Kroner's prep volleyball insider: Blue Ridge stays strong

Kroner's prep volleyball insider: Blue Ridge stays strong

On Fridays, prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner covers the area volleyball scene like it's nobody's business:

Blue Ridge stays strong

FARMER CITY — Many schools that graduate an All-Area first-teamer from a 23-win team are faced with a rebuilding and recovery project. The Blue Ridge program, which graduated all-star Kaitlyn Zelhart, has won its first nine matches.

"Our focus is not so much the fast start, which is nice, but finishing strong and winning a regional championship," Knights coach Evan Miles said.

The quick getaway wasn't necessarily a surprise. A year ago, two freshmen and two sophomores were varsity starters. They are back — and improved.

"Emily Zelhart has really elevated her game as a sophomore setter, and (sophomore middle hitter) Gabby Pearl has started to assert herself as a strong middle presence hitting and blocking," Miles said. Juniors Jessica Schrock and Amber Blazek "can terminate the ball and play outside very well," Miles said.

Courtney Cox, T'Ann Crozier and Chandler Morrow "provide great senior leadership," Miles said. The defensive specialist roles are in capable hands with Korie Reynolds and Megan Tsevelekos.

"Establishing a sense of winning early has built our confidence and instills a mentality that's what is expected," Miles said.

Watseka keeps going

WATSEKA — As a followup to Watseka's school-record 32-win season, coach Krista Pufahl set a goal of "winning at least 25 matches this year." Her Warriors are on their way, with victories in their first 11 matches.

Though four sophomores have been on the court together, Pufahl isn't backing down on her lofty expectations: "This seems high, but I know this group of girls are capable of reaching such goals."

Senior Allison Kaper, who has been a middle hitter since seventh grade, was shifted to the outside and, Pufahl said "has really shined."

Sophomores Emily Allhands and Taylor Bauer are other forceful hitters, along with junior Hayley Gray. All four stand at least 5-foot-10.

"We have a big front row that is also getting a lot of touches on the ball to slow it down for our defense," Pufahl said.

Helping hold it all together is senior Kat Grimes, a third-year varsity setter.

"Our hitters can be successful because we have good passes, and Kat knows her hitters and is able to run our offense smoothly," Pufahl said.

Watseka's offseason commitment to weight training, Pufahl said, was beneficial.

"This group was very dedicated to the weight- room, which I think contributes to a lot of the power we have in the front row," she said.

Bulldogs host tournament

MAHOMET — Saturday's 16-team Bulldog Invitational at Mahomet-Seymour is a wide-open event. M-S coach Ron Hoppe hopes his team is in the hunt for a title, but unbeaten St. Joseph-Ogden and Champaign Central — fourth last week at Centennial's tournament — join a list that includes Olympia, Pleasant Plains, St. Anthony, Tri-Valley and Williamsville as the chief contenders.

Through eight matches, Hoppe was most pleased by the level of play during a two-set sweep last week at Central.

"We haven't been able to bring that same level of intensity, focus and cleanness to the court since," he said. "Obviously, I'm encouraged that it happened because I know the girls are capable of playing at that level, but I'm also a little disappointed we haven't been able to recreate that atmosphere and intensity on the court and are 2-4 since that match."

Juniors Abby Cockerham and Sirena Woo have been solid defensively and, along with junior Nicole Renshaw, have been tough servers.

"I think we'll stay competitive throughout the season," Hoppe said.

Senior veteran Elise Dahlke is the kills leader, with freshman Sophie Christianson and sophomore Maddie See factors as blockers. Saturday's title match is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

PBL on the winning road

PAXTON — Coach Kristin Oyer's squad has played at home once in its first 11 matches but has a 10-1 record.

"I was expecting to start strong," Oyer said, "but we are hoping to finish strong also."

The Panthers' five seniors have provided a spark. Veteran outside hitters Kandace Hofer and Kortnie Schroeder are kills leaders, along with junior middle hitter Kailey Kleinert.

"They not only have power but they are smart players and hit shots when they need to," said Oyer, whose 2011 team ended with a 19-9 mark.

Senior setter Kayla Cowan is not only the assists leader but also stands first in service aces. Senior Kaylee Genzel is thriving in her new role.

"She is playing right side and has converted well to that side of the court," Oyer said.

The other senior, Amanda Ypya, "is more aggressive this year, especially on defense," Oyer said.

The defensive catalysts include juniors Jori Maynard and Randee Newsome.

"They take care of the back row so that we can run a quicker tempo on offense," eighth-year coach Oyer said. "This is one of the hardest-working groups of girls I've had in a long time."

Top 10

Our updated ranking of area teams:

TEAM (previous) RECORD

1. Centennial (1) 8-1

Next: Today at Effingham Crossroads Classic

2. Tri-County (2) 3-0

Next: Today at Effingham Crossroads Classic

3. Blue Ridge (3) 9-1

Next: Saturday at Clinton Invitational

4. St. Joseph-Ogden (4) 6-0

Next: Monday at Unity

5. Watseka (—) 12-0

Next: Saturday at home vs. GCMS

6. St. Thomas More (5) 5-5

Next: Saturday at Mascoutah tournament

7. Bismarck-Henning (7) 2-1

Next: Saturday at Attica (Ind.) Invitational

8. PBL (10) 10-1

Next: Tuesday at home vs. Cissna Park

9. Mahomet-Seymour (—) 5-4

Next: Saturday at Mahomet-Seymour Invitational

10. Champaign Central (9) 3-4

Next: Saturday at Mahomet-Seymour Invitational

Categories (3):Prep Sports, Volleyball, Sports