Fall Sports Preview: Repeat success on the minds of local volleyball teams

AREA STARS: Avon's Holly Eastridge, Danville's Kiersten Johnson, Cascade's Juliana Schmidt, Tri-West's Gracie Russell, Plainfield's Olivia Utterback, Bethesda's Brooke Dodson and Brownsburg's Ashley Margetts headline another great season of Hendricks County volleyball.

It should come as no surprise that volleyball teams in the area are always some of the best in the state.

Avon proved they were the best in Class 4A, winning their third state title in six years, while Danville earned its first sectional title in 24 years.

Many teams reload with veteran talent while some will work in new faces with the hopes of finding success again in 2018.

Here’s what to expect from local teams:

Tri-West

Louie Aguilar takes over the reins of the Tri-West program that will depend on seasoned and fresh talent for success.

Since taking over the program, Aguilar states his team has been working hard in the gym and on the court and knows their hardwork will transfer over to game days as well as in the classroom.

Three-year starter Josie McClara will be counted on for leadership and be a dominating force as their No. 1 middle hitter. Outside hitters Autumn Duffy, Gracie Russell and middle hitter Anna Richotte have impressed Aguilar with their commitment and how they’ve led by example. Megan Duffy, Maddie Elam, Jenna Hill and Grace Lengacher will also be leaned upon this year.

Incoming freshman Lindsay Springer will go right to work as the team’s varsity setter and shouldn’t have a problem with a cast of solid passers helping her out. Transfer Jen Springer will spot up at libero for the Bruins and freshmen Ashlyn DeBello and Ava Keck will help anchor the back line. Jolee Owens and Makenna Brauman will also add some quality depth to the Bruin ranks.

The Bruins have set some big goals this year wanting to win both Sagamore Conference and sectional titles. How quickly the Bruins mesh as a team will play a big role in their achievement.

“Our overall key to success and achieving our goals this year will greatly depend on how fast we click as a team, and how much we can believe and depend on one another to win and play as a team,” Aguilar said. “I am really excited for this season and beyond blessed to be in this position and have the opportunity to coach and lead this wonderful group of young athletes.”

Brownsburg

The Bulldogs are expected to be young again this season but coach Bob Yeager has seen significant improvement up and down the roster after successful club seasons.

Juniors Ashley Margetts, Skyy Smith and Katie Hardegree return with a wealth of varsity experience. Sophomores Jaylen Keown, Maddie Smith and Morgan Syoen will make sure the Bulldogs keep play under control, which Yeager sees as a key to their success this season.

Holland Dotson, Audrey Gordon, Paige Thompson and Marah Wood will be paramount at the net and Yeager has seen solid improvement from them so far this offseason. Freshman standout Kendall Miller will also be essential to the team’s identity.

“The key to our success, as always, will be our ball control,” Yeager said. “A talented freshmen class along with a renewed competitive attitude should make season fun to watch.”

Plainfield

Kills leader Olivia Utterback returns for the Quakers and second-year coach Alexis Padgett expects big things from her junior captain. Leading the team in kills (355) and hitting percentage (.331), Utterback will be a lethal attacking threat for Plainfield.

This past offseason, Utterback earned all-tournament honors at the Nike Mid-East qualifier tourney and led her team to a fifth-place finish at AAU Junior National Volleyball Championships.

Padgett is also looking for Isabelle Vernengo, Emma Lane and Mackenzie Dostin to contribute greatly to success this season. Vernengo will serve as a captain this year and returns as the team’s setter. She was second on the team in assists with 349 last year. Lane posted 232 digs last season as the team’s libero and will return to her role on the defensive end.

Incoming freshman Peiper Hesson brings a lot of athleticism and a high volleyball IQ to the team and Padgett believes she’ll do great things for the program.

“As long as we play as a program and constantly work on being good teammates, we will have a great season,” Padgett said. “Coachability and focus will make us very successful as well.”

Cascade

Second-year coach Miranda Maners has two returning seniors that have bought in to the Cascade volleyball philosophy. Sydney Cook and Taylor Mayes have taken on key leadership roles and are making sure the rest of the team is meeting everyday goals.

Junior hitters Elizabeth Guetig and Carly Gibbs will have significant attacking roles and continue to lead by example on and off the court. Sophomore Madison Mayes has improved her passing skills tremendously according to Maners and setters Kiley Jacobs and Juliana Schmidt have matured a lot mentally and have learned how to run the floor more effectively.

Incoming freshman outside hitter Josie Jones will get some varsity playing time for the Cadets this year. Maners notes she’s also made her presence felt and is fitting in nicely with the rest of the team.

“At Cascade our keys to success will be communication and explosiveness,” Maners said. “We have very athletic girls that can outlast many teams in physical condition. We just need to work on these two elements and we can be very competitive against any opponent.”

Avon

The Orioles may have lost two big pieces to last year’s state championship team in Jael Johnson and Darian Goins, but Avon isn’t exactly any worse for wear with 14 players back to try and defend their state title.

Leading the charge this year will be a large group of senior talent. South Carolina commit Holly Eastridge is back and should build on an excellent 2017 campaign with 289 kills and 52 blocks. She led the Orioles in their state title win over Crown Point with 13 kills.

Also up on the front lines are sophomore Abby Maesch and Isabella Stallard, who each clocked at least 180 kills last year. Maesch and Stallard provided solid hitting options for the Orioles in their rotation last November. Against the Bulldogs, Maesch and Stallard racked up nine and seven kills, respectively. Stallard led the team in blocks at state with five.

Defense might be the strongest part of the 2018 Orioles with all of their key defensive specialists back in the lineup. Purdue commit Ava Torrance, Ball State commit Chloe Rickenbach and University of Southern Indiana commit Audrey Crowder will give opposing hitters fits on the back line. Rickenbach led the team with 382 digs while Torrance and Crowder weren't too far behind with 243 and 103, respectively. Torrance paced the defense with 19 digs in the state title game.

The Orioles also return Asia Goins and Erin Carmichael to the fold to give them even more depth. Both recorded 98 and 232 digs last year and Carmichael led the team in aces with 59 last year.

Danville

The Warriors had a season to remember last year and they’re poised for a repeat with many returners in 2018.

They will, however, need to find replacements for middle hitter Claudia Ellis and middle blocker Kyara Black, who played big roles in their sectional title win.

Danville does return two of their top-three attackers in Kiersten Johnson and Callie Sharkley. Both outside hitters earned at least 164 kills and combined for 74 blocks.

Setter Jessie McDugle returns to control the floor. She tallied 819 assists last season, averaging more 8.5 per set. Defensive specialists Kaitlyn Allen, Mallory Delamarter and Lauren Townsend are also back for the Warriors to give them extra cushion on the back line.

McDugle, Allen, Delamarter and Townsend were also very good at finding spots on the floor aces. All of them recorded at least 31 last year, McDugle leading the bunch with 57.

Bethesda Christian

The Patriots hope for a better 2018 season and they have a chance to do with a lot of their attackers back for another year.

Rachel Shafer and Brooke Dodson return as two of Bethesda’s top hitters posting 109 and 66 kills, respectively, last year. They were also one and two in aces, Dodson with 78 and Shafer with 51.

Basketball standout Maddi Fulks is back on the defensive back line after leading the Patriots in digs last season with 215.

Bethesda will have to find a replacement for setter Melanie Leichty, who paced the Patriots with 354 assists.

Dylan Trimpe writes for the Hendricks County Flyer and can be reached at dylan.trimpe@flyergroup.com Follow Dylan on Twitter @Trimp3

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