After two frustrating years taking home the runner-up trophy, New Riegel finally broke through last week defeating Arlington to win the district title.
But lifting the district title trophy was just one goal the Blue Jackets had this year, not the ultimate one.
"They definitely know there's a lot more to work for," said New Riegel coach Cindy Walerius. "They've been saying that the last few years after losing to Mohawk and seeing them go to state two years ago, and seeing Buckeye (Central) go last year, and we beat them in the season, they keep saying 'We're so close. That can be us.' We know what's at stake. We know we have a chance to make it. We just have to go out and do it.
PHOTO BY JILL?GOSCHE
New Riegel’s Lauren Ladd serves in Thursday’s district final match against Arlington in Fostoria. Teammate Morgan Noftz looks on.
"I think they were more relieved about winning district because they've been so close the last few years. That was just one of the goals that they had. They have goals that go well beyond that."
New Riegel will head to Elida Thursday for a Division IV regional semifinal against Toledo Christian. The Blue Jackets and Eagles will be the second match of a doubleheader. McComb and Monroeville play the night's first match.
Walerius admits to not knowing much about Toledo Christian, but says facing an unknown opponent is sometimes better than a familiar foe.
"I'm just thinking that we still have to do what we can do best and that's what we have to do to be successful," she said. "We'll probably have to make adjustments when we see what they tend to do and how to counter that. But sometimes when you play teams so many times and you know them so well, I think that's tougher than when you go up against a team you don't know much about."
One scouting report Walerius received though had a familiar tone to it.
"One of the coaches I talked to about them said their tallest middle is 5-10 and they have a girl that's 5-6 that really jumps well and that can really hit from the outside," she said.
It almost sounds like a scouting report someone would give Toledo Christian about New Riegel and hitters Lauren Ladd and Kara Scherger.
"That's what I thought when I was talking to the one coach," Walerius said. "I'm thinking "Yeah, I can relate to that."
Buffy Ruddy is in her first year coaching Toledo Christian after a long and successful career coaching across the state line in Michigan. She brings in a young team, but a talented one.
"This is my first year with Toledo Christian," Ruddy said. "We have nice core of sophomores complimented by some experienced seniors. They got that attitude that they don't quit. They work hard and it seems like they've been craving someone to push them and get to that next level."
Toledo Christian may have a slight edge on New Riegel when it comes to experience. The three seniors on this year's Eagle team were freshmen when Toledo Christian made a run to the state semifinals in 2010.
Although the seniors didn't see much time on the floor, they are familiar with competing on the biggest of stages. The Eagle roster includes a state track champion and a state track runner-up.
In the same mold, just because New Riegel is a newcomer to regional volleyball doesn't mean the players lack experience. New Riegel's roster boasts several players who have reached the regional and national level of club volleyball. Also, many of the Blue Jackets played on the school's softball team that reached regionals in the spring, and were members of the basketball team that went to the regional finals two years ago. In fact, the basketball regional also was played in Elida.
"A couple of them have already been out on this floor playing on the basketball team," Walerius said. "Ladd has played in a national club championship. Kara's been on a national team. They've had a lot of pressure on the club teams. And with softball last year, they've been to regionals. So they know what to expect at this level.
"Honestly in volleyball, so much of the game is mental and we talk about that quite a bit. We talk about every day in practice certain situations and how to stay focused."
Ruddy agrees about the mental factor in the sport and feels that is one of her team's strengths. Neither team features an abundance of size, but makes up for it in other areas.
"I think we're very mentally strong," Ruddy said. "I think that's a huge advantage to have. We're a good passing team, and that enables us to run a very quick offense.
"I think in the season, we've worn some teams out with our defense. There's not one, but several key defensive players back there."
Walerius says one of the keys to help her Blue Jackets is the team chemistry that exists between the girls on the floor.
"They've been playing together so many years. They're used to what each other can do and what to cover," she said. "Other coaches tell me about problems they've had between girls on the team and we just haven't had that at all. They play together in basketball, softball. They're always around each other and had so much success in the other sports too. They're all about winning together."