Lauren Daudelin celebrates a point against Notre Dame. The senior is second on the team with 133 kills.
Madelyn McCabe, a senior setter, leads St. Ursula with 302 assists and is second on the team with 37 service aces. The Arrows are 25-0.
It’s no surprise that the St. Ursula volleyball team is having another banner season.
But the way these Arrows of 18th-year coach John Buck have reached a No. 1 state ranking and the fifth perfect regular season in school history is a bit unusual.
The next step on the tournament trail comes at 7 p.m. today at the Stroh Center in Bowling Green, where Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion St. Ursula (25-0) meets ninth-ranked Northern Lakes League champion Perrysburg (23-2) in a Division I district final.
Long term, the Arrows are aiming at a 10th state final-four appearance in the last 14 seasons, a span in which Buck’s teams have posted a 348-37 record, won two state titles (2004, 2010), and been state runner-up three times (2000, 2005, 2011).
Buck (418-64 overall) has guided St. Ursula to 14 titles in the City League (11) and TRAC (3). He scoffs at the idea that there is a simple formula to success.
“There’s a synergy that builds and the kids come in with high expectations for themselves and their teammates,” Buck said. “But every year is a little bit different. You have to figure out the best combinations [of players], what’s going to work, and how we can help them reach their best potential.
Lauran Graves, a junior, has 177 kills this season to lead the Arrows.
“There’s not a recipe or one way to do it. You can’t make it with a cookie cutter, because that doesn’t work.”
Where many past St. Ursula teams have been built around a strong offensive attack with superior height and hitting power, this year’s squad is a defensive-oriented team that developed from the back row forward.
Instead of the usual crew of 6-footers grabbing the kudos, the small-to-midsize players have held this team together.
“This group doesn’t lean on just one of two players,” Buck said. “They’re a unit that likes playing volleyball together. They don’t care about the title of captain. They just play well together as a team.”
Maurissa Leonard, a 5-foot-4 junior libero, leads the team with 232 digs, followed by the sister defensive-specialist combination of 5-3 freshman Jayme Cox (165) and 5-6 junior Ryann Cox (157), 5-5 senior setter Madelyn McCabe (138), and 5-8 sophomore setter Emily Lydey (106).
“At the beginning of the year our defense was way ahead of the offense,” Buck said. “The offense was lagging. We’ve always been a pro-offensive type of team, and we try to get the defense to catch up with the offense. This year the defense was just so good and, at times, we would take seven, eight, nine swings [on attack]. We just weren’t putting the ball away. Our defense was being taxed to the max to keep us in games, and it won us quite a few matches.”
McCabe and Lydey lead the Arrows with 302 and 267 assists, respectively.
Emily Lydey, a sophomore, leads the team with 43 service aces.
“Defense has been a strong part of our success,” McCabe said. “We are very good in the back row, which is very good for our hitters. If we get the good pass out of the back then we’re able to run our offense.”
On the offensive side of the back row contribution, Lydey (43), McCabe (37), Jayme Cox (33), and Leonard (21) top the team in service aces.
Their collective play has enabled a late-blooming offense to catch up and make the Arrows a balanced unit. In the process, a relatively young front-row contingent has progressed from average to efficient, if not overpowering.
The kills leader is 6-1 junior middle hitter/outside hitter Lauran Graves with 177, followed by 6-2 senior middle hitter/rightside hitter Lauren Daudelin (133), 6-1 junior RH Morgan Finn (128), 6-3 sophomore MH Elizabeth Coil (102), and the all-around Lydey (80).
“We’re pretty much a strong team all the way around,” Daudelin said. “We have a great back row for defense. They can pick up anything the front row can’t block, and then our front can block pretty well — and we can put a ball down.
“We’re one of those teams that never gives up. We can be down 17-10 and come back and win 25-20. We always have faith in each other, and that makes us a strong team on and off the court.”
Graves (48), Coil (41), Daudelin (40), and Finn (27) top the block/assist category.
“We have very good chemistry as a team,” Graves said. “We all get along, and it carries out to the court. We all support each other.
Maurissa Leonard, a junior libero, leads St. Ursula with 232 digs. The Arrows had the fifth undefeated regular season in school history.
“We play defense very well and we have a good serve-receive. When the pass is right, the majority of the time we will get a kill.”
Graves sees some basic keys for the Arrows in their quest for the school’s 10th final-four berth.
“We have to work hard at our practices and give all-out effort every time we play,” she said. “We have top play point by point and communicate with each other. If we can do that, hopefully we’ll get there.”
St. Ursula has posted tourney wins over Waite, Southview, and Anthony Wayne following a 22-0 regular season that included victories against eight teams ranked in the top 20 of either the D-I or D-II state coaches poll.
In D-I, they beat second-ranked defending state champion Cincinnati Ursuline (3-1), No. 7 Strongsville (2-0), No. 9 Perrysburg (3-1), No. 11 Rocky River Magnificat (3-1), No. 13 Chagrin Falls Kenston (3-0), and No. 15 Dublin Coffman (3-0).
The wins over ranked D-II ranked teams came versus No. 6 Norwalk (3-1) and No. 9 Columbus Hartley (3-0).
“We try to make our schedule as tough as we can,” Buck said. “We travel all over the state to try to play the best teams that will play us. That challenges us to be at our best every night.
“It can inspire other teams to bring out their best as well. There’s no doubt, if you’re wearing a St. Ursula uniform, there’s a target on your back. We know that and we expect every team to give us their best shot every night.”