KANSAS, Ohio - The recipe that turned a struggling team into a Suburban Lakes League juggernaut in three short seasons called for a cup of chemistry, a generous scoop of effort and the inspiration of chef Alan Ahle.
The Lakota volleyball team has blossomed under the guidance of Ahle, wrapping up a second straight SLL title last week with a 13-1 league record.
Lakota (17-2) opened this season with 14 straight wins and had won 24 straight SLL contests stretching back to last season before a loss to Genoa ended the streak last week.
Ahle, who led Gibsonburg to two SLL titles in his three years there, is in his fourth year at Lakota. The Raiders were 3-20 in his first season but last year reversed those numbers to 20-3 and claimed the school's first title.
"Team chemistry is one of most important things you can have," Ahle said. "This is by far the closest team I've ever had and they have that refuse-to-lose attitude. We just had to get our philosophy in, which is a very hard work ethic."
"It all adds up to a winning combo."
The Raiders are 18th in the Division III state coaches poll.
"It was great to get the school's first SLL title and now it's back to back," Ahle said. "The people are pretty happy around here."
Four seniors have experienced the lowest lows and now the highest highs. Outside hitter Cami Wasserman, right side blocker Melanie Hoffman, back row specialist Chelsea Cox and libero Katie Gosche bought into Ahle's mantra early on.
"He really brought a drive and desire in all of us," Wasserman said. "He taught us to fight and to never quit."
Wasserman, who is 5-9, already holds school records for kills, serving aces and digs.
"We've worked really hard for four years," Wasserman said. "We just wanted to bring [the program] up with the other good ones around the area. This feels great because we all can remember when things were not so great. We came together as a team."
Ahle, who has coached at various levels for 20 years, said he plans to retire after this season. He said the group of seniors is a special one.
"They keep the team chemistry together. We strive for that," he said. "It's just a team attitude that extends beyond the six players on the floor. The players on the bench have it, too. We have a family-oriented team. There are no 'me' players on the team. There is no finger pointing. It's been a great team atmosphere."
Lakota reached the district semifinals last season. The Raiders will play Margaretta in a sectional final on Saturday at Hopewell-Loudon.
Gosche, who took over at libero this year, leads the team in digs with more than 200.
"It took four years of hard work. [Coach Ahle] built the chemistry," Gosche said. "He showed us how to win. We're all good friends and spend so much time together. Through the ups and downs, our chemistry is always there."
Cox, who was the team's libero last year, had a procedure done to fix a heart valve problem last spring and moved to the back row this fall.
"We went from 3-20 to 20-3. It's been amazing. It's the greatest feeling in the world," Cox said. "It's our team's dedication and coach knows he can get on us and make us work hard. We help each other out and we just click together."
Hoffman, who tore her ACL in the summer, still has limited mobility.
"She's on one wheel. It's tough for her to get around. She's 6-foot. But she's strictly a blocker now," Ahle said. "Mel's a very smart young lady. She has a great mental approach."
Wasserman already has 433 kills this year and has more than 1,200 in her career. She also has 160 digs.
"She plays very tall and she can really jump," Ahle said.
Wasserman, who placed third in the D-III state pole vault last spring, said the varsity and junior varsity players all hang out.
"Their season is over and they still come to practice," Wasserman said. "We all love each other. In volleyball, things can change really quickly. If you let a disagreement get to you, it will hurt your play."
Junior setter Julie Miles leads the team in assists with 550.
"The contributions from the underclassmen are pretty evenly spread out," Ahle said.
The seniors agreed that an intense conditioning program over 10 days in the summer allows the Raiders to call upon extra reserves. The seniors also said they would like to make a long run in the tournament to send their coach out on a good note.
"He brought the drive to us. So we want to make it one of his best and most memorable seasons," Wasserman said.
"He wants it all and we think we can give it to him," Gosche said. "We want to go out with a bang."
Ahle said he believes his team has great potential and likes the fire in their eyes.
"For me, it's just time to step aside," Ahle said. "But I just tell the seniors this is their last
hurrah. They won't let each other fail. They'll always lift each other up."
Contact Mark Monroe at:
or 419-724-6354.41.24496 -83.28318