By Ryan Kaczmarski and Joe Ostrica
The Avon Lake High School volleyball squad won its second straight Southwestern Conference championship last year, going 13-1 in league play and 19-6 overall. The Shoregals also advanced to the district finals in 2012 (they won the district title in 2011). Head coach Dan Berkheimer hopes his squad can repeat all those accomplishments and go even further in the postseason this year.
“We are working to defend our conference championship and return to the district finals match,” Berkheimer said. “We are among the top teams in the area. Olmsted Falls, Amherst, Elyria, Kenston and Strongsville are also strong teams.”
Avon Lake’s key returning letter winners include senior outside hitters Katie Mihalik and Lauren Bakaitis.
“Katie Mihalik led the team in kills her sophomore year when the team was 23-3 and both conference and district champions,” Berkheimer said. “She missed half of 2012 with an injury. Katie has given a verbal commitment to play at Cleveland State.
“Lauren led the team in digs last season. She has given a verbal commitment to play at Toledo.”
Juniors Lauren Kollias (defensive specialist), Alaina Sliwinski (setter) and Katie Coughlin (middle hitter) are other letter winners back on the court.
Juniors Kay Butrey (middle hitter), Becca Bartram (right side hitter) and Devan Rybarczyk (outside hitter) and sophomores Kaitlyn Applegate (setter, defensive specialist) and Hanna Nicholas (defensive specialist, outside hitter) are new players who hope to contribute to the team this season.
The North Olmsted High School team went 13-11 last year, and is replacing its starting setter, an outside hitter, middle hitter and libero this season.
The Eagles returning letter winners are seniors Tia McCord (outside hitter), Courtney Nestoff (outside hitter) and Michelle Clark (middle hitter); and junior Brooke Bilinsky (right side hitter).
Newcomers Michaela Koran (setter) and McKenzie Zauner (libero) are expected to be starters, while the varsity roster is rounded out by seniors Cat Stolar and Erika Kiefer; juniors Maureen Tuley and Sarah Sabino; and freshman Zoe Kamenos.
Olmsted Falls High School head volleyball coach Dawn Moses has fielded a young varsity squad this year, and has already lost sophomore Katie Edgington for the season, to tendinosis (chronic tendinitis).
“She was All-SWC and All-District a year ago, as well as a school record holder,” she said. “That is a huge loss for the team.”
The returning letter winners for the Bulldogs are senior Sammy Smitley (libero); juniors Kerri Gasper (outside hitter) and Jordan Jaeckin (setter); and sophomore Lexi Lombardo (outside hitter).
The team’s four seniors are all defensive specialists, including Smitley, Kate Ferster, Morgan Reiser and Abby Vichill.
“They all bring team chemistry and defense … lots of defense,” Moses said.
After finishing with a record of 8-15 in 2012, the Westlake High School program returns with a young varsity squad this season.
The key returning letter winners for the Demons are juniors Katie Murray (middle hitter) and Sam Neumann (middle hitter); and senior Lauren Kay (libero).
“Katie and Sam are going to be great offensive players for us, and leadership for the team,” head coach Meghan Mental said. “Lauren will be the leader of the defense.”
Two other seniors on the Westlake team are Kacie Frindt and Elisa Khanwam, with the roster being filled out by underclassmen.
“(The seniors) bring leadership and depth to the team,” Mental said. “We are a younger team and will need to learn quickly and be adaptive.”