Talawanda Middle School 8th grade volleyball team undefeated

Any team with an undefeated season deserves high praise for that accomplishment but back-to-back undefeated seasons seems nearly impossible…nearly, not totally, impossible.

The Talawanda Middle School eighth-grade volleyball team recently completed their second season without a loss and accomplished that feat by rarely even losing a set. They won two matches Oct. 16 to claim the championship of the Southwest Ohio Conference tournament after taking the regular-season title with a 10-0 SWOC mark.

The tournament title required winning two matches in one day and they took down Edgewood in the championship game after defeating Harrison in the semifinals. They finished with an overall record of 16-0 as eighth graders this year after claiming an 18-0 mark, also 10-0 in the SWOC, as seventh graders last year.

Coach Bill Zehler said they accomplished their two undefeated seasons in dominating fashion.

“Last year, they only lost four sets. This year, they lost only two sets, both by two points,” Zehler said. “They were relentless. Nothing got them too excited. They just went out and played. We ran an offense like good high-level high school and college teams would.”

Their total 34-0 record over two seasons could have been even better, but the team lost three matches to COVID-19 pandemic protocols and still came back from the layoff strong to continue their unbeaten streak.

“I have coached 40 years and this team is probably one of the best overall I have been involved with. You can’t get 34-0 in anything without a lot of work,” the coach said. “Some kids did not play both years, but they all knew their role and worked. It was such a team effort, it’s hard to point to individuals. We had to beat three teams three times in the same season. That’s a tough thing to do.”

Zehler repeated his hesitancy to single out individual players, but did say Elise Olenick was “probably the best all-around player” showing up well with numbers in a sport without many individual statistics to record. She along with Grace Richardson and Mila Misco were solid outside hitters who all jump-served.

He said Callie McCullough and Abby Noga were solid as setters. Middle hitters Anna Gregg and Reagan Slager also contributed much to the success of the team.

Zehler said his squad of defensive specialists were also effective, naming Lauren James, Lilly Patterson, Kailyn Laidlaw and Cora Allen. Right side hitters were Alyssa Hornsby and Leah Vocke.

Team manager was Addy Roller, who plans to try the player role next year as a high school freshman.

Assistant coach for the eighth-grade team was Samantha Rehberg.

The success of this group of girls in a two-year span certainly bodes well for the high school volleyball team in the next few years and Zehler said it is always a question whether successful middle-school athletes will stay in the sport when they reach high school. They have the makings of a potential freshman team, which Talawanda High School does not often have, settling for jayvee-A and jayvee-B squads, he added.

“Together, they could build a program the high school. I hope this group can turn the trend. It’s tough keeping kids involved in the program,” he said. “These kids have worked hard. It’s a great group of kids.”

High School volleyball Coach Ruchelle Dunwoody is looking forward to next year when those eighth graders move up to their freshman year of high school. She said the effort to create a youth volleyball program was worth the effort and these eighth graders came together in the second year of that program.

I came to Talawanda High School eight years ago. In my second year, I wanted to get more grades playing volleyball. We wanted to try a smaller program. It got kids excited and they fell in love with volleyball,” Dunwoody said, noting that THS senior Kaylee Burgess was in the first group to go through that program and play at the high school. Then, referring to this year’s eighth graders, she said, “In her eighth-grade year, she really took off. I’m excited to see how they do as volleyball players.”

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