Monroeville senior Stacia Stieber was a wide-eyed freshman in the back row when the Eagles made the Division IV state semifinals in 2015.
In the two seasons that followed in 2016 and 2017, Monroeville did not win a district match.
But that all changed this season. The Eagles fell short of a Firelands Conference championship in the final week of the regular season — but have since won sectional, district and regional championships.
Monroeville (24-3) returns to the state semifinals at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Wright State University Nutter Center, where defending state champion New Bremen (23-4) awaits.
“I feel like my freshman year we had a lot of hype before and throughout the season,” Stieber said. “It just felt like a lot of people thought and expected we were going to state.
“But this year, I don’t think it was on the radar much or that many people thought we could,” she added. “It feels really good to show people that with all the hard work we put in, we can and did go to state. I think we’re proud of where we are, but we’re not satisfied and have a lot more to do.”
Much of what the Eagles have done this season can be pointed back to Stieber, who conveniently wears No. 1 as well. She has been able to help neutralize the opponents’ top hitters with 608 digs from the back row in 26 matches.
That is up significantly from 436, 431 and 483 digs, respectively, in each of the past three seasons.
“I like knowing I can dig out those big hitters and kind of frustrate them,” Stieber said. “When they come up to hit, I try and read their shoulders to get an idea where it’s going.”
Monroeville coach Kendra Snook said Stieber is an athlete that any coach wishes they get the opportunity to have in their program.
“And when you do get to coach a player like that, you realize how lucky you are,” Snook said. “A lot of times she will make plays and we look at each other and say, ‘How did she do that?’ So now, my response is, ‘She’s good.’ There is no other explanation.”
Stieber is unique in that when a player comes in and starts as a freshman for a state semifinal team, there isn’t a lot of improvement to be made — at least on the surface.
“But each year she has gotten better and better,” Snook said. “Her serve receive and ball control has gotten better. She makes more and more digs each year.
“She’s close to 2,000 digs (1,958), which is amazing,” she added. “When most people talk about milestones it’s the 1,000 plateau — and I’m talking about a kid who is approaching 2,000 instead.”
Stieber and most of her teammates believe two late-season losses helped define this state run. The Eagles lost 2-1 leads twice in league play vs. St. Paul (Sept. 25) and at Crestview (Oct. 9).
In the match at Crestview, Monroeville was up 2-0 and serving with a 24-21 lead — only to lose the game, and eventually the match in five.
But with no FC title, the Eagles have won seven straight since the Crestview loss.
“I think we learned a lot and how to finish from those matches,” Stieber said. “During practice from those matches up until now, we do drills where we just finish everything through. We learned a lot from losing those two matches.”
Stieber — who is distantly related to the wrestling legends Logan and Hunter Stieber — said being able to finish her career at state is both rewarding and exciting — but is more appreciative of the support she knows her team will and has received.
“Both years we’ve had so much support and that really means a lot,” she said. “In Monroeville, we’re all like one big family, and we get so much support — it’s awesome.”
Meanwhile, her coach is simply going to enjoy a few more days of coaching one of her senior captains.
“Stacia is a kid we will definitely miss next year, and a huge driving force of our offense — because she’s able to make those plays to be able to run our offense,” Snook said. “We’re going to enjoy this last week of getting to coach her.”
If you go ...
— WHO: No. 9 Monroeville (24-3) vs. No. 3 New Bremen (23-4)
— WHAT: Division IV state semifinal
— WHEN: 2 p.m. Thursday
— WHERE: Nutter Center, Wright State University, Fairborn
—TICKETS: Can be purchased for $8 during school hours Wednesday