Growing into
Champions

Shayne Combs, admin1@svcsportszone.com
2014 SVC Champions
One of the most gratifying things about being a teacher and a coach is watching boys and girls grow into young men
and women through a process of trial and error. Being in the everyday grind with a group of middle school students
in the classroom or on the baseball field with high school student-athletes, it is possible to sometimes become so
invested that I miss the process. Often times it takes looking back at the progression once a kid becomes an adult to
experience the gratification.

This is one of the things I have enjoyed so much about the website over the past seven years. It allows me to step
back from the investment and simply watch and evaluate with an objective mind. In doing so, I watch players, groups,
teams, and programs evolve, and I do so with a very keen, yet impartial, mindset.

The reality is that some individuals or teams simply do not reach their full potential. Others do to an extent, and then
there are some who pass with flying colors. Once you get older and you watch this process, it becomes easier to tell
when a special group comes along the SVC path.

This is the feeling I had about this year’s volleyball group at Unioto. I first saw some of these special characteristics
in the eighth grade, and by the time they reached their sophomore year and added some pieces to the puzzle, I
knew this was a group capable of great things.

On Thursday, October 2nd, the Unioto Lady Shermans finished off their second five-set thrilling win in just three
nights. On Tuesday, it was a road victory over the defending champions at Westfall, and then two nights later it was
a seesaw affair that saw Unioto get past Adena. The whole week had me thinking back in terms of this championship
road for this team.

Some of my sincere reminiscing started in the fifth set of the Adena match. Emily Ward’s serve was putting the fifth
and decisive set away for good, when I started thinking about the completeness of this team. I have to give head
coach Aaron Ridenour a great deal of credit. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance, he made a change in Unioto’s
attack from a 6-2 (with Makenna Steinbrook and Alexis Overly sharing the setting duties) to a 5-1 (Steinbrook setting
out of all six rotations).

My first reaction was mixed. I always favor the 5-1 attack when possible, but in this situation I was not sure.
Steinbrook has great hands, great court sense, and distributes the ball well, but I was not sure what it would do to
the role of Alexis Overly. Watching it play out this season, the decision has worked great. Steinbrook has been
nothing short of spectacular and Overly has been able to impact matches in ways she never could have in the past
two seasons. Overly is more involved as a passer which has taken pressure off of Ward in the back row. Overly has
been stronger from start to finish in matches, and Taylor Overly and Karee Neff have now taken their respective
games up a notch as well. Taylor’s ability to come back from a serious injury earlier in her career tells you everything
you need to know about her work ethic and toughness, and Neff, one of the league’s really underappreciated talents
in the past three seasons, has become more consistent – especially in the biggest moments of the biggest matches.

The biggest improvement from a year ago is the production from Hannah Nelson. Nelson gives Unioto some needed
size at the net, and against arguably the best blocking team in all of southeast Ohio in Westfall, Nelson delivered 17
kills on just 35 swings to help her team to the win. You throw in a solid net defender and great effort and attitude
player like Anna Karr as well as the dynamic and efficient serve of Kassidey Winegardner and you have a completed
championship puzzle.

I have been criticized on multiple occasions for being too hard on this group of girls in various articles on
SVCsportszone.com and on our online radio show SVC Sports Talk (sponsored by Triple Crown Family Fun Center).
On many occasions I have had face-to-face meetings or conversations through email about this group. During their
sophomore year – and most of their junior year for that matter – I thought this was a team that struggled to play
together. I thought they lacked trust. I thought they lacked a refuse to lose attitude that every championship team
has inside of them.

As a neutral observer, I remember asking people if these girls even liked one another. Every person answered with
the same, “Absolutely, this group of girls love one another. They hang out all the time.”

This blew my mind even more. They were so talented, so athletic, so complete, but I just got the sense there was a
completely higher level that they were unable – or in my mind unwilling – to go. This was never criticism; this was the
highest compliment of the talent I saw in this group. As a fan who loves to analyze SVC sports, I saw a team who
constantly played to the level of its competition and rarely focused enough to consistently play to its capability.

Finally, at the end of last year I saw it happen. It was the sectional championship match at Unioto against Waverly. I
was joined by Jeremy Ward as we were calling the match live on SVCsportszone.com. Waverly was an athletic team
led by a great player, good setter, a phenomenal libero, and several other weapons. Unioto played so hard, so
together, and when adversity hit, I saw a group stay together instead of distancing from one another in six different
directions. This sectional title soon turned to a district title, and it ended just one step shy of the Final Four.

This championship pedigree continued to grow in the off-season and into this season. On only a few occasions have
I seen this group not focus on the task at hand, and in those situations they have responded immediately.

I think this Unioto squad has another long tournament run in them in 2014, but regardless of what happens this team
will always be called SVC champions. Winning is hard, and even though Adena has made it look as easy as waking
up in the morning to win league titles in volleyball, winning the SVC is really hard. Sometimes talent is enough to get
you in the discussion. Sometimes in some years maybe it will be enough altogether. Never will a team become
champions without talent, but rarely will they become champions without intangibles like trust, togetherness, and
toughness.

I have been fortunate enough in playing and coaching to earn some individual recognition and set some individual
records, but beyond being second team this or all-time leader in that, what I will always be most proud of is being a
part of SVC, sectional, and district championships. There is something special about being a part of a championship
team. When you allow yourself to be a part of something bigger than yourself it allows you to reach a level of
success much sweeter than anything you will ever accomplish as an individual. It allows you to take as much – or
even more – pride in your teammate’s success or happiness as you do in your own. If you do not understand what I
am saying, I am so sorry because that is a feeling I wish every person could experience at some point.

Maybe you read this and you get it. If that is the case, chances are you have had a chance to be a part of a
championship of some kind. Maybe you read this and you simply think it is a bit much. Perhaps you think there goes
the SVCsportszone.com idiot overanalyzing sports again. To that, I would say maybe you’re right, but maybe it is like
the great commercial on television showing the couples wearing Ohio State and Michigan gear or the Boston Red
Sox and Yankees apparel. The screen at the end simply says something like, “Without sports this would not be
disgusting.”

Sometimes things in sports are weird and that is the beauty of sports. Maybe this championship talk is overblown.
Maybe you get it. Perhaps we can just agree to disagree. Whatever the verdict, the thing for now and for many
years to come that cannot be debated is the fact that Unioto’s 2014 volleyball team will forever be known as a group
who at the end of the process is always going to be known as SVC champions.
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