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Notre Dame, St. Ursula, Perrysburg among top volleyball teams

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    Perrysburg's Claire Feldkamp (12), left, and Kat Mandly (8) work up at the net during a match vs. Anthony Wayne earlier this year.

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    Perrysburg's Kat Mandly (8) hits the ball.

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    Notre Dame's Grace Dynda was named player of the year in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference last season.

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    St. Ursula's Jillian Seitz spikes the ball against Cleveland St. Joseph Liz Kilbane (9) in a regional final last year.

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The 2018 high school volleyball season is under way and some of the top teams are emerging in area leagues.

Here is a look at some of the top projected teams:

TRAC

In the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, the usual suspects — rivals Notre Dame and St. Ursula — look to again be the two prime title contenders.

That championship likely will be decided when the defending TRAC champ Eagles play at St. Ursula on Oct. 4.

WATCH: St. Ursula earns win over Central Catholic

Notre Dame (23-4 overall, 7-0 TRAC in 2017) is off to a somewhat pedestrian 7-6 start through last weekend and is 2-0 in conference play under eighth-year coach Jeff Pitzen.

The Eagles, who had some major losses to graduation, rely on senior returnees Grace Dynda (5-foot-11, outside hitter), Reagen Bertke (libero), and Julia Rothweiler (setter). Sophomore Brynna Hastings (5-11, middle hitter) also is back, and the top newcomers are junior Jennifer Ngo (5-10, MH) and freshman Madison Mergen (5-11, right-side hitter).

Dynda was named TRAC player of the year and second-team All-Ohio last season.

“We lost nine girls, so that’s the majority of our team,” Pitzen said. “That’s tough. Even if we were down we could always rely on our hitters coming back. That’s what we’re trying to make up for.

“If somebody was having an off day, we had three other hitters that usually [was] firing on all cylinders. We’re trying to get these younger girls to step and take those roles, and feel comfortable with it.”

St. Ursula (21-6, 6-1) lost out on the title to Notre Dame in 2017 but rallied to a 3-2 win against  the Eagles in a Division I regional semifinal last year before falling 3-2 to Cleveland St. Joseph in a regional final.

Back for third-year coach Sydney Antonio are senior Abbey Glancey (liberp), and juniors Hannah Best (5-9, OH), Jillian Seitz (5-10, OH), Anna Henry (5-10, MH), and Payton Morman (setter).

The Arrows are off to a 4-4 start, playing their usual top-notch schedule, and are 2-0 in TRAC play.

“I think just the training in the gym is how we overcome it, and we’ve been working really hard since January together,” Antonio said of her team’s inexperience. “We have a lot of new key roles [to fill], so we’ve had a bit of a slower start this year. But I expect to have a strong finish like we’ve had the past couple years. The key will be to not act as young as we are.”

NLL

In the Northern Lakes League, three teams — defending champion Perrysburg, Southview, and Anthony Wayne — are viewed as top contenders for the crown.

Leading that group is Perrysburg (18-6, 13-1), which is off to a 6-2 start this season, including a 4-0 mark in the league with wins against Southview and AW.

WATCH: Perrysburg downs Anthony Wayne in early-season matchup

Third-year coach Laura Davidson’s Yellow Jackets have lost to Notre Dame and Ashland in nonleague play.

Heading up the Jackets rotation is 5-10 junior OH Kat Mandly, a Bowling Green commit. Also back are seniors Emma Lazor (S), Findlay commit Maddy Adamski (OH), Maddie Tansey (libero), Lauren Patterson (RS), and Emma Crisenberg (defensive specialist).

“They’re great girls, and they really work hard,” Davdison said. “So, it’s just getting them to play all together from the beginning of a match.

“Sometimes they start a little slow. We want to start from the beginning and not have to catch up. The girls definitely want back-to-back championships, and they’re going to have to work for it.”

Southview (19-6, 9-5) came on strong late last season, reaching a D-I district final before falling to Notre Dame. The Cougars, who lost only one player to graduation, are off to a 9-2 start, losing only to Perrysburg in compiling a 3-1 league record.

