WEST ALEXANDRIA — Miami East has won the Cross-Country Conference volleyball championship for each of the past six years. But if Twin Valley South has anything to say about it, they will break that streak by winning the crown for themselves in 2016.
Longtime coach Leslie Roberts has eight lettermen returning this year, after a 13-9 season last year. Roberts led her team to a string of three conference titles in 2005, 2006, and 2007.
“We were competitive last year,” Roberts said. “We had a second round tournament loss to Riverside DeGraff.”
South didn’t lose anyone from last year, because the team had no seniors in 2015.
Key among the returnees are All-CCC first-team player senior Abby Beneke, second team All-CCC player senior Madison Wright, and junior All-CCC Special Mention Mylan Crews.
Emma Fergus and Delaney Adams are senior lettermen who will be key factors in leading the Lady Panthers to victory.
“Beneke is our underclassman Player of the Year from last year in District 15,” said coach Roberts. “She’s pretty strong, and should be our best player.”
“It seems like the time has gone by really fast,” said Beneke, who is also an accomplished track runner. “We are really excited for this year because we lost no seniors and we are ready to make this year special. We’ve just been building on last year — everyone is doing their skills and figuring out what’s best for the team.”
Fergus is one of the four senior team captains.
“I started playing volleyball in seventh grade — it was completely new to me at the time,” Fergus said. “I have loved it ever since. This is my third year on the varsity, and I love it so much. I expect our team to do very well this year, I think we have more people helping out this year and our coach is awesome. She pushes us hard and expects the best out of us.”
“I’ve played for a long time,” Madison Wright said. “We did fairly well last year, and I’m with my fellow seniors — we can do so much better this year.”
Adams is also back for her final year.
“I started volleyball with my friends Madison, Emma, and Abby, so we are really close,” Adams said. “Volleyball has been my favorite sport. We have a lot of experience and all of us do very well. I help encourage the younger players so that when they become upperclassmen, they can lead the younger players in the future as well.”
In the junior class, TVS has Crews, Audrey Chesney, Abby Bingham, and Samantha Jenecek.
One sophomore, Sidney Mowell, and freshmen Zoe Utsinger round out the varsity roster.
“Mylan returns as a solid setter for us; it’s good for a team to have an experienced setter,” Roberts said. “Our strength of the team is how they get along so well together. They really let a lot of things roll off their backs and have fun as a team. Defensively, we’d like to bring our game up a bit more, but for now we are still working on that.
“The newest face on the team is Utsinger,” Roberts added. “She is a tall, versatile net-player and she is really honing her skills nicely.”
“Our expectations are very high here. In my tenure here, some of the alumni players who come back to see me have said that I have lightened up. But I’m still very demanding of the kids and make sure they are disciplined on and off the court, athletically and academically.”
“Miami East is THE toughest challenge in the conference,” Roberts of evaluating the CCC this season. “We anticipate that Arcanum and Covington will also be very tough.
“We have had some tough scrimmages to prepare our team. We’ve scrimmaged up north against some Division I schools, then we scrimmaged against Talawanda and a few Division I and Division II schools out of Cincinnati. The indication that I have is that we are going to be strong and competitive, but we still need to get over that hump against the tougher league opponents on our schedule.
“I feel confident that our summer camps, our team camp, our scrimmages over the summer and preseason is a true test of what we can do — and we are ready,” Roberts said.
Twin Valley South opens the season on Monday, Aug. 22, on the road against Stivers, and Tuesday, Aug. 23, at Madison.
Reach Oliver Sanders at 937-683-4062 or on Twitter @osanders _RH