NEW PARIS — Not since 1996 has the National Trail volleyball team won the Cross County Conference championship. With veteran coach Joy Yeazel at the helm, the Blazers seek to change that in 2016.
Coach Yeazel returns for her 12th season at National Trail. She began in the early 90s and took a long break while watching her daughter Kate, play at University of Pittsburgh.
Five seniors graduated from a 2015 team which went 7-15 overall and 3-9 in the CCC. Most notable of those seniors who are gone is Lexi Acton, who was first-team All-CCC in 2015 and is now playing softball at Hiram University in Ohio.
“When you lose five seniors, that is a lot of leadership and experience no longer on the team,” said coach Yeazel. “It’s hard to replace that annually for any program.”
Two seniors return to help lead the team with their skill and leadership: Shania Jordan and Marissa Hawkins.
“Shania was one of the top hitters on the team last year and she is our setter,” said coach Yeazel. “Marissa had some health issues, so she wasn’t an impact player last year. We expect big things from these two.
“Ariel Lee is a junior defensive specialist. We don’t have a lot of height so she will probably play front row also,” Yeazel said.
There are also a couple of sophomores, Lexi Stiner and Risa Griffin.
“Risa was a varsity player all last year,” Yeazel said. “Lexi, and Abby Sullivan, came up from the JV part-time last year and could be starters. They are very quick and have improved a lot over the summer.”
Other players who are on the team include Katelyn Deardorff, Charisse Hoblit, Ellie Hall, and Abigail Sullivan.
Because of the lack of numbers, a lot of freshmen are expected to play both JV and varsity.
Brooke Johnson figures to be a full-time varsity for the season.
“We hope to get her into setting and learning the offense,” Yeazel said.
“We have a great group of freshmen coming in this year. We have so many of them, and they are all comparable. I am excited to see what they can do at the JV level.”
Tori Summers is a former NT player who will be leading the JV team as coach. Other freshmen who are expected to play include Shelby Slade, Emily Sullivan, and Gracie Sullivan.
“We really focus on the concept of family here,” Yeazel said. “I want to see these girls become a family and to become better people, along with better players.”
The first game of the regular season is Monday, Aug. 22, against SWBL opponent Brookville.
“We will have a few players missing in that game coming up,” said Yeazel. “It will be a learning process for us in the beginning. But we’ll take it game-by-game and adjust from there.”
The biggest challenge for the Lady Blazers will be Miami East, who has won the last six conference crowns and went to the state Final Four last year.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders_RH