Back for third-year Southview coach Michael Sebring are seniors Molly Musgrave (OH), Olivia Materni (OH), Semira Neely (5-10, middle blocker), Payton Helvey (S), and Erin Mills (DS), as well as junior Caitlin O’Shea (5-11, MB).

The Cougars never havewon a league volleyball title.

“Our goal the past two years has been to chase the banner,” Sebring said. “If this team plays up to its potential, we have the ability and the skill to be that first-ever NLL champion for Southview.

“This core group of seniors have been varsity players together since they were sophomores, so coming off a 19-win season we’re not going to be sneaking up on anybody anymore.”

Anthony Wayne (21-3, 12-2) graduated 2017 NLL player of the year Jillian Grant as well as fellow frontcourt standout Emily Ray, who also was an All-NLL first-teamer. But the Generals are transitioning well, as they are 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the league.

Coach Norm McGhee counts on seniors Olivia Womack (libero) and Taylor Case (DS), juniors Ainsley Page (OH) and Libby Ludwig (S/RS), and sophomores Lauren Curry (5-11, MH), Eva McClure (5-10, MH), and Taylor Russell (6-1, OH).

“When we graduated seven seniors, I figured we’d be rebuilding,” McGhee said. “But we’re kind of holding our own. We’re young, so I was thinking top three, but I hoping we can finish higher. Perrysburg is still a mountain to climb.”

NBC

In the Northern Buckeye Conference, defending champion Eastwood already has dropped two conference matches after going unbeaten in the conference in 2017.

Emerging as top contenders this season are perennial league power Otsego and a greatly improved Fostoria team, which seeks its first league volleyball title.

Otsego (15-8, 11-3) is off to a 6-2 start and 4-0 in the NBC under coach Cheryl Jones, who is in her 34th season guiding the Knights.

Back are senior Maddi Nell (S), juniors Brynne Limes (5-10, MH), Brittany Euler (DS), and Hannah Smoyer (6-0, RS), and sophomore Ellie Roberts (6-0, MH).

“We’re small but mighty,” Jones said of her team’s rotation. “They are working very hard, and they are a unit. It’s going to take that competitive mindset that, when we make an error, we have to let it go. It’s over. Don’t let get in your head. That’ll be a big thing for us.”

Fostoria (16-8, 9-5) has undergone a metamorphosis under fourth-year coach Krissy Lotycz, whose first team was 2-20 in 2014. The Redmen have followed with seasons of 15, 15, and 16 wins and hope to take things up a notch in pursuit of a title. They opened this season at 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the league, having beaten Eastwood and lost to Lake in NBC play.

Back to lead Fostoria is senior middle hitter Tyrianna Settles, who has eclipsed 1,400 career kills. Also returning are senior Dakota Thomas (S), who has more than 1,000 career assists, Mary Harris (OH), Meredith Grimes (5-10, MH), and Baleigh Robinson (OH), as well as sophomore Zoe Rice (DS).

“You’ve got to play in the summer,” Lotycz said of building the team into a contender. “You can’t just show up on Aug. 1 expecting to throw a team together. There’s a lot of building and developing prior to your season. The kids saw that, and have done that, and it has paid off with this class we have now.”

City League

In the City League, Bowsher has won the past two championships, but Start is the clear favorite to win its first crown since 2015 under coach Shaun Dryden, whose roster includes just nine players.

Back for Start (10-8, 8-2) are junior Alasia Easley (OH), who was the 2017 CL player of the year, and seniors Tamea Coleman (OH) and Emily Marsh (S/RS). Start lost only one player to graduation from last year’s league runner-up team.

“I’m hoping for a drastic improvement from last season and for a City championship” Dryden said. “We want to play together and keep improving each game. Everybody’s got to play well, and we have to play hard and up to our ability, and we have to want it more than the other team. We have to be fearless.”

TAAC

Toledo Christian (21-4, 9-1) has won or shared nine consecutive Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles, so there is no reason to think the Eagles won’t be the top title contender this year despite graduating seven seniors and taking an early 3-2 conference loss to Cardinal Stritch.

