That has been the message this week at Monroeville volleyball practices. The Eagles will face New Bremen at 2 p.m. Thursday in a Division IV state semifinal at the Wright State University Nutter Center in Fairborn.
The No. 9-ranked Eagles (24-3) and the No. 3 Cardinals (23-4) are both a lot alike in terms of offensive balance.
“From what we’ve gathered so far they are a lot like us,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said Monday night. “They have the balance this year compared to last year when talking about the one dynamic player to build everything around.”
A year ago, the Cardinals won the state championship behind the strength of Paige Jones, who set Ohio records for kills in a match and season. She’s currently a freshman at the University of Michigan.
Much like the Eagles boast five hitters with at least 171 kills, the Cardinals will counter with five hitters ranging from 168-to-187 kills each. They include sophomore Claire Pape (187 kills), sophomore Josie Reinhart (179 kills), junior Taylor Paul (179 kills), senior Rachel Kremer (178 kills) and junior Macy Puthoff (168 kills).
Two senior setters spread out the assists with Madison Pape (431 assists) and Abbi Thieman (392 assists). Senior Blake Snider leads the team with 238 digs.
“This year they are spreading the ball around just as much,” Snook said of New Bremen. “We told kids in practice we really have to focus on playing ourselves, because it sounds like that is what the match is going to be. A lot of balance, aggressive serving and good defense on both sides.
“I think it’s going to be one of those matches that goes back and forth because of the teams being so balanced,” she added.
Last season was New Bremen’s first trip to state when it won the championship. The Cardinals are from the powerful Midwest Athletic Conference, which has a deep tradition with the likes of St. Henry (seven state titles) and Marion Local (five state titles).
Meanwhile, the Eagles are making a second state semifinal appearance in four seasons, losing a hard-fought five-game match to eventual champion Jackson Center in 2015. The Cardinals defeated Jackson Center in the regional finals last weekend to advance to Wright State.
“We’ve talked to these kids from the very start of camp in August that any match we played this year was winnable,” Snook said. “We told them that we could go undefeated, which we’ve never done. We knew it was going to be tough, but we had the talent defensively with Stacia (Stieber) and offensively with (setter) Camryn (Hedrick) and our hitters, that we could do that. We’ve had some bumps in the road and we’re young up front, so we knew there was going to be some growing pains. But the big thing with this group is their work ethic.”
Some of those bumps in the road for Snook and the Eagles was not winning or sharing the Firelands Conference title. But between seniors Stieber, Maddie Elmlinger and Josee Brown, her team has responded.
“A lot of teams would fold, especially after the way we lost at Crestview (had 2-0 lead in 3-2 loss), but since the first day of camp their goal has been to be back at state,” Snook said. “Especially with the seniors, who started their career there and wanted to end it there (at state) as well. That senior leadership has really driven those other kids to take those losses and learning experiences and push us to continue to get better.
“As a coach, it’s a fun group to coach that works hard and pushes each other,” she added. “The team chemistry they also have on and off the court is something you can’t teach.”