VERSAILLES – The 2017 Division III state volleyball championship banner hangs above in the Versailles High School gymnasium.
It was a magical season for the Tigers a year ago, but that’s just it. It was a year ago. Now that the 2018 season is underway, this year’s team doesn’t reflect much on last year’s triumphant season.
Don’t misunderstand though. They are all extremely proud of the accomplishment and the experiences they had, but the 2018 season brings new players, new challenges and a new goal for the Tigers.
“It was a super great time last year,” said VHS volleyball coach Kenzie Bruggeman. “I thought we put in a lot of work throughout the entire season last year. We didn’t really look at the wins and losses so much, but we looked more at how we were performing as a team and what we were doing on our side. Once we only focused on that we started making bigger gains in a shorter amount of time and by the time we got to the tournament we were playing our best ball.
“It was awesome,” she continued. “We reference it sometimes on just how we grew mentally as a team rather than the physical aspect of volleyball. But honestly this is a new team and we are trying to accomplish new things so we just focus on us and now. It’s not so much that we forget about last year and move on because it definitely put a fire under a lot of the girls especially the new ones who are on varsity this year on seeing what can be accomplished with the type of program we have here.”
Bruggeman will lean on her four seniors this year that were part of last year’s state title run. Elizabeth Ording, Kelsey Custenborder, Alexis Didier and Paige Platfoot are all stepping into those leadership roles along with several underclassmen who were part of the championship as well. Among them are Lindsey Winner and Caitlin McEldowney, both juniors.
“It feels great coming in to this season after winning state last year,” Ording said. “But this year is an opportunity to start fresh with a new team coming in and I am excited to see what potential we have.
“Winning state was an indescribable feeling,” she continued. “It was something I never dreamed of, but now we just try to teach the new players everything we have been through. I don’t think there is any pressure on us this year. We always take it one game at a time, one brick at a time. The goal is to get back and win state again, but we also want to play together and play for each other. For me, I don’t think I’m putting any extra pressure on myself. I just want to play each game as it were my last and give it my all every day.”
Custenborder and Didier have similar feelings.
“Our focus this year is that you don’t get everything handed to you,” Didier said. “Winning the state title last year was pretty awesome and I want to do it again this year because it is our senior year. I’m sure it is everyone’s goal to make it to the state championship, but obviously you have to work for it.
“What we learned last year is that you have to put your trust into others while you are playing,” she continued. “Teamwork is a really big part of everything. We have some new sophomores and juniors this year and they don’t know quite yet how to play at this level, so we have to be patient and trust them.”
Custenborder said there is a heavier focus on working together this season.
“We are focusing on one brick at a time,” the senior setter said. “Obviously we want to get back to state again, but right now we are focused on working together as a team and really focusing on playing as one so we can get another banner for us. It takes a lot of heart and hard work to achieve that and that is what we are telling the younger players.”
This season began well enough for the Tigers, who are currently 4-2 overall. Wins have come against St. Marys Memorial, St. Henry, Anna and Covington. They lost in the Coldwater Spikeoff tournament finals to Ottawa-Glandorf and then last week dropped one to Russia.
After practice on Tuesday, Bruggeman said it was evident Russia came to play that day. Practices are generally intense in the VHS gym, she said noting that Tuesday’s are called “Competition Tuesdays” for a reason.
“Practices are meant to be harder and more mentally draining than what games are so that when we are in a game situation, not that it seems easy, but you just know that you have been prepared,” Bruggeman said. “Today is a little more intense because it is Competition Tuesday, which is meant to get us riled up and get the energy high.
“The old saying is you play how you practice,” she continued. “Games are just a spotlight on what you do in the dark and that’s where we are in practice every day. That’s where we spend the majority of our time so that’s what is going to showcase when we do step on the floor. It’s kind of hard at this point. We are still focusing on a couple bricks at a time and we are still really focusing on how we can communicate with each other because we do have so many new faces on the court. We are really early in the season though and we just have to focus on one game at a time. We can’t worry about tournament right now. We need to worry about how we are doing as a team.”