Monroeville takes on New Bremen in other state semifinal

They both have talent, state rankings and experience, but New Bremen’s experience is more recent and award winning.

The third-ranked Cardinals enter today’s 2 p.m. Division IV state semifinal with Monroeville with a 23-4 record, two All-Ohioan veterans and five other returners from last year’s state championship team.

It was the first team state title in school history and it came in New Bremen’s first trip to the state tournament.

And it has only fed the desire for more, coach Diana Kramer said.

“The girls, once you get a little taste of it, you just stay hungry for more,” she said.

But Monroeville also has that hunger.

The 24-3 Eagles boast a pair of their own All-Ohio players, including one who played on the 2015 state semifinalist team. And Monroeville coach Kendra Snook thinks New Bremen’s state title experience at the Nutter Center isn’t insurmountable.

“I don’t feel like my kids are nervous. Even if they weren’t on the court three years ago, they were there as a program (to watch),” Snook said. “But New Bremen is very familiar with the venue. I think that definitely is a challenge, with the big facility, although I don’t think it is as big of a challenge because we have that little bit of familiarity with the venue.”

The Cardinals back last year’s title experience with weapons, though.

For starters, Kramer was named this year’s coach of the year in Division IV.

Then there are the All-Ohioans.

Junior Macy Puthoff — an all-around threat at middle hitter, outside hitter and defensive specialist — was a first-team pick. She ranks fifth on the team with 168 kills, but adds 34 aces, 60 blocks and 176 digs. She’s even tossed up 70 assists.

Senior middle hitter/outside hitter Rachel Kremer landed on the second team after tallying 178 kills, 43 aces, 48 blocks and 130 digs.

The others back from last year’s title team are senior defensive specialist/libero Blake Snider (238 digs) senior setter/defensive specialist Abbi Thieman (42 aces, 117 digs, 392 assists), junior outside hitter/right-side hitter Taylor Paul (179 kills, 44 aces, 67 digs), senior setter Madison Pape (23 aces, 431 assists, 75 digs) and sophomore Claire Pape, who plays right-side hitter, middle hitter and setter (187 kills, 60 blocks).

Sophomore Josie Rienhart (179 kills, 39 aces, 34 digs) and junior Ashton Heitkamp (72 kills, 16 blocks) add depth.

“I think they’re very similar to us, to where they spread the ball around,” said Snook, who garnered one of the four Division IV Coaching Achievement Awards this year. “They serve aggressively, so we’re going to have to concentrate on our ball control. And their experience … will allow them to have that confidence going into the Nutter Center.”

Facing a near-mirror opponent was something Kramer also highlighted.

“I think that we’re almost identical. We both lost end of the year matches to conference opponents, which took the conference championship away from us,” she said. “People said that we couldn’t (get to state) and we both did. We’re both very balanced in every aspect of the game, so I think it’s about as evenly matched as you can get it.

“I think we’re an evenly matched team,” Kramer said. “I think Kendra is a phenomenal coach — her teams are always really, really good — and I’m glad that I can call her my friend. I don’t really know if anybody has an advantage in any aspect, I think it’s just going to be what team settles in and what team plays their style on their side of the court.”

The ninth-ranked Eagles, at state for just the second time in school history, will try to do that with their own talent and experience.

Senior libero Stacia Stieber, who played on Monroeville’s 2015 state semifinal team, gained first-team All-Ohio honors by registering 608 digs — more than double of any teammate — along with 58 assists and 32 aces.

Sophomore right-side hitter/middle blocker Kylee Brooks — the tallest Eagle at 5-10 — was an honorable mention All-Ohioan after providing a team-best 304 kills to go with 38 aces, 71 blocks and 92 digs.

The offense, though, runs through junior Camryn Hedrick, who enters today’s match with 1,049 assists in her first year at setter.

“We have five hitters that have over 170 kills this year because she sets the ball very well,” Snook said. “We’ve played a lot of tough matches, a lot of long matches, and that allows you to get the kills.”

Hedrick has also provided 22 aces, 31 blocks and 203 digs.

Rounding out the attack are junior Kelsie Palmer (256 kills, 26 aces, 79 total blocks, 15 solo blocks), freshman Graisyn Yoder (220 kills, 57 aces, 16 blocks, 177 digs), junior Maura Brown (177 kills, 39 blocks), junior Adrian Barman (171 kills, 34 aces, 26 blocks, 295 digs), senior Maddie Elmlinger (214 digs) and senior Josee Brown (161 digs).

The winner plays for the state title at 11 a.m. Saturday against the victor between Calvert and Portsmouth Clay.

And getting to this week has been more than wishful thinking, Snook said.

“I think the coaching staff and the players, since Day 1, thought we had the talent and potential to get to where we’re at right now,” she said. “Even though our hitters are young, our defense is experienced. We know we had a strong foundation this year.

“I would say our biggest strength is how we play as a team. We have that senior leadership that is our driving force for our defense,” she said. “They have been playing very well in the tournament run and they play well together.”