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Published: Wednesday, 10/17/2007

Cardinal Stritch volleyball team enters sectional tournament as TAAC champ

BY JOHN WAGNER
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Front Row L to R:  Head Coach Tracy Donnelly, Nichole Plasencio, Brianne Gasser, Holly Wieczorek, Lindsey Ueberroth, Cierra Dempsey, and Asst. Coach Brittney Barrera. Back Row L to R:  Lauren Goetz, Alex Blazevich, Jaime Filzer, Katie Gullett, Elizabeth Robb, Lindsey Long, Jessica Turner-Smith, and Delaney Mahoney. Front Row L to R: Head Coach Tracy Donnelly, Nichole Plasencio, Brianne Gasser, Holly Wieczorek, Lindsey Ueberroth, Cierra Dempsey, and Asst. Coach Brittney Barrera. Back Row L to R: Lauren Goetz, Alex Blazevich, Jaime Filzer, Katie Gullett, Elizabeth Robb, Lindsey Long, Jessica Turner-Smith, and Delaney Mahoney.
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Cardinal Stritch volleyball coach Tracy Donnelly was blunt when asked about her expectations entering this season.

"I'll be honest: I thought we would be pretty bad this year," Ms. Donnelly admitted. "I knew we would be competitive in our league this year, but I never thought we would do what we've done this season."

The Cardinals have a 19-2 record heading into sectional action this weekend, and they won the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title with a 10-0 mark.

With such a bleak preseason prognosis, Ms. Donnelly said her team focused on defense during the preseason.

"We have worked since the beginning of the season on our passing and serve reception," she said. "Early in the season we relied on not making mistakes to get our points. In the last few weeks, our offense has stepped up for us."

The key members of the Stritch offense are a pair of juniors, right-side hitter Lindsey Long and left-side hitter Jessica Turner-Smith. During the season sophomore Alex Blazevich has become a third option for the team's primary setter, senior Nicole Plascencio.

"When we need points, we go to [Long and Turner-Smith]," Donnelly said. "But Blazevich has stepped it up to a point where we are confident in her, too."

Ms. Donnelly admitted that one of her primary concerns was with the middle blocker position. But the development of senior Lindsey Ueberroth and junior Katie Gullett have calmed those fears.

"Both of our middle [blockers] have come a long way," Ms. Donnelly said. "We had five people practice at the position at the start of the year, but both Katie"When we need points, we go to [Long and Turner-Smith]," Donnelly said. "But Blazevich has stepped it up to a point where we are confident in her, too."

Ms. Donnelly admitted that one of her primary concerns was with the middle blocker position. But the development of senior Lindsey Ueberroth and junior Katie Gullett have calmed those fears.

"Both of our middle [blockers] have come a long way," Ms. Donnelly said. "We had five people practice at the position at the start of the year, but both Katie and Lindsey do a great job for us."

Miss Ueberroth and Miss Gullett have contrasting styles in the middle. Miss Gullett poses a solid blocking threat while the 5-5 Miss Ueberroth uses her speed and jumping ability to overcome her lack of height.

But the key to the team is its defense, which has been keyed by seniors Holly Wieczorek, as well as senior defensive specialists Cierra Dempsey and Brianne Gasser.

"In football a team can put the ball in the hands of its best player, but in volleyball you sometimes don't have control of who gets the ball," Ms. Donnelly explained. "That's why I can't compliment this team enough for its ability to work as a team."

Things came together for the Cardinals when they defeated two-time defending league champion Toledo Christian at the end of September.

"We knew they had lost Maggie Busch, but Dave [Conley] is a good coach and they're always competitive," Ms. Donnelly said. "I thought we really clicked that night, ran our offense [well] and beat them.

"After we won, I think our girls said, 'Look what we just did.' And they kept it rolling through the season."

The teamwork for Cardinal Stritch transcends the volleyball court. Ms. Donnelly said examples of the team's togetherness have been popping up all season.

"I think it was in late September, I came into the locker room and the team was there together dancing the Electric Slide," Ms. Donnelly said. "They dance together a lot.

"They also wear the same color shirt to practice every day, and on game days they make sure they are wearing the same color ribbon in their hair."

But color coordination doesn't win points in a volleyball match. Ms. Donnelly said the team's hard work and togetherness have been the reasons the Cardinal Stritch volleyball team won the TAAC title.

"It started with our serve reception and defense," Ms. Donnelly said. "We're able to get the ball to the setter, and our setter [Plasencio] is able to call our offense and be the leader on the court.

"But we have focused on our defense all year, and this team plays just unbelievable defense."

Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6481.



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