Loaded with talent, experience, Bellbrook volleyball eyes long postseason run

Bellbrook’s Kira Merkle and Mara Neal team up to block a volley during their volleyball match at Monroe Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. FILE PHOTO

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Bellbrook’s Kira Merkle and Mara Neal team up to block a volley during their volleyball match at Monroe Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016. FILE PHOTO

The numbers are striking.

Five straight Southwestern Buckeye League titles, a 45-3 league record in the last four years and 119 total wins since 2013.

Bellbrook volleyball’s most imposing digit? Nine seniors.

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Fueled by a class whose core has been in place since fourth grade, Bellbrook continues postseason play Saturday at Lebanon with a sectional semifinal contest against Stivers (5 p.m.).

Like its experience level, Bellbrook’s postseason expectations are high.

The Golden Eagles (20-2) finished No. 8 in the final Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association Division II State Poll after peaking at No. 4. Fenwick (15), Tippecanoe (16) and Alter (19) were also ranked.

“We have one of the hardest sectionals in the state,” Bellbrook head coach Lynzee Allen said. “You’ve got to deal with Alter and Fenwick and then if you get out there’s Roger Bacon and McNicholas. These are some of Ohio’s best programs.”

Due in large to this year’s senior class, Bellbrook is making its climb towards that status, too.

The majority of the group – Nicole Cordonnier (middle blocker), Sydney Krane (middle blocker), Emily McNamara (defensive specialist), Mara Neal (outside hitter), Sarah Rogers (setter), Bethany Ulring (setter), Dani Westbrock (right side hitter) and Sara Wolf (right side hitter) – got their start in the Bellbrook Wee Eagles program. The lone move-in – 6-foot-2 Kira Merkle (middle blocker) – arrived from West Carrollton prior to seventh-grade.

“(That familiarity) leads to a lot of trust between the team,” Merkle said. “Sometimes teams can have a fragile personality, but since we’ve been playing with each other so long we are very confident in ourselves. We mesh well as a team.”

Said Rogers: “We definitely have unity.”

And options.

Merkle, a Ferris State University recruit, was recently named the SWBL Southwestern Division Player of the Year for the second straight season. A three-time first-team all-league selection, she’s a four-year letterman that’s closing in on 900-career kills.

“I always describe her as the hardest working kid on the floor,” Allen said. “At the end of practice she is dripping in sweat. She is the glue in regards to consistency and bringing it for our team.”

Rogers, a Case Western Reserve University recruit, is a four-year lettermen and three-time All-SWBL selection who has 1,435 career assists and 493 digs.

“She’s our heart and soul,” Allen said. “This year she has taken over.”

Neal is a three-time first team All-SWBL selection who has 626 career kills.

Krane is a two-time all-league performer.

“We always quote (Bellbrook girls basketball coach) Jason Tincher who says ‘Leave the program better than you found it,’” Allen said. “That’s what this senior class has done.”

The Golden Eagles have only gone to five sets twice in 22 matches – against Springboro and at Eaton. In both, Bellbrook dug out of 0-2 holes for the win.

The victory over Springboro – before a packed home gym – was defining. The Panthers (15-7) are GWOC National West champions.

“In my coaching career that felt like one of our biggest wins,” Allen said.

Said Merkle: “That was the top win we’ve had.”

Bellbrook plans to add more memorable victories.

The Golden Eagles last district title came in 2007 (advanced to regional final). They are 0-3 in district finals since.

The last two years Bellbrook has dropped five-set decisions to Fenwick and Alter in the sectional finals. The Knights and Falcons have won seven of the last eight regional titles.

“This year we want to be the public school that makes a run,” Allen said. “I feel like we have unfinished business.”

“Definitely,” Rogers said. “Last year we lost to Fenwick in five sets and the year before we lost to Alter. We would love to play them again.

“Show them what we have.”

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