At the regional volleyball level, you'd expect a team to have a strong corp of hitters who cause the opposition headaches to prepare for. Marion Pleasant presents a different problem for Upper Sandusky. Ram coach Matthew McConnaughey says the No. 1 weapon on the Spartans to stop is their setter Hunter Atherton.
"We've watched film and the main thing we want to stop is the setter dumping the ball over the net on a good pass," McConnaughey said. "We need to serve tough and play strong at the net.
"We just need to pass well, serve aggressively and play good defense especially if Hunter's going to dump the ball."
Mohawk’s Ali Roeder attacks at the net as Mohawk’s Aubrie Flood and Julie Adelsperger goes up for a block Saturday in Attica at the Division III district finals.
The Rams and the Spartans meet today at 6 p.m. in a Division III regional semifinal at Millbury.
Pleasant head coach Kimberly Atherton says the decision to move the team's best player to a setter role was a difficult one, but one that made the most sense for her team.
"It's been a difficult decision to put her in that role," coach Atherton said. "She's very offensive as a setter as well and can do things in the middle to still get kills. We found out what we lost with the consistency of the set and the ability of getting to the balls Hunter can get to, we lost a lot more. If someone else sets, we might get four or five extra kills out of Hunter, but we lose that middle offense that we have with her in the role."
McConnaughey says his defenders are up to the challenge of handling Atherton and the Spartan hitters.
"They know that's their primary responsibility," he said. "They take it as a personal insult if the ball touches the floor. They'll be ready to go."
The two teams have taken different paths to get to today's match. Upper Sandusky has compiled a 23-2 record on the season and has only dropped a total of 10 games this year. Saturday's district championship win over Mohawk was only the second time this season the Rams have been taken to a full five games.
McConnaughey said he was proud the way his team responded after getting pushed to the limit.
"I think that's huge," he said. "It was only our second five-setter and it was crunch time. Our passing was not what we would normally would like, and we gutted it out and got the win."
Pleasant came into the tournament with a losing record and currently sits at 13-13. However, the Spartans have played a tough schedule against some of the state's top teams - including local powers Mohawk and New Riegel who each beat the Spartans in 3.
Saturday, Pleasant turned back the state's 14th ranked team in Division III, Amanda-Clearcreek, in three games.
"We're very young and we're not very big physically," Atherton said. "So we've had to grow a lot this season. We started off playing a very loaded schedule. We've been trying to beef it up the last few years. With that, we're also in a rebuilding year. We knew that the strength of our schedule would help us at the end of season and in the tournament. We had some bumps and bruises along the way, but it taught us how to compete and how to play with some top teams."
But Wednesday will be another step up as the Rams finished the year ranked sixth, in no small part due to the play of the Rams' three top hitters, Taylor Graboski, Jessi Holly and Molly Owens, each listed at 6-2 on the team's roster.
Coach Atherton said the size disadvantage is something her team cam work around if it executes well in other areas.
"It's going to come down to our passing, and bump control," she said. "Everything we do is very quick. We run very quick balls to the middle. As long as the passes are there we might be able to deceive the blockers a bit and get the best case scenario, one-on-one against the blockers. We're hoping they have size, maybe we have speed out there. Our kids have a lot of fire, a lot of speed. Not many balls hit the floor, at least not without several bodies diving all over the floor. And we have will to win."