Second-year coach Ben Miglin’s team will be paced by senior Erin Toland (OH) and sophomores Regan Vaughn (libero) and Grace Porter (RS). It will take some work and time to adjust, but the Eagles hope to return to a Division IV regional this season.

“I have really high expectations for the team,” Miglin said. “Our training is really good, and we have an athletic group of kids. Our game plan has been ball control since we aren’t a very big team. As far as a goal, we’re looking to repeat districts again and hopefully get a little farther than last year.”

NWOAL

With defending champion Swanton having been hit hard by graduation after winning its first Northwest Ohio Athletic League title in 2017, the league’s top championship contenders this season look to be Wauseon and Evergreen.

Wauseon (18-5, 6-1) has not won an NWOAL title since 1993, and sixth-year coach Bill Blanchong sees an Indians team dedicated to ending that drought.

Back to lead the way is senior Lexi Sauber (6-0, MH), a Bowling Green commit who was the 2017 league player of the year. Also returning is senior Maddie Trejo (S) and juniors Kelcy Blanchong (L) and Sydney Zirkle (OH). The Indians are off to a 7-2 start and a 2-0 NWOAL mark.

“We need to stick to the game plan for the opponent we’re playing, and be aggressive,” Bill Blanchong said. “We have the best player in the league in Lexi Sauber, so we have to take advantage of that. We have to reduce our unforced errors and service errors.”

Evergreen (13-9, 5-2) looks to get back to its NWOAL championship ways of 2016, and is off to a 5-4 start and 2-0 in the league under first-year coach Nichole Thanasiu.

The Vikings will count on seniors Kori Kruez (5-10, MH) and Cecelia Silvestri (libero), junior Claire Conrad (S), and sophomore McKenna Babcock (5-11, OH).

“We have high expectations in the league this year,” Thanasiu said. “We have a lot of returners, so we look to do very well. Wauseon and Swanton are the other top teams, and we look to contend, especially since we’ve already played Swanton and beat them in four. The key is going to be our defense. We have some strong leadership with our seniors, and we revolve our entire program around our defense.”

Area

Elsewhere, Oak Harbor (24-1, 12-0) is looking for another Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division title after winning its first league crown since 1989 a year ago. The Rockets also turned in the school’s first unbeaten regular season.

Oak Harbor already has dropped a Bay Division contest to perennial power Huron, but the Rockets will get a rematch with the Tigers at Oak Harbor on Sept. 20.

Leading the way for fourth-year coach Jacki Gezo are seniors Kaytlynn Sandwisch (S), Peyton Bloomer (6-1, MH), and Logan Harris (6-1, MH), as well as junior Olivia Rahm (OH/DS). Bloomer was the Bay Division’s player of the year in 2017 and also was named first-team All-Ohio. Sandwisch has surpassed 1,700 career assists.

“We’re still going to try for the league title, but the girls keep saying that this is their year to make a long tournament run,” Gezo said. “Their goal is to go far in the tournament this year. The key is to play as a team and to play with intensity every game.”

Michigan

North of the border, Bedford just keeps right on rolling under 34th-year coach Jodi Manore, who is Michigan’s, and the nation’s, all-time leader in wins among high school volleyball coaches.

At a Southeastern Conference Red Division mini-tournament Aug. 27, Manore reached her 2,000th career victory. As of last week, the Mules were off to a 17-4 start to the season, including 5-0 in the league, after last season reaching a Class A state quarterfinal, where they lost to eventual three-time defending champion Novi.

Back to lead Bedford this season are seniors Levi Lennard (S), Bree Long (libero), and Paige Anstine (OH), and junior Alysssa Griner (OH). The biggest loss to graduation was of second-team all-state player Heidi Fausze, who is now at Eastern Michigan.

“We have the potential to be very good,” said Manore, whose teams have won three state championships. “We’re working on our blocking and our serve-receive. Those are our weaknesses. We run a good offense because we have a third-year setter and some good hitters. We just have to be able to get the ball up and get it to them.

“We’re going to have to do the little things right, like play tough defense. You can have the best offensive players, but if you don’t play defense it won’t work. Defense is what wins championships.”

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade.

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