Bedford's volleyball team believes it can return to the top.
The Bedford High School volleyball program appears primed to return to prominence behind explosive hitting and senior leadership this season.
The Kicking Mules' volleyball program has enjoyed a championship tradition for more than two decades. Veteran coach Jodi Manore, who is in her 26th year, has led the program to three state championships (1998, 2001, and 2005). The Mules also have claimed 20 district titles and 17 regional championships during her tenure.
Bedford went 64-15-1 last year. But the Mules lost in the district finals to a tough Airport team.
It was the first time Bedford had not won a district title in four years.
But the 2010 team has posted a 30-5-1 record so far and has won four invitational titles.
"Our expectations are pretty high," Manore said. "We're better than we have been in four or five years."
The key to the restoration of the championship tradition will be the experience of seven seniors and the talent and depth of its hitters.
"We have some experience and we have the best hitting attack we've had in four years," Manore said. "We have five hitters that are all good. There's no hole in the lineup. We have good, strong hitters."
The Bedofrd High School Kicking Mules volleyball team includes, from left, front, Robin Brown, Mallory Lenhart, and Annay Hays, and back, Ashley Sperling, Emily Blank, Stacy Nagy, and Emily Williams.
Manore said that allows her to run a varied offense.
"They can't key on just one player," she said. "Last year, if our best hitter had a bad day, we were in trouble."
That depth should help propel the Mules toward their ultimate goal of getting back to the state final four, she said.
"We haven't been back in four years," Manore said.
The program had put together a string of 17 straight years of reaching the state semifinals.
Bedford Athletic Director Mark German, who was the school's boys basketball coach before taking over as AD this year, said the volleyball program has set a high standard.
"Everywhere I've traveled over the Midwest over the last 15 years, whenever I mention Bedford they say, 'That's the school with the great volleyball program,'" German said. "They have three state titles and they're always a contender."
The team's middle hitters are seniors Stacy Nagy and Ashley Sperling. The right side hitter is junior Emily Blank.
The leading outside hitter is senior Anna Hays. Senior Robin Brown and junior Emily Williams rotate in at outside hitter.
Hays leads in the team in kills, while Blank is second.
The offense flows through senior setter Mallory Lenhart.
"It's her job to get the ball to those hitters," Manore said. "She's doing a real nice job."
Lenhart leads the team in assists. Sophomore Ellen Hays, Anna's sister, is the team leader in digs.
Defensively, Blank, Sperling, and Nagy have each stepped up with their blocking.
Bedford opened its season with a mammoth win over defending Class A state champion Marian (Bloomfield Hills).
"We beat them and they had won quite a few games in a row," Manore said. "That was a great win to start off. We can say we beat the defending state champs. That has set the bar very high."
Manore said the key to returning to the state tournament is doing the little extra things.
"Over those years we did not always have great teams," Manore admitted.
"We always had players that had been there and knew what it took. But none of these kids have played in the state tournament. The coaches try to explain that you have to be hungry and push for it. And they are getting it."
German said Manore is always quick to credit her assistant coaches and players, but he said the veteran coach deserves the accolades.
"She is so dedicated and committed to the sport," German said. "She is demanding and sets a standard."
German said he tried to model his boys' basketball program at Bedford after the volleyball team.
"I wanted my basketball program to mirror the volleyball program," he said. "It's a very strong program."
Bedford is ranked 16th in the latest state coaches poll.
"I'm never satisfied completely," Manore said. "I think if we keep improving and play up to our potential, we could be very good."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org