By Garth Shanklin
For most of the past 18 seasons, the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference National Division volleyball championship has gone through Williamsburg.
With the exception of a few seasons here and there where Clinton Massie and East Clinton earned titles, most of the team championships since the 1998-1999 school year have gone to the Lady Wildcats.
While the Clermont Northeastern Lady Rockets have come on strong in the past five years, their emergence has set up a battle between the two teams that will most likely determine the conference champion.
The two teams met on the court last week in Williamsburg, and much like every opponent save one the Lady Wildcats have faced this season, the Lady Rockets came up short. Williamsburg won the match 25-9, 25-17, 25-18, their 15th consecutive win. That number has since grown to 16 with the Lady Wildcats’ 25-20, 25-7, 25-12 win over Batavia on Monday, Oct. 3. Head coach Ed Stewart says he likes where the team is now compared to where they were in late-August.
“We made a pretty good improvement, I think,” Stewart said. “We haven’t lost since the first day of the season. We haven’t lost a set since then.”
In the past 16 games spanning the SBAAC American Division as well as the in-conference National Division, along with a pair of non-conference games against Cincinnati Christian and Mars Hill Academy, the Lady Wildcats have not lost a set since the 25-23 loss that ended their match against Roger Bacon on Aug. 20. The two sets in that contest are still the only two sets Williamsburg has not won on the season, and Stewart says the team’s depth of talent is one of the reasons why they’re so successful.
“We’ve got 10 girls that are dedicated to Williamsburg volleyball,” Stewart said. “All 10 of them can play, all 10 of them do play and that’s one of the things I like. Every one of my players can play, and they all contribute.”
The depth on the roster is crucial, especially as the season wears on. Players can get tired or injured, and while that hasn’t yet happened to the Lady Wildcats, Stewart has been able to keep the players fresh with his rotation.
“This time of year can drag,” Stewart said. “I’ve coached volleyball for a long time and it can really get draggy this time of year, even when you’re having a good year because kids are tired. With 10 girls, I don’t have anybody who is really tired.”
Another factor in the team’s success is their serve percentage, which is off the charts, according to Stewart.
“Our serving, for the year, is almost 97 percent,” Stewart said. “That means we’re missing one or two serves an entire match, which I’ve never had a player serve that well, much less a team.”
In the team’s win over Batavia, they missed just two serve attempts out of 77. They were a perfect 77-for-77 in the win over Clermont Northeastern. Stewart said that type of serving prowess forces the opponent to make plays.
“When you don’t miss a serve, that puts pressure on the other team to do something with it,” Stewart said. “I’m very, very pleased with that. I’ve had a lot of good teams, but generally somebody couldn’t serve very well or couldn’t do something. With this bunch, they all serve. It just amazes me.”
The reason they’re so successful serving the ball, according to Stewart, is their mentality at the service line. Instead of trying to record an ace every time, the team simplifies their approach.
“We’re not trying to serve for points,” Stewart said. “There are times where we have tried to serve for points, but what we’re trying to do is get the ball across. We’ve got a lot of girls who can hit the ball hard, so we’re just concerned about hitting the ball across so we can play for a point. We think that we can defend well enough to hit, and I think we’re much more apt to hit the ball hard than sit there and serve and miss five or six serves a set.”
Senior Calie Brown is a perfect example of the Lady Wildcats’ serving prowess. On the season, entering Brown had served the ball 247 times and recorded just one error. However, the younger players are just as talented, as freshman Kara Bailey has 290 serves to her name this year and just three errors. Stewart says he was able to see the growth from the beginning of the season to now, not just in Bailey but in the entire team.
“They’ve done much better,” Stewart said. “Our freshman started the year and played a little bit like a freshman, but now, she’s a sophomore in terms of playing time. She’s improved a lot. The sophomores I have and the seniors I have have done a nice job.”
The team’s hustle is also key to their success, according to Stewart.
“We hustle and get back a lot of balls on mis-hits,” Stewart said. “We don’t always make a good pass, but our kids hustle regardless. It’s exciting for me to watch.”
Fans apparently agree with Stewart on that last part, as the Wildcats are routinely playing in front of loud crowds. Stewart said the team feels the support the community and school district give them.
“This is an advantage for us because we have such a nice crowd and the crowd’s into it,” Stewart said. “We get a tremendous amount of support from the school and from the community. I’ve got a lot of parents who work a lot harder than me, they make sure that all I have to do is coach. It’s really neat.”
This is Stewart’s first season with this Williamsburg team. He has served as the Lady Wildcats coach in the past, but this year he finds himself as the third coach the program has had in the past three years.
“I’ve been blessed here given this team,” Stewart said. “Former coaches have helped develop this team, I’m the third coach in three years. They’ve overcome that, which is hard to do. A lot of kids can’t adjust, they did. I think that goes back to the dedication to the tradition that we have here at Williamsburg in volleyball.”
The Lady Wildcats will look to continue their winning ways right on through the post season, as Stewart says the team’s goal is to advance to the regional championship.
‘That’s always the goal,” Stewart said. “It does help, we have our seeding meeting on Oct. 9. Winning the league and going undefeated will certainly help us with our seed in the sectional tournament. Our goal is to get to the district and win the district, get to the region and hopefully win the region.”
Stewart finished by saying the Lady Wildcats have displayed an incredible sense of camaraderie, something he isn’t sure he has ever seen before.
“I’ve been around volleyball a long, long time and I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team where all 10 of them got along so well together and were dedicated to their goal of doing their best and becoming the best team they can become,” Stewart said. “I’ve had great kids and great teams, but these kids were, all 10 of them, they’re looking to be the best they can be, and that’s exciting. I’ve probably coached 800 varsity games or so, and it’s exciting for me to see that.”
The Lady Wildcats visit Blanchester at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6. The team’s final home game of the regular season is on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 6:30 p.m. against Felicity-Franklin.