From a three-year stretch (2013-15), the Monroeville volleyball team dominated the opposition, mainly through the presence of three six-foot hitters who all currently play at the NCAA Division II level in Paige Leitz (Ashland), and Breanna and Haley Kramer (Wheeling Jesuit).
After the Eagles (22-3) — ranked No. 9 in the final Div. IV state coaches poll — beat quality opponents Buckeye Central (17-6) and St. Paul (20-5) to win a district championship for a fourth time in six years, the wealth has been spread out quite a bit.
Entering Thursday’s 6 p.m. regional semifinal vs. No. 16 Dalton (20-5) at Uniontown Lake, Monroeville has five hitters with more than 100 kills each.
“I think this is the first team in quite a while that has had so much balance,” Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. “When we had the big three, we may not have had that balance, but with that much offense, we were very successful.”
Sophomore Kylee Brooks (5-foot-10) leads the way with 284 kills. Junior Kelsie Palmer (5-9) has 234 kills, followed by freshman Graisyn Yoder (5-9) with 204 kills, junior Adrian Barman (5-6) with 162 and junior Maura Brown (5-9) with 157.
“The fact that we have so much balance and senior leadership with our defensive players has been big,” Snook said. “So when you have offensive balance with how great we are defensively, that has led to quite a bit of success to this point.”
Along the path to the Sweet 16, the Eagles suffered two late season losses that may have led to this point.
In a Sept. 25 match vs. St. Paul, which it had lost to in four games in Norwalk on Aug. 28, Monroeville led the match, 2-1. However, the Lady Flyers won the next two games to win the match in five.
In the second-to-last Firelands Conference match of the season on Oct. 9, the Eagles were playing at Crestview. A share of the FC title with St. Paul went to the winner. Monroeville led 2-0 and had a chance to sweep, but lost the last three games to drop the match and finish without the FC title.
“A lot of times e talk to kids about when you lose, you learn,” Snook said. “Taking a loss and not learning from it is a waste. But the fact we lost the way we did, we learned a lot. We learned we needed to be more aggressive — and we needed to learn how to finish.
“Those have been things we have focused on since those losses,” she added. “Everyone loves to win. Obviously winning is great, but those key losses at points in the season sometimes make you learn a bit more to be successful down the road.”
Snook talked about how important it is for the Monroeville program to return to the regionals after a two-year absence with a two group of players.
Senior libero Stacia Stieber (557 digs) is the lone player with state experience from the 2015 team that reached Dayton.
“These kids work extremely hard, from the weight room starting in May and through all our summer training,” Snook said. “At the beginning of the year, I pulled our seniors aside, but especially Stacia. It was her job to keep the kids focused, and she knew what it took to be there.”
Maddie Elmlinger (203 digs) and Josee Brown (147 digs) are the other two seniors on the team.
“I think all of the seniors have taken that role,” Snook said. “They started career there, and want to make sure ending career on a good run, too. It’s good to not have a four-year drought without that experience.”
Snook noted another kid who doesn’t get much credit is student-assistant coach Sawyer Schafer. The senior has been with the program for 10 years.
“He started as our team manager, and we call him our student-assistant coach,” she said. “He’s been there and went through every one of those tournament runs with us.
“His leadership on the bench and practices is better than some people have as kids on the court,” Snook added. “He is such a pivotal member on our team because of how much knowledge and experience he has on the game.”
Dalton enters the match having played in the always-solid Wayne County Athletic League. The Bulldogs have reached the state semifinals in 2010, and two seasons ago in 2016.
Their losses this season have been to Waynedale (22-3) twice, Mantua Crestwood (23-1), Tuscarawas Valley (22-2) and Smithville (20-4). Waynedale, Crestwood and Tuscarawas Valley are each in regional semifinal matches on Thursday as well.
“They are a very talented team, with two very good outside hitters along with a good middle,” Snook said of Dalton. “We’re expecting another competitive match. But we also feel like the fact we have had so much competition to get where we’re at is an advantage for us.
“Buckeye Central and obviously the battle with St. Paul, those are two great teams and that only dues us a favor in giving us that competition and the mental advantage of playing those tough matches,” she added. “We’ve talked all week that it’s more about what we need to do than who is on the other side. If we perform how I know we can, and can mentally stay in the match and focus — we can compete with anyone.”