Pay no attention to the fact that their talent-laden roster includes only two seniors, one of whom has missed most of the season because of injury and illness.
For St. Ursula Academy and fifth-year coach John Buck, the future is now!
The sixth-ranked Arrows take a 25-1 record into tonight's Division I volleyball regional semifinal showdown against top-ranked Rocky River Magnificat at Willard.
“The last thing we want to do is talk about next year,” Buck said. “We're not looking past our next match. As good as the future looks, I'm not going to wish away any time to get to next year. As far as we're concerned this is the year.”
Magnificat (22-3) provided the lone blemish to St. Ursula's otherwise perfect record, a 15-7, 16-14 home win over the Arrows on Sept. 6.
Since then, St. Ursula has reeled off 21 straight victories, including a 9-0 regular-season City League mark, CL playoff wins over Bowsher and Central Catholic to win the league championship, and a victory over Great Lakes League champion Clay in last Saturday's district final at Lake.
Tonight's rematch at Willard will start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the 6:30 p.m. semifinal between seventh-ranked Mansfield Madison (22-3) and ninth-ranked Amherst Steele (24-2). The winners play at Willard Saturday at 2 p.m. for the championship and a berth in the state semifinals in Dayton next week.
Can the Arrows beat Magnificat?
“Yes, we can beat them,” said Buck. “If they come in with their A-game and we come in with our A-game, I still like our game.
“It's going to come down to mental toughness and the will to win. And, to who passes up the big swings to play it safe. We're going to be aggressive and continue to attack.”
Leading that attack at the net is the youngest member of Buck's young team, 14-year-old Sarah Florian, a 5-11 middle hitter who is the City League player of the year.
Florian has displayed a court savvy and versatile range of attack points throughout most of her first high school season, including a trunkful of kills that have left spectators saying “whew,” while the Arrow faithful chant, “She's a fresh-man.”
Florian leads St. Ursula with 189 kills in 366 attacks and 156 successful solo or assist blocks that either ended or continued rallies. She shares the team lead in digs with 72.
“What's uncanny is that Sarah, as young as she is, seems unfazed by any physical error she makes,” Buck said. “She rises to the level of the competition. Yes, she's a tremendous player, but she's surrounded by a great cast.”
Joining Florian on the All-City League first team were her 5-8 junior sister Erica Florian, a rightside hitter who has 106 kills in 253 attempts, 67 digs and team highs of 35 service aces and a 93.8 serve percentage, and 5-10 junior setter Kaycie Carr, the trigger person of the Arrows' attack and one of the team's best defensive players.
Carr has assisted on 472 kills, shares the digs lead at 72, and has contributed 122 successful blocks.
“She's the quarterback,” Buck said of Carr. “As the old saying goes, a good setter can make mediocre athletes look great. Our girls aren't mediocre, but she makes them look great. Kaycie's a gifted athlete. She's very agile, very cat-like. We get great swings when she puts the ball up.”
Also in the regular starting lineup are 5-10 Elizabeth Cron and 5-8 Ashlei Nofzinger, who are each junior leftside hitters and second-team All-City players.
Rounding out the top eight are 5-10 sophomore middle hitter Colleen Slattery, and two back-row specialists - 5-4 senior Lauren Berlacher and 5-7 junior Andrea Romano.
Ann Dzierwa, a 5-4 junior back-row sub, also logs time, and 5-10 senior hitter Alex Parrish completes the lineup.
“Where we've continued to improve is with balance,” Buck said. “At the beginning of the year we relied heavily on Sarah Florian. Now we're spreading the attack out more. We're getting attacks out of five players, and that makes it tough for teams to defend us.”
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