Seniors can be the lifeblood of a program, something the Archbold and Otsego volleyball teams have proven this year.
But seniors aren't essential to winning a league title, something the Eastwood volleyball team has proven this year.
Archbold has used a nine-member senior class to post a 22-0 overall record, including a perfect 8-0 record in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League. Believe it or not, the Blue Streaks, the second-ranked Division III team in Ohio, came into this season with an undefeated record as one of its goals.
"We go into every season thinking the best, because at Archbold, high expectations are always there," coach Julie Nofziger said. "Before the season began, the kids mentioned [an undefeated record], and I told them, 'If you don't write it down, it's harder to fulfill a goal like that.'
"We felt we had talented kids, but we told them the key was that they had to play well every week, in every game."
To this point the Blue Streaks have done just that. And Nofziger said the key for that sharp concentration was a senior class filled with experience.
"We told our girls they had to focus on one match at a time, that they couldn't look past any opponent, if they wanted to be undefeated," she said. "As seniors, they have the experience to know that is true. And as seniors, they are motivated to have that focus, because they know this is their last chance."
Archbold is led by a trio of three-year letterwinners in Stacy Wyse, Emily
Snyder and Devin Newman.
"Stacy is our setter, and we run a 5-1 so we depend on her for a lot," Nofziger said. "She knows the game, and she knows how to get the ball to the right person at the right time.
"Emily is our middle hitter, and she worked very hard in the off-season on the quick-hit to become a very important player for us. And Devin had played the middle, but she moved to the outside and has become a really important hitter for us."
Newman leads the team with 166 kills and Snyder is close behind with 153, but the Blue Streaks have four players with more than 100 kills: junior Alyssa Schaub has 143 and senior Hailey Galvan adds 139.
A better testament to the team's balance and scoring ability is the 572 assists for Wyse at setter.
The other seniors on the roster are middle hitter Betsy Wyse, libero Mindy Wyse, and defensive specialists Brittany Coressel, Jenna Nofziger and Andrea Allan, who started as a junior but has been out most of this season because of injury.
Coach Nofziger said all nine seniors have combined to lead the team to its success this season.
"All of these kids have a great work ethic," Nofziger said. "They know what it takes to get [to the top], and they've put in the work."
When it came to relying on seniors, Eastwood had no such crutch. First-year coach Jeff Beck, who led Perrysburg to the state semifinals in 2006, took over a program that had graduated five seniors from the previous season.
But Beck said there was a lot to work with.
"At the first open gym we had, you saw girls who were big, tall and strong - and who had no fear," he said. "And everybody showed up for the open gym. Even girls who were running in track and couldn't work out there at least came out. Such desire was pretty amazing. And it got me excited for what this team could do."
It turned out the team was excited to work with Beck and with assistant coach Chelsea Meek, a standout from her days at Bowling Green State University.
"At the start of the season, the team created t-shirts that said on the back, 'We buy in,'•" Beck said. "I asked them what that meant, and they said, 'We buy in to whatever you and Chelsea want us to do.'
"And not only do they buy in, they execute. When we ask them to do something, they do it. And they work hard at it."
The offense is led by junior Katie Primeau, the team's lone setter, who has 622 assists this season.
"Since the start of the season, Katie has worked really hard to reach a point where now she knows how to drive an offense," Beck said. "She knows what to look for from other teams, what to watch for, and how to get the ball to the proper hitter.
"She's able to call plays now, and she's able to run plays now. She's our most improved player."
Junior outside hitter Whitney Hoodlebrink leads the team with 238 kills and also has 221 digs, while Courtney Rolf, a sophomore middle hitter, has 214 kills and 45 blocks as well as 204 digs. And junior libero Christine Foster leads the team in digs with 250.
It all adds up to a team that finished the regular season 19-3 overall and tied with Otsego for the top spot in the Suburban Lakes League with an 11-1 mark.
"We knew the talent was there," Beck said of his team, which at one point this season had broken into the state rankings in Division III. "The goal was to get them to improve all the time. They work so hard and listen so well, it's just a joy to coach them."
Otsego countered with a senior-dominated lineup known as the "Fab Five."
"Entering the season we knew we had seven returning varsity players, and we had every position on the court covered with an extremely experienced and talented player," coach Cheryl Jones said. "So we knew our goals should be set extremely high.
"But it seemed we liked to make things exciting."
The excitement came late in the season, when the Knights faced a must-win SLL match against Eastwood Oct. 13. With a victory over the Eagles, and another two days later, Otsego claimed a share of its second straight league title.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Jones said of her team's need for a late-season rally to win the crown. "I don't think the ending would have been as exhilarating and exciting if our backs hadn't been against the wall.
"Last year we were climbing the ladder. This year we had a bull's-eye on our backs, and that can be a challenge. But when you're done, and you realize your goals, that can be pretty thrilling."
Otsego's Fab Five, a group that led the Knights to an 18-4 regular-season record, was led by senior setter Autumn Berry, who finished with 607 assists.
"She's the catalyst," Jones said of Berry. "She's very bright, very intense and her skills are amazing.
"It's her desire to go for the top that pushes the others to a higher level."
The rest of the group features Baley Bernthisel, who led the team with 227 kills; three-year libero Katelyn Downing; outside hitter Ashley Holzwart and middle blocker Chelsea Bollenbacher.
"Baley has such unbelievable power [on her kills], and she's so smart," Jones said. "She sees holes, and she helps her teammates see those holes and take advantage of them.
"Katelyn can pass on a dime, and she has such grit - and a great attitude, while Ashley is our best all-around player. She is very vocal, which is important, and she's very consistent.
"And Chelsea, while she may be the most inexperienced player of the group, is willing to handle pressure. She has had some huge plays in some of our biggest games. She really handles the pressure well."
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