Union volleyball look to bounce back competitively in 2018
August 23, 2018


Head Coach: Brian Jesse

2017 Record: 19-18 (L in Districts to West Delaware)

After a tremendous 40-5 season in 2016, the 2017 Union Knights Volleyball team found themselves down six seniors and looking to young members of their roster to fill voids left behind. Another year later, 2018, and the team is older, more experienced, and ready to make a comeback this season.

"Two years ago, we graduated six seniors that were all key contributors and three were All-Staters, so obviously it was hard to replace them," nineth year head coach Brian Jesse said. "Our seniors last season were stronger on the defensive side, which made us rely on some pretty young hitters. Even if our record wasn't great, I thought we had decent year finishing third in our conference behind two State qualifers Dike and Columbus. If you told me at the beginning of last season we finished there, I'd say that's a good year for us."

The 2017 squad that went 19-18 graduated three seniors-Hailee Brown, Haylee Keune and Emily Schmidt- later on, but also developed its youth and gave some upperclassman a chance to minutes they might not have received on a deeper squad.

"I think we have a nice mix of good seniors that have been playing for years and then some girls that have been pushing to play varsity over the years," Jesse said. "Defensively, I feel we look good most of the time and that's where our experience lies with the older kids. We are still young with our starting outside hitters being a freshman (Lexi Nolan) and a sophomore (Belle Weber). With have experience back at setting with Hannah Gates and Allie Driscol having a year each under their belt. Hopefully, we are more confident there."

Senior Hannah Gates finished last season with 253 assists and 85 successful serves on 98 attempts (.867), playing in 52 sets on the season. Gates has been playing volleyball since fifth grade and now heading into her final season, she wants to see her team thrive during the regular and post season.

"We played really tough teams last season right from the start, but I feel that gave us a lot more potential this season," Gates said. "As a team, we've been working on drills to get better on defense with blocking and hitting because it all adds up. I've been working on reading the middles to have a better set to the open hitter."

Gates is one of eight seniors including Allie and Megan Carty, Cylie McNeal, Jayden Jolley, Chloe Heitmann, Kayla Robb and Keagan Clapp that will compete for the Knights this season. While none of these athletes competed in all 99 sets last year for the team, Megan Carty played a pivotal role offensively with 130 kills and 68 successful serves on 81 attempts (.840) as well 14 blocks (6 solo) in 2017. Taking up the middle for Union this season, Carty hopes to improve his contribution and be even more of an impact player for the Knights this season.

"Along with many others, I've worked on being more consistent, which is what Coach Brian is looking for in all of his varsity players," Carty said. "Hitting, communication, ball placement, it's all about more consistency. He wants to be sure he can rely on everyone to get the job."

Rounding out the upperclassman are juniors Jasmyn Bush and Sam Glenn who both saw the floor last season. Glenn served as a role player off the bench with 14 blocks (8 solo) and 10 kills. However, Bush over the season grew in her role and was second on the team with 211 kills, 274 successful serves on 293 attempts (.935) and 186 digs on defense. Both will see more playing time for the Knights.

"Jasmyn Bush in her third year on varsity is looking good," Jesse said. "We asked her last year to step up and take a bigger role. She struggled at times, but has adjusted to it and is set to have a great season. Megan Carty has been hitting well from the right and middle. Hannah is setting well. Allie Carty is passing and playing defense well. Cylie McNeil has come on as a senior in her first varsity action and has a chance to contribute."

Sophomores Belle Weber and Allie Driscol were asked last season to contribute heavily right out of the gate, with both posting strong seasons. Driscol became the Knights' best facilitator with 538 on the season along with 70 digs, serving 270 times successfully on 291 attempts (.928) and hitting 34 aces. Weber returns after being selected to 3rd Team All-State last season, posting 410 kills to lead her team, 66 successful serves on 69 attempts (.957) and 35 digs. Jesse believes Weber is even stronger this season with a year under her belt and along with freshman Lexi Nolan, the two will execute a majority of the Union offense as outside hitters.

"Our middle attack needs to improve if we are going to be one of the top teams in our class," Jesse said. "We need more production there and block better out of the middle. It also always comes down to serving and receiving and how well you do both. We've been looking pretty good in practice so far and at camp, but until you get into a match against a top server, you don't know what it'll be like."

The team has taken part in several volleyball camps over the summer with great attendance from members of the squad. Through these camps and early practices, Jesse believes he's seen chemistry develop faster than last year.

"I definitely think we are further along than we were last year breaking in all these new girls," Jesse said. "We don't want to peak too early, but we are pace to be good this seasson. Hopefully we find out in a few weeks."

That chemistry will be tested early as the team travels to a tournament at high-ranked Independence and will see strong non-conference competition from Xavier, West Delaware and Marion in addition to their tough conference schedule.

"Dike is always a tough opponent and top-ranked almost every year," Carty said. "Sumner-Fredericksburg has a lot of tall girls good at blocking, so those are two to look out for. Everyone in this conference will be good competition."

Having lost several tight games and struggled in tournament play, Gates feels more confident in herself and trusting her teammates this season. She sat and watched the 2016 team dominate Class 3A her sophomore year and hopes to follow in their footsteps.

"Seeing that success in 2016, I know what it takes and how much hard work it will take to get back to there," Gates said. "We all are working harder to get back to State and improve. I'm ready for a great senior and to see how far we can go together."

After seeing what the team was capable of at summer camps, Jesse reiterates his confidence in the squad and hopes they can take advantage of more firepower, a strong defense, and shore up their blocking for another great season.

"This season is a long road we have to keep improving on," Jesse said. "I'm happy where we are at now, but at the same time I know we have a lot of steps to go through to return to State. All of my good teams over the years have gone through adversity and we will have to see how this team handles adversity. If we can respond well, we will be ok."

Union will open its season at Independence for non-conference tournament play on Saturday, August 25 before their first home game on Thursday, Sept. 4.


Regular Size Dysart Reporter