Coach Jamie Babcock guided Perrysburg to its first Northern Lakes League championship since 1994 with (front, from left) Morgan Hefner, Madi Nitschke, Graesyn Pawlak, and Chloe Matuga, and (back, from left) Shannon Fastnach, Alyssa Young, Mackenzie Pohlman, Savannah Miller, Audra Appold, and Olivia Stout.
THE BLADE/JEFFREY SMITH
The Perrysburg volleyball team has thrived on energy, often interacting seamlessly in pursuit of a common goal.
The Yellow Jackets (20-2), ranked No. 9 in Ohio in Division I, have that essential element for success: Good team chemistry. They finished 14-0 in the Northern Lakes League for their first title since 1994.
“In volleyball team chemistry is so important because it’s not just one person making contact,” Perrysburg coach Jamie Babcock said. “It takes three people to make a play happen. Sometimes it takes more than that to set up a play. To have that trust with each other has been the key.”
Junior outside Audra Appold leads the team in kills (313) and aces (39).
“We know we have each others’ back,” Appold said. “That can be a really big deal when the game gets tight. You have a feel for who is going to do what in certain situations. Volleyball is based on who has the momentum in games. We have the talent. It was just a matter of getting it together. We have really good team chemistry. I knew we had this in us.”
Junior outside hitter Savannah Miller, a key addition when she transferred in from Blissfield, said she was immediately accepted by her teammates.
“We have to trust each other on the court, and if you don’t have that trust for one another, you can’t do anything no matter how much talent you have,” Miller said. “You have to trust the person standing on your right and left. There’s a dynamic. It’s the flow of the game. You have to be more steady and not up and down.”
No current player had even been born when Perrysburg last won an NLL title. A sweep of defending champion Springfield and two wins against Anthony Wayne were key victories.
“It wasn’t something we talked too much about. It’s an unwritten thing,” Babcock said. “You know that is what you are working for.”
Perrysburg won a state championship in 1979, finishing 23-7. The Yellow Jackets also reached the state semifinals in 2006.
But the program fell on hard times before Babcock, who played at Lakota, took over in 2010. The team went 9-13 in her first year, then posted back-to-back 19-5 seasons.
“It was not in good shape at all,” Babcock said. “It took a lot of regaining the spirit of the program and getting kids to buy into the idea of working hard and enjoying the game. It took time to find the right mix.”
This was the program’s 14th NLL title. Perrysburg won four straight from 1974-77 and again from 1979-82. The program also won NLL junior varsity and freshman titles this season.
The junior-dominated varsity has just three seniors. But senior setter Chloe Matuga has a team-high 593 assists. Matuga took over for Lindsey Smith, an All-NLL first team selection who is playing at the University of Toledo.
“She stepped in, and I can’t say enough good things about her. I wish I had her for four more years,” Babcock said.
Senior Graesyn Pawlak, the team’s libero, is an emotional leader and a competitor, Babcock said. Pawlak leads the Yellow Jackets with 323 digs.
Junior middle hitters Shannon Fastnacht and Mackenzie Pohlman are tied for the team lead with 33 blocks. Fastnacht holds the school record for attack percentage (.479). Junior right side hitter Alyssa Young also joins the rotation.
The team’s defensive specialists are senior Madi Nitschke, junior Olivia Stout, and junior Morgan Hefner.
Perrysburg was unranked in the first three state polls but cracked the top 10 the last three weeks.
“We came from the bottom and these kids have worked so hard, all the credit goes to them,” Babcock said. “They stay after and come in early.”
St. Ursula (22-0) has been ranked No. 1 in the polls all season.
“To be up there with St. Ursula is great,” Miller said. “It’s a great feeling that someone else is recognizing us. It’s there, and we want to prove every game that we deserve to be there. We weren’t just given it.”
Perrysburg is just one of six teams that have won a set against the Arrows. The Yellow Jackets lost 3-1 to St. Ursula, wining one set 25-21 in the second match of the season. Babcock said it was a “measuring tool.”
“It was a big match and good starting point to know where we are at and where we need to go,” she said. “St. Ursula is always very good. It exposed our weaknesses, but also exposed some of our strengths. It gave us a lot to build off.”
Appold said the St. Ursula match provided a springboard.
“That was pretty great,” Appold said. “Getting a set off of them was a confidence booster, knowing that we can hang with the higher teams. We have that ability.”
The teams appear to be on a collision course to meet in the Division I district final. The sectional finals are this weekend.
“I hope we meet them,” Babcock said. “To beat a team like that you have to be low error and have great ball control and confidence, which we’ve earned.
“If we keep working hard as a team and play together, the winning will take care of itself.”