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Saturday night inside the rather warm (okay hot) dome at Westfall the eight SVC schools got together for the annual SVC Preview. Many of the Ross County teams felt it was a little unFAIR that the preview was being held on this night, but nonetheless, the show must go on and that it did.
For those not familiar with the event, the matches are two sets straight to 25 (score starts 4-4 so actually the teams are playing straight to 21), but really beyond the meaningless score, I like breaking down the teams and getting a feel for what each team will look like in the year to come. It is no secret that last year’s senior class in the SVC was a deep, talented group, so a year later – as I expected, it left me checking my program to get familiar with many new faces.
I think the biggest storyline this year is how last year’s Big Three (Unioto, Adena, Westfall) was hit the hardest by graduation while many of the chasers are the teams with the most experience. This leaves us with the question of: Will the Big Three basically reload rather than rebuild and keep the standing status quo or will we see a shakeup and a parity that this league has rarely seen in its 39-year history? CLICK HERE FOR A LOOK AT SVC VOLLEYBALL HISTORY
Adena returns the most in terms of the top three teams from last year. The always rock-solid Adena defense will once again be a staple of the Lady Warriors and will be led by one of the league’s top passers in Carly Carroll. Kelsie Bossert also gained some experience a year ago in the back row as did Carissa Poehler in the middle on the attack for the Lady Warriors. Perhaps what makes Adena so dynamic is the emergence of Devon Putnam as well as one of the league’s new bright stars in Lanie Shea. Putnam, an experienced player, really looks to me to be primed to take that next step has a player. It was really impressive watching Putnam get off the floor throughout the summer then again Saturday night. The word I would use is explosion. She is really attacking the ball on the strong side and should be one of the league’s top players. As for Shea, she is extremely talented. Shea has great hands as a setter throughout the back row. When on the net, she is a capable left-handed hitter, but even with Rachael Foster taking on some of the setting duties, Shea still provides a threat taking the second ball live at the net with her strong hand.
When talking about elite individual players, perhaps the most dominate player in the league is Westfall’s Hannah Phillips. Phillips,who will share the 6-2 setting duties with Darby Beavers, is one of the league’s dominate net players and can really impact a match with one of the league’s most dominate serves. Westfall will certainly have a lot of new names that we will get familiar with in the first round of league play, but middle hitter Khayla Adair will be a factor at the net as the Lady Mustangs do have size and athleticism that should keep them in the top half of the league.
As for the defending champs, the list of names that felt like they played for a decade are now gone. Fans will still recognize a few names such as Abbey Winegardner and Madi Eberst, but more than names with this group right now I think the most intriguing thing with Unioto is what they look like as a group. This is a long, athletic group that covers a lot of ground. When engaged they get hands all over the ball at the net, have the ability to keep balls alive in the back, and contain the potential to possess one of the league’s deepest rosters in terms of hitters. As with many young teams, consistency will probably determine this team’s ability to repeat. Throughout the summer I have seen this group play at an extremely high level, but I have also seen inconsistencies that could catch up with them in a league that appears to have some depth to it this season.
In chasing down last year’s top three teams, Huntington would certainly wear the bullseye entering the season. The Lady Huntsmen have a long list of experienced kids who have won at every level leading up to the varsity level, and now with a senior-loaded roster will try to take that next step. Senior Dylana Gragg returns as one of the league’s elite talents. She is joined at the net by classmates Kennedy DeBord and Kayla Hopkins. Defensively, seniors Jillian Snyder and Brooklyn Neighbors will lead the way, and senior Carolane Cox will provide great athleticism in all aspects of the game. Beyond the six seniors, Huntington has more experience and talent in the junior class led by Rikki Magill. Magill is an all-around talent who can impact a match in multiple ways and classmate Alisha Long will play a key role as well.
I have had so many questions about Huntington in the off-season in terms of their ability to win the league. This group is certainly capable. They have the experience. They have the talent. It is a group that lacks some size and athleticism compared to the other contenders. I think Huntington has the ability to offset some of that with great serving throughout the rotation. Huntington will certainly have opportunities. The ability to finish in the final five points is a big key for this team, and it is crucial that they become familiar in all six rotations and execute in these pressure situations.
As mentioned earlier, there is some experience in the league as you move down last year’s standings. I guess I unfairly forgot just how much Zane Trace and Piketon returned. As for the Lady Pioneers, names like Katie Unger, Ashton Ward, Justine Pontius, Morgan Arledge, and Kelly Dresbach are all names with a lot of varsity time. Hannah Unger is a nice young talent that will add to the rotation. This is not a team that has the same type of firepower at the net as the top four, but this well-coached team will play in system and if they can simply limit mistakes I think they will find themselves deep into sets with a chance to compete.
Piketon also has some experience. Emily Legg and Cami Chandler lead an attack that has great size. Both Reuters – Payton and Avery - return as well. Piketon even showed signs last season of playing at a higher level. The biggest thing that limited them throughout top half of the league was serve receive. If they can improve this I do think they have enough solid setting as well as weapons at the net to compete.
The final two teams – Paint Valley and Southeastern – played head-to-head Saturday night, and I honestly took several positives away from what I saw. With Paint Valley you will see some returning names such as Madison Smithand Erin Mills, and there will be plenty of time to get introduced to some newcomers like Lea McFadden and Savannah Smith; however, for now I think the positive thing I saw was a first-year coach (Ashley McCloskey) having a young team playing in a solid system and playing extremely hard. Through all the divisional discussion in the OHSAA, the Lady Bearcats will remain in D-IV for the next two seasons. This is a group that has the ability in that time period to make some positive improvements.
As for Southeastern, they too are welcoming a new coach (Jimmy Hutton). Hutton is no stranger to SVC volleyball, and he will bring a great work ethic to the program. Sophomore Ella Skeens is an elite athlete and as we saw last year will only get better as the season goes. The Lady Panthers were hit somewhat by graduation, but Bailey Barnes, Courtney Bennett, and Morgan Adams provide some experience, and Rachel Collins gives size in the middle opposite of Skeens and setter Lauren Goebel is a nice player to build around in terms of establishing a rotation.
When I use the word parity, I am not sure exactly what that will look like just yet. I still think the league will have a distinct top half and bottom half, but I do think we could see several four and five-set matches similar to the 2013 season. Also, like that year, I believe the top half of the league could see a two-loss team take the title, and it is possible to see only a few matches separate first and fourth place. All of this could also equal a fun postseason for the Scioto Valley Conference as we continue to get our annual reminder of just how elite this volleyball conference is throughout southeast Ohio.