PREBLE COUNTY — Eaton volleyball has its sights set on an SWBL title this season as the four remaining county teams have joined forces and will compete in the new Western Ohio Athletic Conference.
Preble Shawnee looks to continue run in new conference
After winning the school’s eighth SWBL Buckeye Division last season for the first time since 2013 (and finishing with a 15-4 record), disaster struck as the Arrows were forced to pull out of the D-III Sectional Tournament due to COVID-19.
Now, with the setback behind them and a new conference awaiting, the Arrows and second-year coach Josh Evans will look to repeat last year’s success in the WOAC.
“Our new league is going to be tough and a learning experience for us,” Evans said. “We are going into it with the mindset that we have a chance to win it all as long as we continue to work hard and push ourselves to get better everyday.”
That push begins with the four returning starters for Preble Shawnee from last season: senior setter Carlyn George, junior outside hitter Harlee Howard, junior middle blocker Cora Niehoff, and sophomore middle blocker Kahlen Kulms.
This is George’s third year on varsity, and last year she finished Second-Team All League as well as First-Team All District.
“Carlyn is one of our team captains and is a huge reason for our success last season running the floor as the setter,” Evans said. “Her willingness to push and improve is a great asset. She has set high goals for herself and without any doubt she will hit them.”
Howard is starting her third year on varsity, and finished first team in the SWBL and All District last year.
“Harlee is the other captain for our team,” Evans said. “Her experience of playing high level volleyball shows every time she steps on the court. Has the potential of reaching 1,000 career digs this season. Led the team in 2020 in kills and digs and will continue this trend for years to come. She is the coach on the court, with a high volleyball IQ [and] she helps her team fix issues on the fly and helps mentor the younger players.”
Evans said Niehoff, who is entering her second year on the team, has improved all aspects of her game.
”She comes in with an attitude that is a coach’s dream,” he said. “She is willing to push and work hard at everything, but when it’s time to play she turns it on and will be a key player to our offense and blocking this year.”
Kulms, who earned honorable mention in the league and district last year, uses her height to compete with “the best hitters and blockers last year,” according to Evans.
“Led the team in blocks and ranked eighth in the league for blocks,” he added. “Kahlen continues to become a better player as well develop her skills and will be a big asset to our success this year and for years to come.”
Evans also noted sophomore Bella Agee, who he said made the move from JV to varsity halfway through last season and was “a big reason for our late push in winning the league.”
Other returning players include junior Liv Thompson and sophomore Delaney Klapper and Korrie Woodard. Evans said all made appearances on the team last year.
“As a team we have goals to continue to ‘put numbers on the banner,’ and we don’t want to stop with just one,” Evans said. “The girls have bought into the system and style of volleyball that I have brought to the table, and they continue to impress me every day. I am excited for this season and excited to see where we go as a team.”
The Arrows will begin their season at home on Tuesday, Aug. 23 against Bishop Fenwick at 6:30 p.m.
Eaton still looking to contend in new-look SWBL
The Eagles fell short of winning the SWBL Southwestern Division title last season, with Eaton’s only two league losses against Bellbrook, who finished undefeated in conference atop the standings.
This year, in the re-worked SWBL due to the loss of Preble Shawnee and Dixie, the Eagles sit in the West Division, while the Golden Eagles are in the East Division.
“I expect that we compete for a league championship again,” coach Parker Fields said. “Especially with the changing of divisions. I also believe a run in the tournament is not out of the question. This group has great chemistry, and they have high expectations for themselves and their teammates.”
The Eagles will be led by junior Olivia Baumann, who took home numerous accolades last season including SWBL Player of the Year, District 15 D-II Player of the Year, First-Team SWBL and All-District, and Third-Team All-Ohio. Coming into the season, she was ranked the 18th best volleyball player in Ohio by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“[She’s a] six-rotation player who we count on for production and leadership,” Fields said.
Returning senior Jenna Ditmer (First-Team SWBL and District) lead the team in aces and hitting percentage in 2020, and senior Maddie Haynes is a “very smart player, finds holes, and slows down balls,” Fields said.
Junior Lily Shepherd will make the move from middle hitter to outside hitter this season, as Fields said she is a “dynamic athlete.” Running Eaton’s offense will be junior Bailey Jerdon.
Other returners include junior Elise Hewitt, who Fields said is a “level headed, smart kid, who passes the ball well and is able to put hands on the ball when the setter plays defense.”
According to Fields, junior Cate Clabaugh, who has “great court sense, [and is a] very steady and consistent player,” could end up playing six rotations.
Fields also brought attention to seniors Raegan Prater and Grace Kelly, as well as juniors Paige Pitsinger and Sam Witte.
He said he expects Prater to get some swings from the middle and block on the right side, and added Kelly comes in with a much improved game.
Regarding the juniors, Pitsinger is a “natural athlete” who can fill any role, and Witte is a “natural passer” who has a great read on the ball.
Sophomore Ellie Wilson is a newcomer for the Eagles and has some size according to Fields, who expects her to add more offensive production into that position than in years past.
