Yet so much about the Monroeville volleyball team has a different feel prior to Thursday’s 2 p.m. Division IV state semifinal match vs. New Bremen.
“I was in seventh grade and I remember cheering them on in the student section, and my sister (Taylor) was a senior on the team that year,” said Monroeville sophomore hitter Kylee Brooks. “So I can remember cheering for her and it was a really crazy match and a fun atmosphere.”
The Eagles lost to eventual state champion Jackson Center in a five-game match in the 2015 state semifinals at the Wright State University Nutter Center. That Monroeville team was paced by three 6-foot hitters who are currently playing NCAA Div. II college volleyball in Breanna and Haley Kramer (Wheeling Jesuit) and Paige Leitz (Ashland).
Four seasons later, and things are drastically different at the net.
There are no 6-footers to speak of — though Brooks comes the closest at 5-feet-10. Leitz and the Kramers alone combined for more than 1,000 kills, each finishing with 289-plus individually.
This season, one has to look five hitters deep on the roster to total more than 1,000 kills. Brooks leads the way at 304, while the depth in kill totals reaches 171 for the fifth-best total on the roster.
“When someone does good, we follow their lead,” said 5-9 junior hitter Kelsie Palmer. “When someone has a bad hit or needs picked up, we are there for each other. It’s a great relationship.”
After Brooks, who adds 71 blocks, Palmer has 256 kills and 79 blocks. Freshman Graisyn Yoder (5-9) is next with 220 kills and 177 digs, followed by junior Maura Brown (5-9) with 177 kills and 69 blocks. Junior Adrian Barman (5-6) rounds out the quintet with 171 kills and 295 digs.
“We don’t have one good stud, we’re more of a balanced group that knows what suits us best,” Brooks said. “Everyone else hits, and we just kind of all fill in and figure out how we can make each other better from what everyone else does.”
Monroeville coach Kendra Snook called the quintet a unique dynamic that has paced the Eagles to district and regional championships.
“We really don’t have a go-to player — we have five,” she said. “If one isn’t playing well, there is another to step in. If one is defending that one person, we have four other hitters to get the ball to. We have never had this big of an opportunity to spread our offense over the whole net.”
Snook also credits junior setter Camryn Hedrick (1,049 assists) with spreading the ball around as well.
“It’s very hard to defend when you don’t know where the ball is going, compared to a lot of teams where when the ball gets there you know you can go straight out there,” Snook said. “So I think that’s why we’ve been so successful, because offensively we’ve been able to keep that balance.
“And we still have two or three other hitters who don’t get that playing time right now that could,” she added. “So the depth we have not only is big for us now, but also keeps getting kids better in practice because they are constantly pushing each other to get on the court.”
In a unique twist, the No. 9-ranked Eagles (24-3) did not win the Firelands Conference this season en route to reaching Thursday’s Final Four pairing with the No. 3-ranked Cardinals (23-4).
Monroeville went 11-3 in FC play, losing twice to St. Paul and once to Crestview. But notably, the Eagles led both the Flyers and Cougars 2-1 after three games in their second meetings of the season — only to lose both matches in five games.
“I feel like they did help,” Brooks said of the losses. “We lost to St. Paul twice, but were able to beat them at districts. So I think it helped us a lot in getting down what we needed to learn from those mistakes, and it got us this confident. We took that momentum into last week at regionals.”
Palmer was an eighth-grade student watching from the crowd at the Nutter Center, and knew she also wanted to play on the same floor one day.
That time has come. And despite a couple late season hiccups, the goal of state was always a possibility within the Monroeville locker room.
“It’s crazy to think it’s actually going to happen,” Palmer said. “We had these goals since the beginning of the season, and we never put it in the back of our minds. We kept pushing every day in practice and competing with each other. I think most people thought we were good, but not expecting us to go all the way to state.”
Brooks remembers the team writing down long-term goals on the dry-erase board in August.
“It was to win the Firelands Conference, which didn’t work out,” she said. “But next one we had was to be state champs. So we had that mindset from the beginning.”
Balanced Monroeville hitters
The Monroeville volleyball team averages 226 kills per player from five different hitters this season:
— Kylee Brooks (5-10, So.): 304 kills, 71 blocks
— Kelsie Palmer (5-9, Jr.): 256 kills, 79 blocks
— Graisyn Yoder (5-9, Fr.): 220 kills
— Maura Brown (5-9, Jr): 177 kills, 69 blocks
— Adrian Barman (5-6, Jr.): 171 kills