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Prep volleyball: Fenwick faces GCLC rival McNick in regional semifinal

MIDDLETOWN — The tradition has continued this season for Fenwick High School’s volleyball team.

The Falcons are perennially a deep postseason program, and now they’re doing it again with only two seniors.

Fenwick has taken off after a 3-3 start and will face Greater Catholic League Coed Division rival McNicholas in a Division II regional semifinal Thursday at Vandalia Butler.

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“I think we’re playing our best ball of the year,” said sixth-year Falcons coach Tyler Conley, whose squad is on a nine-match winning streak. “It feels like we’re peaking every day. It feels like we’re finding a new level every single day.

“The thing I’m most proud of is we’ve lost 15 girls over the last two years and we continue to develop. We had to replace four or five hitters this season, and to come out and have the season that we’ve had is impressive to me.”

Conley believes this is routinely the best D-II regional in the state. Fenwick (21-5) and McNick (14-12) will meet in Thursday’s first semifinal at 6 p.m., followed by Roger Bacon (25-0) vs. Tippecanoe (24-2) at 7:30 p.m.

The Falcons are four-time state qualifiers (1980, 2009, 2010, 2015). They were Division III state champions in 2010.

“This is a good volleyball team because we are all willing to give everything we have every time we step on the court,” junior setter Grace Maziar said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a person that takes the court all the time as a starter or if you’re one of the people who plays more in practice. Everybody comes in with the same mentality.

“We are all working for that common goal, and it’s just a really strong bond that we’ve built since the beginning of the season. We’re really hyped in practices and always giving our best effort. We know that’s how we’re going to make it to the top, so we’re relying on each other.”

Fenwick names are scattered throughout the GCLC statistical leaders. Maziar is No. 1 in assists (889) and service aces (57), junior outside hitter Julia Gardon is second in kills (256), junior outside hitter Emma Schaefer is third in service aces (51), and junior libero Bella DeSalvo is third in service aces (51), fourth in passes (860) and fourth in digs (360).

“Julia Gardon and Grace Dinkelaker have really come alive on the outside in the month of October. Elizabeth Hoerlein has played very well out of the middle,” Conley said. “Grace Maziar, I think she’s the best setter in the state. She’s a leader offensively. She’s a leader defensively. She led the state again during the regular season in assists. She’s kind of our rock.”

Defensive specialists Brooklyn Brunner and Kate Dawson are the two seniors. Conley called both “phenomenal leaders” on and off the court.

The Falcons have an attacking offensive style. They want to force the issue.

“What I’ve found this year is that we’re really well-rounded,” Maziar said. “In the past, we’ve been more one-sided. Now I feel like I can trust anybody to put the ball away no matter where they are on the court.”

“We want to go fast,” Conley said. “We want to serve and pass you off the court, then we want to be very diverse offensively. Our goal is to confuse other teams with our options. I think we’ve done a good job of that in the month of October. We don’t want the other team to give us points. We want to score on our own and earn it.”

Conley knows McNick is no slouch. The Rockets lost 3-1 at Fenwick on Sept. 6 and had a 3-10 record before catching fire.

“I have no doubt that our girls believe they can beat Fenwick,” McNick coach Melissa Luckey said. ‘The last time we played them we weren’t at full strength … we had some illness and injury. Now we’re back to full strength.

“The strengths of our team definitely are defense and passing. Half of our schedule is comprised of big Division I schools here in Cincinnati. We lost so many offensive kids the last couple years that it’s taken our offense time to catch up, but our defense has kept us in it the entire year.”

Junior middle blocker Caroline Pour (215) and freshman outside hitter Maggie Butkovich (249) are among the GCLC leaders in kills, and Pour tops the league in blocks (89). Senior setter Alyssa Herper has 816 assists, and senior libero Abby Bryll has 365 digs and 1,002 passes.

“The seniors have definitely been carrying us emotionally, and I think we’ve finally found an identity,” Luckey said. “Our girls are pretty easygoing. We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”

“I think they’re very similar to us,” Conley said. “They’ve got really good, solid players at the right positions, and they try to go fast. That’s not the same team we played at home back in September.”

D-II volleyball regional

What: Divsion II regional volleyball tournament at Vandalia Butler High School

Where: Student Activity Center, 600 S. Dixie Dr., Vandalia

Thursday’s semifinals: Fenwick (21-5) vs. McNicholas (14-12), 6 p.m.; Roger Bacon (25-0) vs. Tippecanoe (24-2), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s final: Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.

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