Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012
By Robb Hemmelgarn
Breakthrough season for Indians in 1989
Last Curtain Call
It was the autumn of 1989 and at Fort Recovery High School there was a locker room loaded with volleyball players who were determined that this was going to be their year.
In 15 seasons of volleyball action in the Midwest Athletic Conference, the Indians had never pushed past the middle of the pack in the final standings. But to this group of Indians, history was nothing more than a stepping stone.
Glancing over the early portion of the schedule that included New Knoxville and Parkway in their first four games, followed by St. Henry a couple of weeks later, it was obvious that although their attitude may have changed, the brutality of their schedule had not.
"I remember the year before in 1988, we surprised a few teams and played pretty tough in tournament," recalled Jenny (Etzler) Fledderjohann, who was a junior setter for the Indians in 1989. "We lost only one senior from that season, and although it was a big loss (Diana Martin), we felt we had a very good nucleus returning and it could be a fun season."
When the Indians knocked off the Rangers and Panthers and improved to 4-0, volleyball fans around the MAC began to take notice. Fort Recovery followed its win over Parkway with another victory over Crestview before locking horns with St. Henry. The Indians spiked their way to victory in the first game, 15-12, however, and dropped the next two 10-15 and 5-15.
"I don't really remember what our approach was after the St. Henry loss, but we didn't have a lot of time to hang our heads about it," Fledderjohann explained. "We knew that whatever we hoped to accomplish that season or how far we planned to go, that the road to get there went through St. Henry. We were still very determined to take the volleyball program another step."
Over the next six games, head coach Paula Schritz's girls rolled their way to a 6-0 record, including conference wins over Coldwater, Delphos St. John's and Marion Local. The Indians then pushed their record to 14-1 after victories over the Cavaliers, Blue Jays and Wapakoneta Redskins to capture the Fort Recovery Volleyball Invitational.
After peaking at number 10 in the Associated Press Class A state poll, the Indians closed the regular season with three more triumphs over Mendon-Union, Minster and New Bremen. The win over the Cardinals was of double pleasure, as it also snagged Fort Recovery a portion of its first conference championship, a trophy they shared with the Parkway Panthers, who ran the table after losing to the Indians early in the season.
"Being co-champs of the MAC was a huge accomplishment," Schritz commented. "This is one of the toughest leagues around and I am sure at the time it gave my players more confidence in both themselves and in their team."
Sitting at 17-1, the red-hot Indians sailed into the sectional tournament at St. Henry and obliterated Mendon-Union in two games, 15-0 and 15-0.
Waiting for Fort Recovery was St. Henry, which was riding a four-year wave of state tournament appearances, including a pair of state championships. The Redskins were also a team that the Indians had never beaten in the program's history - a streak that looked to remain intact as St. Henry captured the first game 15-11. Schritz' girls roared back though in the second and third battles to up their record to 19-1 on the year, while advancing to the district tournament in Elida.
"Every game we played was in preparation for the tournament and whether we won or lost, it was a learning experience," Schritz pointed out. "Our goal was to always be the best that we could be at the end of the season. If every player can say they are at their best in tournament, there isn't much else a coach can ask of them."
The Indians began district play by coasting over Lima Perry before slamming into the New Knoxville Rangers. Although the Indians got the best of the Rangers early in the season, New Knoxville entered the district final with an impressive 20-2 record. Their lofty record didn't seem to faze the Indians much in the first game, as they blasted New Knoxville 15-5. The Rangers dusted themselves off in a hurry though and won the final two games to end the Indians' incredible ride.
For Schritz and those on the varsity roster, including Gina Wenning, Kate Schoenherr, Mindy Bubp, Lynn Fullenkamp, Jenny Etzler, Tina Bihn, Vicki Smith, Jennia Jenkins and Tammy Hartnagel, the season represented a true scenario of accomplishing something not many outside their circle felt they could accomplish.
"Coach Schritz worked us so hard that season, but we all trusted her and knew that it would pay off because she came from a good program and knew what it took," Fledderjohann remarked. "She taught me a lot, especially about working like a dog and being mentally tough. Sadly, the loss to New Knoxville ended a season where I felt we had the team to make a deep tournament run. It was especially sad for the seniors. Although it ended before we wanted it to, it helped build confidence and set the tone for a lot of success in the future for the program."
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