northeast Dubois will see Misty Smith walk into the coach’s chair this season, but she isn’t necessarily a new face since she coached the junior varsity volleyball team for the previous two seasons. Smith is looking forward to maintaining the Jeep Edge in her elevation.

The Jeeps are another team dealing with the loss of a big group of seniors, but Northeast Dubois is looking to continue the success that group was able to achieve over the last few seasons. Smith says that the girls are a close-knit and scrappy bunch who have been putting in a lot of work over the summer which will pay dividends for them in the fall.

Seniors Molly Lueken and AJ Kirchoff figure to be two of the major hitters for the team, while Brooklyn Dodd will be working in her usual role as a libero. Junior Chloe Terwiske will be moved all over the floor as she sees time as a hitter, setter, and on the back row. Sophomore Mia Smith will split time between serving and back row duties. Kayleigh VanPelt and Taylor Dodd round out the hitters for the Jeeps.

Quotable: “I look for them to have a successful season,” said Smith. “This is not a group of girls that’s going to back down easy.”

Heritage Hills' Grace Vinson (right) celebrated with Corrie Burroughs after the Patriots defeated Gibson Southern in the sectional championship last season. The Pats will be looking to defend their sectional title with a lot of new members as Heritage Hills graduated many of their 2017 starters including Burroughs.

Heritage Hills Patriots

Last year
Finished 31-5 en route to winning the PAC title (8-0) and the sectional championship over Gibson Southern before falling to Silver Creek in the regional.

Opening match
Aug. 13 at home against Evansville Bosse

Returning Players
Madison Hagedorn (Sr., defensive specialist)
Grace Vinson (Sr., middle hitter/right-side hitter)
Hannah Schnuck (Jr., defensive specialist)

Notable: Heritage Hills is following the area trend of replacing a boatload of seniors from last year’s team, which won a sectional title and made it to the regional semis. The seniors received the bulk of the playing time last year, so the challenge for the Patriots will be having new blood step in and fill the holes left by those who graduated and moved on.

Seniors Madison Hagedorn and Grace Vinson along with junior Hannah Schnuck will be the bedrock on which the team is built this season. They each saw significant time last season, and they’ll be helping the coaching staff get the new girls up to speed for varsity play. But competition is fierce among the rest of the positions on the floor, which is encouraging to coach Kayla White.

White sees the youth of the team as a positive. She says they are young and hungry to replicate the success from last year. They are eager to learn and improve on their technique and motions on the floor, which is every coach’s dream. However, since they are a growing team White knows that they are going to have to work through some mistakes that come with young teams. But White thinks everything will smooth out accordingly once they get used to the speed of the game.

Quotable: “I think if we do everything right, we will compete against every team,” said White. “I think we’ll be able to hang with good team when we all click.”




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