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Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Braden recalls Rangers' great campaign in 1992

Last Curtain Call

By Robb Hemmelgarn
Thumbing through the list of Midwest Athletic Conference champions on the volleyball court through the years, the collection has a noticeable tone of familiarity.
In recent years, the Marion Local Flyers have enjoyed an extended stay in the penthouse, and prior to that, St. Henry had the stranglehold with a couple of other schools sprinkled around the sides.
In 1992, the smallest school in the conference, New Knoxville, dipped their toes in the championship pool as they capped off a two-year run where they shared the top spot in the always-tough conference slate.
"Looking back to those days, and it is no different now, the MAC was just so much fun to compete in and it definitely made us a better team," said former Rangers head coach Chuck Braden. "In 1992, we clinched our share of the conference title at home against Parkway. It was a three-game set that went down to the wire in a gym that was absolutely packed. The funny thing I remember is that the student section was warned not to charge the court if we won because they were all wearing shoes. When we won, they all took their shoes off and stormed the floor. It was quite the scene."
The Rangers lit the fuse on the season with a victory over St. Marys before slipping up against both St. Henry in league play and Tipp City in non-league action. Deflated but not discouraged, the Rangers rattled off 19 straight victories, including revenge over St. Henry midway through the season in the finals of the New Knoxville Invitational. The Rangers' resume was also dotted with gold trophies in the West-Liberty Salem and Lima Shawnee Invitationals as only two of their matches went to three games the remainder of the regular season.
"There are always such small numbers to deal with at New Knoxville and I was fortunate because all of my girls bought into what we were doing and worked hard to accomplish what we set out to accomplish," said Braden. "We had high expectations that season and I felt that if we stayed healthy and won some of the close games that the rest would take care of itself."
Following the climactic triumph in the season-finale over Parkway, Braden and the Rangers gobbled up the sectional title with by upending New Bremen and then clipping Lima Perry in the district opener to improve to 20-2 on the year. Awaiting them in the district final was another bout against St. Henry.
"We lost to them early in the season and knew we would likely face them again in the district final at the Elida Fieldhouse," said Braden. "It was the first game of the night and by the end, the gym was completely full and the atmosphere was electric. Although we lost, that is still one of the most memorable matches from the season. Our girls and theirs all knew one another from playing club volleyball, so it was a shame that either of us had to lose. I remember the parents from both schools all sitting together and their fans seemed just as upset that we lost as they were happy that St. Henry had won."
In reflection, Braden credits much of his teams success and accolades to playing in such a strong conference, but points out in a hurry that a brutal non-league schedule played just as much of a role.
"You know that you have to beat some very talented teams in terms of the MAC and there is only one opportunity per year to face them in league play, he explained. "This allowed us to schedule some equally competitive nonleague opponents. We do so anticipating that those games would also help us to be successful in the league."
Despite nearly 300 wins during his tenure at New Knoxville which lasted nearly two decades, Braden explained that a major highlight was the opportunity to coach his two daughters, Shannen and Brook, during the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
"Any coach will tell you that coaching their son or daughter is a unique experience, as they are really an extension of yourself on the court," he commented. "At times you tend to be harder on your own kids because you don't want to come across that you are favoring them, so you certainly put higher expectations on their play. In the end though, it was a very enjoyable time that I am happy to have experienced."
Following his stay in New Knoxville, Braden moved on to Fort Loramie for four years where he amassed more than 60 more victories, before making his final stop as an assistant at UNOH for four seasons, all while coaching at the local club level as he still does today.
Through all of the victories, titles and piles of success, it is difficult for Braden to rank anything much higher than his 1992 campaign in New Knoxville, led by seniors Shannen Braden, Betsy Kruse, Sheila Speckman, Mandy Condon, Chris Schrolucke and Heather Howe.
"The biggest thing I think of when I look back on our team that season is that after sharing the MAC title the year before, this team took nothing for granted," he pointed out. "The girls continued to work hard and didn't sit back and rest in any of their matches. They knew they weren't going to be handed anything in their senior year and they had an outstanding work ethic. If you can have a strong work ethic in high school sports, that can make up for areas you may be lacking in talent or if you are small on your numbers."
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