CAMDEN — Preble Shawnee volleyball was on top of the world as the regular season came to a close.
The Arrows finished on a six-game winning streak and clinched the school’s eighth volleyball league title in the SWBL Buckeye Division, the first since 2013.
Head coach Josh Evans liked Shawnee’s chances to move on in their D-III tournament bracket, building momentum off the strong finish to the regular season.
But, on the Monday before their opening tournament match against Arcanum on Thursday, Oct. 22, it was revealed that contact tracing due to multiple COVID-19 cases at Preble Shawnee would end Shawnee’s postseason before it even began.
“We were waiting for all the contact tracing to be done to see if we could still field a team,” Evans said. “I felt good [that] if I didn’t lose a lot of my key players, that I could have lasted until I got my whole team back, but come Monday morning, there was too much of that contact tracing for us to even field a team.”
Shawnee’s volleyball team was not the only athletic program impacted, as the Shawnee football’s second-round playoff matchup against Versailles on Oct. 17 was canceled that morning.
Evans wasn’t able to tell his girls in person, but once they met earlier last week to return jerseys and wrap up the season, he said it was clear they weren’t happy with how it ended.
“I don’t think anybody was,” he said. “The last time we talked, I said we were finally going on all cylinders and we’re looking really good. It was definitely a big disappointment for everybody.”
The canceled match was particularly challenging for Shawnee’s seniors who didn’t know at the time they had played their last match against Northridge on Oct. 15.
Though their senior seasons didn’t end how anybody wanted them to, Evans was proud of the season they put together.
“I put a lot on [senior] Kendal George to be my libero and giving her the defense. My setters runs my offense, my libero runs my defense,” Evans said. “I can only teach them so much, but they have to be able to do it themselves to realize it. They put a lot of work in. Our goal was [that] we wanted to put a number on the banner. Every time I talked to the seniors they were like, ‘We want that number,’ and I’m like, ‘Let’s go get it.’”
The Arrows won’t have a chance to show off in the postseason, but there are plenty of accolades to go around for Preble Shawnee.
Sophomore Harlee Howard was named First-Team All-District and First-Team All-SWBL, junior Carlyn George was named First-Team All-District and Second-Team All-SWBL, Kendal George was named Second-Team All-District, Second-Team All-SWBL and All-Star Senior Team, senior Hailee Howard was named District Honorable Mention and Second-Team All-SWBL, senior Kelsie Asher was named District Honorable Mention and SWBL Honorable Mention and freshman Kahlen Kulms was named SWBL Honorable Mention.
“I’m very proud of them. It wasn’t really this the strong finish that got it. I think it was the the consistent play from the starters that that got them there,” Evans said. “Harlee Howard is on a different level. As a sophomore, she finished second in voting for Player of the Year. She had insane stats and had the games to show those stats. Carlyn George went from 130 assists last year to 375 this year. It shows that the girls are putting the work in. It’s just very nice to see that they they got the recognition for it.”
Last, but certainly not least, Evans was named Coach of the Year in the SWBL Buckeye Division, though the award was somewhat bittersweet given the ending to the season.
“I would gladly give up that award for us to play in the tournament,” he said. “I would have given up that award for Harlee Howard to win Player of the Year. It’s nice being labeled Coach of the Year, especially being a first-year coach. I didn’t expect it. But for me, it’s been a bit more of a accomplishment to see how far these girls want to win.”
As tough as it may be to reflect on what could have been this year, the focus now shifts to next season, where Evans and the Arrows will content with the loss of five seniors – Kendal George, Hailee Howard, Kelsie Asher, Kaydee Newton and Madison Hibbard – as they look to repeat in the SWBL.
“We’re young. We’ve got a lot of young talent,” Evans said. “Three of my seniors were key members and were not all of our fighting spirit, but were a part of it. It’s definitely going to be, for the younger girls, who’s gonna step up and be that fighting spirit and be pissed off about ending the way we did.”
Evans’ first season with Preble Shawnee brought the Arrows ahead of schedule in his initial plan to bring some banners to the school, so he’s looking forward to what they can accomplish next season.
“I’m pretty satisfied with the season being my first year there,” he said. “Going to a different league next year is going to be another learning curve for us, but I have a feeling we’ll be able to stay with what we have going on and keep moving forward.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles