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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2011

Express set sights on nationals

Owens will host tourney; hopes veteran squad reaches it

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Owens' Brittany Egbert, a Hopewell-Loudon graduate, is a team captain. She has 399 kills for the Express. Owens' Brittany Egbert, a Hopewell-Loudon graduate, is a team captain. She has 399 kills for the Express.
OWENS COMMUNITY COLLEGE/SETH FOLEY Enlarge

The Owens Community College volleyball program is hoping to finish the season significantly involved in the national junior college volleyball tournament for the eighth time in team history.

An opportunity to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) volleyball tournament would hold special significance for the Express, who are experiencing one of the best regular seasons in the program's history.

The Express are hosting the tournament Nov. 17-19 at the Student Health and Activities Center.

"We're really working to get in a lot of attendance for it," Owens coach Sonny Lewis said. "We're trying to get people in the seats and see that two-year college volleyball is very good volleyball."

The Express have certainly made the case over the years. They've been as good as or better than most two-year college volleyball programs.

Owens has advanced to the national tournament seven times dating back to 1996 and has placed as high as third three times (1999, 2000, 2003).

The Express advanced last season and placed 11th. Several returners on this year's roster were key players on last year's squad.

Sophomore middle-blocker Brittany Egbert is one of the team captains and has been one of Owens' top players the past two seasons.

Egbert, who leads the team with 399 kills and has also recorded 206 digs and 36 aces, wants to close out her final season in an Express uniform on Owens' homecourt.

"We're pushing ourselves to go to nationals and that's our main goal," Egbert said. "The sophomores really like to push it and make it back, especially since it's at home."

The Express are 41-3 overall, including an unblemished 12-0 showing in the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference after their 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, 25-13 victory over Columbus State Friday to secure the outright league championship.

They head into the district tournament (Nov. 4-6) riding plenty of momentum.

"It's one of our best," Lewis said. "This may be the one team with the fewest losses or the one with our most wins.

"It ranks right up there with the other teams we've had that qualified for nationals and have done really well."

Ellie Comes, a sophomore defensive specialist, believes the Express have the makeup to make a strong push into nationals similar to last year's team that finished 42-9 overall and 11-1 in conference.

"We focus more on the little things and try hard all the time," said Comes, who has accounted for 798 digs and 41 aces. "I can see where we are a little better than last year.

"We have great defense and we have great setters that get to a lot of balls and hustle their butts off. Our hitters know when to hit a ball down and when to be smart. We're all really good athletes and we work as a team and not individually."

It's a team that's played all season with purpose and passion.

They're also playing with pride and are a team built primarily with players from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Nine of the 12 players on the Express roster represent area recruits: Molly Hilfinger (Anthony Wayne), Whitney Hoodlebrink (Eastwood), Bethany Critchley (Toledo Christian), Julia Haupricht (Central Catholic), Erin Schatzle (Monroe), Alyssa Meis (Eastwood), Alyssa Pelish (Central Catholic), Brandi Schimming (Genoa), Egbert (Hopewell-Loudon), and Comes (Southview).

Schatzle, a sophomore outside hitter, has been a steady contributor, producing 322 digs, 181 kills, and 48 aces while Haupricht, a sophomore middle-blocker, has delivered 319 kills, 238 digs, 99 blocks, and 36 aces.

Hilfinger (226 digs, 38 aces) and Hoodlebrink (134 kills, 71 digs), both freshmen, have provided depth.

"They've done what you want teams to do," Lewis said. "They work together. They get along well. They work hard. They listen and they're very coachable and they want to win.

"They want to get back to nationals and do better than they did last year because the core of this group is sophomores."

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com, 419-724-6302 or on Twitter @demmonsblade.



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