VERSAILLES – Versailles has breezed through the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament thus far, but the Tigers know the matches are going to become a lot more challenging.
Versailles swept Northeastern, Northridge, Greeneview and Madeira in the first four rounds of the OHSAA Division III volleyball tournament. In more than half of the sets the Tigers didn’t allow their opponent to reach double-digit scoring and they haven’t given up more than 14 points in any set this tournament season.
But now that they’re in the sweet 16, the Tigers expect much tougher competition from their opponents.
“It’s a really exciting place to be,” senior Ellen Peters said of making the regional tournament. “It’s where the tournament really gets heated up, where the level of competition increases a lot, and it’s really exciting to play in front of the crowds because the crowds tend to increase at this point.”
This is the fifth consecutive season that Versailles has reached the regional portion of the OHSAA tournament. Coach Kenzie Bruggeman credits former Versailles coach Karla Frilling, who led the Tigers to a state championship in 2013 among other accolades, with establishing a culture that still permeates through the program.
“Some of it has to do with what Karla Frilling started and just having that mindset of not being satisfied and always striving to be better,” Bruggeman said. “I’m just kind of riding off of her coattails there. The girls already had that mindset.”
Along with the culture in Versailles, the Tigers have benefited from playing one of the state’s most challenging schedules.
Versailles’ Midwest Athletic Conference rivals Coldwater, Delphos St. John’s, Fort Recovery, Marion Local, New Bremen and St. Henry all finished the regular season ranked among the state’s best teams by the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association. The Tigers also played non-conference matches against state-ranked teams including Bishop Fenwick, Fort Loramie, Jackson Center, Miami East and Ottawa-Glandorf.
“Our games throughout the season definitely gave us confidence,” senior Kate Stammen said. “We learned so much. Our practices have been really intense these past couple weeks, and just pushing each other really gives us all that confidence and preparations for the games.”
Being more intense in practice is something Bruggeman decided her team needed after losing to Miami East in last year’s regional semifinals.
“I felt that it was a little bit on me just with the practices that were leading up,” Bruggeman said of last year’s loss to Miami East. “Maybe they weren’t as intense. I felt that where we were last year, we just really didn’t rise up. We knew that it was going to be competitive, but like I said, we didn’t respond. So I guess that I really held on to that and have made sure that practices are intense every day and especially leading up to this game now to make sure that we are prepared in that aspect and that we are holding ourselves to a different standard and not being OK with just doing a drill but doing the drill to the most and putting that pressure on them.”
The Tigers said they’ve seen the benefits of the more intense practices this year.
“Pushing each other in practice will really carry us through and help us be ready for the competition we’re about to face,” senior Danielle Winner said.
Even in practices Versailles has depth on its roster that allows the Tigers to push themselves and prepare for big matches. This year’s team has seven seniors who are leading that charge.
“We’ve got a good senior class going,” senior Kami McEldowney said. “Our chemistry together is great. Our leadership is pretty good.”
All of Versailles’ preparations will be put to the test on Thursday at Fairmont’s Trent Arena in Kettering as the Tigers will play Johnstown-Monroe at 6 p.m. in the regional semifinals.
“We don’t know a lot about the team that we’re playing on Thursday,” Bruggeman said, “but that’s OK with me because we do need to just focus on ourselves and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The winner of the match between Versailles and Johnstown-Monroe will advance to Saturday’s regional championship against either Anna or Miami East. The winner of Saturday’s match will advance to next week’s state final four.
“We know that we’ve competed at this level before, and we can stick with the teams, and there’s not a player that we can’t handle,” Peters said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.