By Gary R. Rasberry
One coach said that the Division IV volleyball sectional at New Bremen was "the mini-state tournament" due to five of the six teams playing there being ranked in the top 20 in the coaches' poll.
If that was a little bit true then, the Division IV regional at Vandalia is just a bit bigger version of that.
Four of the top five teams in the state will battle for the one invitation to the state final four at Wright State University next week.
The Redskins (23-3), ranked first in the final poll, plays second-ranked Jackson Center (24-2) in the second match at the Student Activity Center at Butler High School on Wednesday night. The first game should be a dandy as well as second-ranked Fairlawn (25-1) plays Shelby County foe and third-ranked Lehman (23-2).
"This is going to be a tough regional, one of the toughest in the state," said St. Henry coach Lori Schwieterman. "With Fairlawn, Jackson Center and Lehman, they all play each other during the season while we just played Lehman. They're fairly familiar with each other. We went down to scout them. They're a tough team and it's going to be a tough match." After going through the first couple of rounds of facing familiar opponents, the Redskins will be facing a team they have not faced this season. Schwieterman thinks this is a plus.
"I think it's an advantage to us how we have come through (the tournament," said Schwieterman. "With the MAC sectional, we're tournament-tested. I don't know if those teams down there have the quality of play through the tournament. We've always had to come ready to play through the tournament. I think that's to our advantage."
While the Tigers, who are making their fourth trip to the regionals, have played MAC teams during the season, they have not faced the Redskins.
That has not kept coach Kim Metz from getting plenty of looks at the Redskins.
"There's so many things St. Henry brings to the game," said Metz. "Lori just has solid players. There's just so many things we have to try and key in on, and I think it's going to boil down to the kids just have to come ready to play."
Metz puts the attack in the hands of her daughter Cara, who was named the Shelby County League Player of the Year. The setter has 706 assists and 234 digs this season for the Tigers. The younger Metz also does damage with the serve, totaling 38 aces on the season.
"She does a great job of running the team," said Schwieterman, who got a chance to scout them following the Redskins' district win on Saturday. "She has a killer serve and distributes the ball nicely to her teammates."
"Cara distributes the ball well," said coach Metz. "That makes everyone a key player. It's amazing for one or two to step and make that attack, it's unbelievable that they can come from behind and step up and take their role seriously."
On the attack, the Tigers will go with Catie Halberstadt and Christy Platfoot. Halberstadt is a veteran who leads the team with 270 kills on the season and has recorded an impressive 321 digs. Platfoot is not far behind in that category. On the opposite side of Halberstadt is Makaine Huffer, who has 149 kills to go with 296 digs.
"They're a very aggressive team -- power volleyball," said Schwie-terman. "They're going to hit the volleyball hard so we have to make sure our blocking is good. Defense is also a key."
"Catie and Christy are two of the more dynamic players that we rely on to make our offense and defense run," said coach Metz. "Catie is all over the court, either for offense or defense. She makes a lot of things happen for us, likewise for Christy. Christy has taken a role where her defense is needed. She has taken that role seriously."
Coach Metz talks about how the team has had plenty of fun this season. That will not change as the Tigers move up to the Sweet 16.
"This is one of their goals from the beginning of the year," said coach Metz. "The season has just been a very even year. The kids are very low-key, push themselves, they believe in themselves. That's how they've played all year. They go out and have a lot of fun on the court. That's been a key."