In The Arena: MAC, SCL Ohio’s top small school volleyball leagues

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The Midwest Athletic Conference and Shelby County League dominate Ohio high school small school volleyball

In addition to a trophy, the winner of the Shelby County League has also earned a berth in the state volleyball tournament the last three years. Should
again this season. Heading into the season the SCL
will be arguably Ohio’s toughest small school affiliation. I say
arguably because the SCL’s neighbor, the Midwest Athletic Conference,
has a case too. No one else does.


Jackson Center head volleyball coach Kim Metz says the first and foremost goal for her team this year is winning the Shelby County League title. In addition to a trophy, that designation has also produced a berth in the state tournament the last three years. Should again this season.

Heading into the 2008 volleyball schedule the Shelby County League will be arguably Ohio’s toughest small school affiliation. I say arguably because the SCL’s neighbor, the Midwest Athletic Conference, has a case too.

No one else does.

In 2005, Anna became the first SCL team to make the state tournament. A year later the Rockets won the Division III state title. Last year Jackson Center stretched the SCL’s state streak to three years before bowing out in the Division IV semifinals.

The Tigers lost one player.

“Jackson Center reminds me a lot of us in 2006,” Anna head coach Karen Zumberger said. “Even though you’ve been in that gym (Nutter Center) before when you walk in for the state tournament you’re a little shell-shocked. Now those girls at Jackson Center are hungry and they’re bringing back a phenomenal team.”

Anna isn’t going to be a slouch.

The Rockets had their streak of state tournaments snapped at two with a loss to MAC member Versailles in the regional semifinals last year. Although Anna lost senior Kelli Barhorst to Ohio State, it returns enough to challenge for a second state title in three years.

“I think we might be one of those sleeper teams,” Zumberger said. “We don’t have the big name. People might overlook us and I hope they do because we’ve got some really smart defensive players and great offensive threats. The determination is there as is the hunger.”

Talk about hungry. Talk about New Bremen.

Of the MAC’s 10 schools eight have played in the state volleyball tournament (four have won titles). New Bremen hopes to make it nine this year.

The Cards have never been to the big dance, but according to head coach Lisa Thobe, who is entering her 25th season at the school: “This is probably the highest expectations going into a season that we’ve ever had.”

And for good reason.

In Thobe’s previous 24 years the Cardinals produced one NCAA Division I recruit. This year they have two – Taylor Jones (Maryland) and Jaclyn Dabbelt (Cleveland State).

Last year the Cardinals – and fellow MAC member Delphos St. John’s, the only other conference team without a state berth – were the only two teams that took Marion Local to four games in the postseason. The Flyers captured the Division IV state title.

“We have the bulk of the team back and we ended last year on a good note,” Thobe said. “Yeah we lost to Marion but they were the state champions. What are you going to do? Of course we were disappointed but when they win it all you look back and think ‘Ok, we did all right.’ They killed everybody.”

So what about the Flyers who lost nine seniors including Abby Niekamp (Florida State) and Megan Barhorst (Cleveland State)? What of the defending state champions?

Although they return only three seniors, the Flyers reserve and freshman teams were both undefeated last season. The cupboard isn’t bare.

Game on.

“We’re better because of the competition we play,” Thobe said. “You can’t go anywhere with out playing you’re ‘A’ game and I think that just produces better teams. When I look (at our schedule) I don’t see a weak team. You wish you could find someone with a weakness so you might have an easy night one night but there aren’t any.”

…In conference and out.

“The MAC is the hotbed – a power,” Metz said. “They come right at you all the time, but I think things are starting to come our way. We’re pushing towards that and that’s the way you want it to be. You’re always preparing for that second season. Yeah, that first season you’re going for that league crown and that’s the way it should be, that should be everyone’s first focus.

“But, after that – going into that second season and after that state title – that’s where that (regular season) intensity and competition pays off. It’s tough, but it’s worth it.”

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