In 2008, the Buckeye Central volleyball team made it all the way to the state semifinals. Since then however, the Buckettes have been blocked out of a return trip, reaching at least the district semifinal, but not claiming a title in each of the past three seasons.
That drought ended Thursday in Willard, as Buckeye Central dispatched of Norwalk St. Paul, the team the bounced the Buckettes each of the last two years, in three games.
Buckeye Central coach Bill Bonham said the difference this season comes down to one thing - "teamwork."
"That's all it comes down to. The camaraderie this group has and the love they have for each other," Bonham said. "And I use the word 'love' because these kids really do care about each other. They trust in each other and have a lot of faith in each other. They make things happen together. That's what it comes down to."
While none of the girls on the current Buckeye Central roster were in high school during the state year, two of its players did get to experience the run.
Outside hitter Sammi Marcum's sister Trenna, and setter Kilee Kimmel's sister Jenna each played on the 2008 team. Jordan is now Buckeye Central's JV coach. But Bonham says this is an opportunity for this year's team to forge its own name.
"We have our own identity now. We have no affiliation with that 2008 team," he said. "All those players are gone now. This group wanted to make a statement for themselves. They didn't want to be Trenna's sister or Jenna's sister. They want to be the ones that the next generation looks up to and points to."
The Buckettes (24-2) will play their first regional game since that 2008 season tonight at 6 p.m. in Elida against Oregon Cardinal Stritch.
The Cardinals come in 18-8, including losses to Midland Athletic League teams Hopewell-Loudon and St. Wendelin. Bonham, though, is familiar with some of the players and coaches, and knows the talent they possess.
"Their libero is Abby Mass, a former Calvert player who played several years at Black Swamp," Bonham said. "We know she's a good player and has some good training. We know some of their coaches involved in (Toledo Volleyball Club). So the knowledge and information is there.
"From talking to other coaches, we know they struggled against the MAL schools they've played this season. There haven't been any big standout players for them, but that's not all that dissimilar to us. "We're not getting overly confident, because that's our mentality. This is a group of kids that are just playing and playing very well right now. These are the dangerous teams. They're not ranked; you don't hear much about them. They're your typical Hoosier team."
Cardinal Stritch doesn't bring a great deal of size to the table. Their tallest player is 5-foot-10 Sara Turner-Smith. Other than that, most of the Cardinal hitters are in between 5-6 and 5-8. Bonham, though, isn't counting that as an advantage for his team, because athleticism can make up for size.
"It all depends on how athletic they are," he said. "We're not overly big. We have a big freshman in Jenna Delarber. Sammi Marcum and Maddie Williams, they just get in the air so high. Sierra Hanes, she only goes 5-8, but she has a big verticle. Our kids are athletic and quick on their feet. If Stritch is similar to that, it could be a great matchup. Sometimes the height you play at is not the height you stand at."
When asked to pinpoint a key to moving to the regional final, Bonham said it came down to self-discipline.
"That's all there is to it," he said. "We've been playing a certain style of ball all season. We haven't had any of those matches where we've played to the level of our competition in a downgrade. We're challenging ourself in a manner to make every play and limit our own mistakes and we've been doing that. Our girls have been taking care of the ball while staying aggressive. Ill put my girls up against any other team in the state."