Now, after a grueling district that may be one of the toughest in the state, No. 4-ranked Monroeville (24-1) is headed back to a Division IV regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Thursday at Uniontown Lake High School against New Middletown Springfield (22-4).
"This group never quit," Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said. "They are extremely motivated, and have been all year. With the majority of the team back from last season, they have the confidence that they belong and the tenacity to meet the goals that they have set."
The Eagles will enter the region again as the favorite, just like last season. No. 12 Dalton (23-2) faces Newton Falls (17-7) in the second semifinal on Thursday, with the winners returning at 2 p.m. Saturday in the regional championship.
"The community and fan support has been great this season and was phenomenal on Thursday," Snook said. "We can't wait to see everyone in Uniontown cheering on the team. This team is fun to watch and even more fun to coach."
Getting through the district title match against tough rival St. Paul proved to be a pivotal moment for Monroeville. Before the win, the Eagles had lost four consecutive five-game matches. Monroeville had not won a five-game match since 2016 when it won three such matches, including two over Ashland Crestview.
"I am hoping this was a huge building block to build the confidence of the team and to know that the team can fight back, play from behind, and win a tough and long five-game match," Snook said. "Especially with St. Paul being a rivalry match, it makes winning in five, after being up 2-0, that much tougher."
Snook acknowledges that getting a win in a long match can be crucial for this time of the year. The competition will only getting tougher and a marathon win may be what the Eagles have to do to advance to the next stage of the tournament.
"Having to win in extra games is something we have not faced much this season," Snook said. "Being able to persevere and work together as a team is huge. It is more incredible for the team that individuals were able to step up in different situations and get the team pulled back together."
Monroeville has dropped just eight games all year — six of which came to No. 7 St. Paul (22-3). The Eagles opened the season with a 3-1 win over St. Paul before falling to the Lady Flyers in Norwalk, 3-2. The loss stands as the lone setback for Monroeville, which also dropped single games to Springfield and Vermilion. The 3-1 win at Vermilion came two days after the loss to St. Paul.
"The team has made huge growth since the loss," Snook said. "We have made some tweaks to our lineup to try to make the team most successful. The loss really refocused the team. All 15 girls on the team have contributed to our success. Our depth chart is very deep in every position this year which makes our practices very competitive and allows the team to compete day in and day out which has been huge to our success this season."
Camryn Hedrick is the catalyst for the efficient and effective Monroeville offense. The senior is in just her second full season of varsity action, but has set herself apart as one of the top setters in Northwest Ohio. After racking up 1,094 assists (fourth-most in Ohio history) as a junior, she has tallied another 875 assists this season. Hedrick will almost certainly surpass 2,000 career assists on Thursday.
"Cam is a very hard worker," Snook said. "She has always had great hands, but has really stepped up the rest of her game this year. She leads the team blocking (56 blocks) and is a very good attacker as well. Her leadership skills really shined against St. Paul. Cam will be the first one to tell you that she would not be able to have the success that she has had without her teammates. She has been fortunate to have a great defense to get her the ball and great hitters to score. However, it is a two way street and Camryn makes it possible for her teammates to succeed as well."
The hitters that Hedrick feeds is led by senior Kelsie Palmer (46 blocks, 37 aces serving), junior Kylee Brooks (36 blocks), and sophomore Graisyn Yoder (269 digs). With the offense being spread around, Palmer (252 kills), Brooks (249 kills), and Yoder (194 kills) have combined for 695 of Monroeville's 1,081 kills (64.3 percent) this season. Senior Maura Brown (48 blocks) has registered 122 kills and junior Reece Kluding has 93 kills while Hedrick has put down 83 kills herself.
“Our hitters are also very team-oriented,” Snook said. “They know the team success is more important than the individual success. They also know that because each of them can be so explosive, teams are not able to focus their attention on all of them which opens up holes for their teammates. This group is really focused on the team success over individual glory."
One of the best hitters from Monroeville's 24-4 season last season has made a unique transition this season. Senior Adrian Barman, who had 327 kills between her sophomore and junior seasons, has taken on the role of libero after four-year starter Stacia Stieber graduated. Barman (48 aces) currently leads the Eagles with 458 digs — more than she had in the last two years combined (415).
"Adrian is one of the most unselfish players I have ever coached," Snook said. "After being a conference and district award-winning hitter the last two seasons, she has moved into the role as our libero this season. Adrian has never complained about not hitting this year and always has had the whatever is best for the team attitude."
Springfield was a No. 4 in its district, but dispatched No. 1 Mineral Ridge in four games in the district semifinals. Then it defeated No. 2 Wellsville in five games in the district title match on Oct. 26. Monroeville defeated Wellsville in last year's regional championship in three games. Senior Lyndsey Smith leads Springfield with 300 kills, while senior Jennie Stitzel and sophomore Ally Sauerwein each have 151 kills. Senior Lauren Renalli has tossed up 665 assists for the Tigers.
Monroeville has 274 aces on the season. Junior Lydia Landoll paces the Eagles with 70 aces.
"We are going to continue to take it one match at a time," Snook said. "We hope that our experience from last year is key in our tournament run. We have seen some things that we really need to key in on at practice from our match last Thursday. We are going to really focus on our side of the net to control our play. We know that nothing is guaranteed and we need to play with the same type of effort and passion that we have been playing with all year."