TONTOGANY — What’s happening this season is no surprise to Otsego volleyball coach Cheryl Jones.
The longtime coach, who has been with the Knights for 30 years, early on saw a team ready to contend for the Northern Buckeye Conference championship.
“Just knowing they were very successful at the JV level and we have a lot of experience with the upperclassmen, I knew what we had, the potential was certainly there,” Jones said. “It was what they chose to do with that, because you never know with those intangibles. The mental toughness is one thing we keep working on, and our focus and our work ethic.”
Otsego (16-4, 11-1 NBC) entered today’s match against Fostoria with a chance to clinch an outright NBC title. It already earned at least a share of the crown.
It is the sixth conference championship under Jones and the first since 2009 when they shared the honor with Eastwood.
“The [championship teams] are all different, but I'm tickled for them because this is something they have accomplished,” Jones said. “That was something that was really important to them. That was a goal that they had from the get-go.
“They wanted to have their year put up on the banner. They wanted 2013 up there. For me to see them accomplish that is awesome.”
Senior co-captains Lindsey Donald and Savannah Schwind were eighth-graders the last time the Knights celebrated a title.
Donald is the most experienced and the top all-around player. The four-year varsity player leads the team with 30 aces.
More significantly, Donald, who assumes the role of vocal team leader, said she’s been working toward this moment since her freshman season. She said this group may have been a team of destiny.
“This is definitely our best season,” Donald said. “All of the girls work really well together and we’ve gelled.”
Jones makes it clear Donald’s play on the court was instrumental in winning the title.
“Looking at Lindsey, she plays all around,” Jones said. “She’s right in there with digs and with kills and with aces and all of that. She’s kind of like the coach on the court. She is our rock.”
Donald’s perfect complementary team leader is Schwind, according to Jones. Schwind leads the team with 173 digs.
“She’s a little too quiet for my liking, but she gets the job done,” Jones said. “She’s quick and can read and is very gifted and very bright and that’s why it’s such a joy to coach her.”
With only three seniors — Emily McVeigh is the other — the Knights succeeded with younger players led by junior Abby Hesselschwardt, the team leader in kills with 250.
Sophomores Mac Varner and Morgan Smoyer have also been productive. Varner, a setter, has registered a team-best 552 assists. Smoyer has delivered 219 kills.
The losses have come to Eastwood (only league loss), Liberty-Benton, Archbold, and Toledo Christian — four teams that have been state-ranked.
After losing to Eastwood in a heartbreaking five-set match that lasted just under three hours a month ago, Otsego returned the favor with a 25-12, 19-25, 25-19, 25-19 victory Oct. 1 before a packed home crowd.
The Eagles have also lost to Elmwood, a team the Knights beat twice.
“We’re excited,” Donald said. “We’re pumped.”