State Volleyball: Fenwick, Versailles, New Bremen eye championships

It’s been the goal from Day 1 for the Fenwick Falcons – a return trip to the state volleyball tournament.

“I told them that their goal and effort have to mirror each other,” Fenwick coach Tyler Conley said.

The Falcons took that to heart and are back in the Division II final four as the state tournament gets underway Thursday at the Nutter Center. Fenwick topped No. 1 state-ranked Roger Bacon in five sets in the regional final to earn the Falcons’ first state berth since 2015.

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On paper, a state trip didn’t look likely early on, but the Falcons were unfazed despite losing 15 key players to graduation over the past two seasons.

“We didn’t just lose 15 girls, we lost 15 big-time players,” Conley said. “From last season alone, we lost our top three offensive players and our starting libero.

“But for these girls it was a matter of ‘I’ve got to fill the shoes,’ and that’s been the fun part, watching them grow.”

Even-keeled and balanced, the Falcons have offensive weapons on every rotation, including junior outside hitter Julia Gardon and junior middle hitter Elizabeth Hoerlein, who have tallied 296 and 200 kills this season, respectively.

The Fenwick hitters have a definite advantage in setter Grace Maziar, who has a state-leading 987 assists this season and is just 35 assists away from the 3,000 mark. The junior setter also has 206 digs, 62 aces and 51 kills to her credit.

The Falcons, 23-5, will face third-ranked Holy Name, 24-3, in the D-II semifinals Friday.

Division III

Younger, but hungry for another championship title, the Versailles Tigers are back for more. The defending D-III state champions lost seven seniors, but their desire to repeat is as strong as ever.

“Last year, we had seven seniors and they all had a really strong mentality and were very driven,” Versailles coach Kenzie Bruggeman said. “This year, we have four seniors and they are just as determined to bring home a championship.”

Senior setter Kelsey Custenborder is at the helm as setter in the 5-1 offense. Custenborder, in her first year as a starter, has tallied 762 assists.

Custenborder has several offensive weapons to rely on including junior middle hitter Lindsey Winner and senior right-side hitter Elizabeth Ording who have tallied 364 and 353 kills, respectively, this season.

The Tigers have more than solid players, they have the confidence that comes from playing in the highly competitive Midwest Athletic Conference. Versailles was just 5-4 in conference play this season, including a loss to D-IV state qualifier New Bremen.

“If you don’t show up with grit and determination every match, all season, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get beat,” Bruggeman said. “Almost every week, when you play in the MAC, your weaknesses are exploited.”

Versailles, 18-10, will face Tuscarawas Valley, 25-2, in the semifinals Thursday.

Division IV

The Cardinals are picking up right where they left off. New Bremen earned its first volleyball state championship last year in the Cardinals first-ever state appearance, but lost a key component in MAC Player of the Year and current University of Michigan outside hitter Paige Jones.

“Last year, we were a great team and Paige was always the best option,” coach Diana Kramer said.

The new-look Cardinals, 23-4, are more balanced this season with five players edging close to 200 kills on the season.

The New Bremen Cardinals, who already dispensed with the top two D-IV teams in the state – St. Henry and Fort Recovery – in the postseason, will face Monroeville, 24-3, in the semifinals Thursday.