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With the high school volleyball season approaching its midway point, St. Ursula is in a familiar position.
With a 3-0 Three Rivers Athletic Conference victory over visiting Findlay on Thursday night, the Arrows are 10-0 overall, 3-0 in the TRAC, and ranked No. 1 in the first Division I state coaches poll of the 2013 season.
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But it is a new group for veteran coach John Buck, and a team still seeking its own identity after its predecessors won a D-I state title in 2010, finished as state runner-up in 2011, and returned to the state semifinals last year.
Ranked No. 1 or not, some of that identity searching was evident at the outset, when an almost completely rebuilt Findlay squad jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead in the first game.
“It was like our feet were in quicksand tonight [at the beginning],” Buck said. “We’re trying to develop the character of this team, and we’re looking for them to come right out of the chute [strong].
“But, we started slow, I got on them a little bit, and they turned it up a little bit in game 2.”
The Trojans (7-4, 2-1) — who reached the state semifinals themselves in 2011, and returned to the regionals last year — graduated 10 seniors, and have only one starter back (senior hitter Ciara Ralston.
Their fast start was ultimately washed away by a 12-4 St. Ursula run, and the Arrows remained in control in coasting to a 25-18 win in the first game.
“Right now the defense is ahead of the offense,” Buck said. “We’re really good in the back row and digging balls. But our setters and hitters are starting to come around also.”
Late in the second game, St. Ursula showed its overwhelming edge in experience.
Leading just 9-7, the Arrows got a kill from junior Lauran Graves, giving the serve to senior team leader Madelyn McCabe.
By the time McCabe completed her service run, St. Ursula had reeled off 13 more unanswered points to bury the Trojans 25-8.
“We’re taking control of this team like we’re starting completely over,” McCabe of the team’s returnees. “Whether we had never won or had been to states year after year. It’s a whole new team and we know we have to come in and work hard and play together as a team.”
Findlay regrouped and was within 11-10 in the third game before the Arrows launched another surge on McCabe’s serve.
After St. Ursula gained that serve on a kill from junior Morgan Finn to make it 12-10, McCabe followed with an ace, which was the second of seven straight points.
The Arrows then closed out the third game with a 25-17 win, taking the match in 62 minutes.
St. Ursula’s balanced front-row attack was led by seven kills from Graves, plus six each from Lauren Daudelin, imposing 6-foot-3 sophomore Elizabeth Coil, and Finn.
“We’re definitely trying to carry on the tradition, and be like the leaders we had before us,” Daudelin said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re new [to team] or old, we’re one team, one family, and we’re trying to bring it together.
“It’s always pressure [being ranked high], and we need to keep working hard and hopefully it comes out good.”
Ralston had a match-best eight kills, and teammate Patricia Barreto added four.
“We made too many mistakes,” Findlay coach Bob Moran said of his rebuilt lineup. “That was our biggest thing. We’re trying to teach these kids, when they make a mistake, not to shut down. I’ve got to get them to stay up on themselves.
“There’s no experience really out there. We’re just building. I thought our effort was pretty good, though. Better than it had been. And our blocking was good. We got a lot of touches and some nice blocks. That was a nice improvement for us.”