“Overall, I’ve been looking forward to this season,” Fields said. “We have a little more size and experience going into 2021. We’ve played some pretty tough teams over the summer and competed well. Our non-conference schedule is pretty tough, which will hopefully prepare us for a tourney run.”
The Eagles will begin their season at home on Saturday, Aug. 21 against Northwestern. The match is set for 11 a.m.
New coach Jackie Barnes to help National Trail draw on tournament win
It was an up and down season for National Trail last year, finishing 7-13 overall (5-7 in the CCC) but still capping the season off with a tournament win over Northridge before falling to Northeastern.
With new coach Jackie Barnes taking over the reins, the Blazers will look to improve on 2020.
“We have goals to finish higher in the conference than we did last year,” she said. “We would like to see more success in the tournament, as we won our first game last year. Offensively, we want to do more and be more aggressive with our serves.”
Barnes said the Blazers will primarily run a 6-2 offense, and will run a rotational type defense to adapt to their strengths and weaknesses.
Running the system will come down to the players, of which Barnes said they have many returners who have varsity experience, but have not played together.
“They have a desire to better themselves every day,” she said. “After a rough season last year due to the crazy COVID world, these girls want more. We have a couple strong, experienced hitters returning this year.”
Sophomore Addie Sparks is a returning letterman, and Barnes said the Blazers will look for her to play “all the way around this year.”
Senior Mykenzie Smith is a returning captain and a motivational leader for the team, while senior Jenna Petitt returns to the lineup after an injury kept her out for part of last season.
Barnes is looking for a big year from returning seniors J’da Jackson and Abbi Whitesell, and sophomore Kynzie Everman is returning after moving up to varsity midway through last season.
Additionally, Barnes said juniors Haley Davidson and Riley Anderson will see significant playing time as first-year varsity members. Junior Kaitlyn Neace will split time between JV and varsity, and Barnes described senior Trinity McKinley as “consistent.”
“Success will not be only measured by our wins,” she said. “We want to see growth each and every game. We want to use more third balls to our advantage and have more success when we are out of system.”
While the competition stays mostly the same, the conference has changed, and life in the WOAC means an exciting opportunity to this season to make their mark on the new league.
“Tri-Village and Arcanum are returning many key players and will be tough,” Barnes said. “Preble Shawnee moving from the SWBL will be a tough competitor.”
National Trail will take the court for the first time at New Miami on Saturday, Aug. 21.
Tri-County North attempting to rebound after tough year
After a 3-18 finish last year, Tri-County North and coach Katie Hemp will look to rebuild this season with a number of returning players and an “outstanding” freshman class.
“We are still building this year. However, I believe with this group of ladies I have, they will give everything they have on that court and will lay their hearts out as well,” Hemp said. “This year, I have to say they are the most understanding, caring, and very welcoming group of girls. I’m so excited to see what this season brings to them.”
Returning starters for the Panthers include seniors Bree Wayman, Morgan Erbaugh, Breanna Ward and Kaylyn Heindl, junior Taylor Smith and sophomore Hannah Webster.
“This group of ladies have been working all summer to improve, they are ready to deliver this year and I can not wait to watch them preform on the court,” Hemp said.
Another key returning player for North is junior Rilee Terry, who Hemp said is ready for competition and isn’t afraid of anything.
“I can’t wait to watch her do big things this year,” she added.
Senior Sara Williamson and sophomore Azia Singleton are both new to the team this year, as well as a class of freshmen who Hemp said are “outstanding.”
“[Williamson] is competitive as well and has been working all summer to improve herself she ready for the challenge,” Hemp said. “Singleton – she has overcome so much in just a year’s time. I’m so very proud of her. She has worked very hard to earn her spot.”
Hemp said no matter how this season ends, this group of girls will always have a piece of her heart due to how hard they have worked.
“I couldn’t be more proud of their outcome and I can not wait to watch them grow as a team on and off the court as well,” she said. “They become family after so long. It’s been a pleasure coaching and getting to know them all.”
North will be on the road to begin its season against Madison on Monday, Aug. 23.
Twin Valley South bringing winning mentality to WOAC
South head coach Jandee Mowell says the Panthers are working to be in the top of the WOAC this year.
“The girls all have a strong will and work ethic, which is driving them forward with a mentality of winning,” she said.
Coming off an 8-11 finish in the CCC last season, 6-6 in the conference, the Panthers return five varsity players: seniors Lauren Cole, Morgan Harrod, Skylyn Mowell and Taylor Mowell, and junior Katie Wright.
Senior Hailey Reigel, junior Ellie Webb, and freshmen Clara Meyers and Jayce Mowell will join varsity.
“This group brings years of experience from their time participating in club volleyball,” Mowell said. “With the experience and will of this team, they are looking forward to being a team to reckon with…the leaders on our team are working hard at setting the bar high, expecting hard work, and a winning mentality from their teammates.”
South will travel to face Dixie on Saturday, Aug. 21 to begin the season.