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AW Volleyball Eyes Repeat NLL Title Run

AW senior Bella Troiani (left) and freshman Eva McClure go up for a block in preseason action last weekend. Last season, the Generals captured their first Northern Lakes League championship since 2002. MIRROR PHOTO BY KEVIN FINNIGAN

BY JOEL SENSENIG | MIRROR SPORTS — Between 2002 and last fall, the Anthony Wayne volleyball team waited 14 years between Northern Lakes League championships. One could hardly fault coach Norm McGhee if he believes the Generals may have a much shorter wait before the next one. “I’m feeling very excited,” last year’s NLL Coach of the Year said. “I’ve got two of my outside hitters back for their senior year. I’ve got two freshmen that are playing on varsity this year, both middles. They’re going to be awesome.” The senior hitters he’s speaking of are Jillie Grant and Emily Ray, both three-year letter winners entering 2017. Grant, the team’s 2016 most valuable player and Valparaiso University commit, is a first-team NLL and district selection. She recorded 277 kills (.525 percentage) to go along with 185 digs and 21 blocks. “I’m hoping Jillie will put up some numbers that can make her compete for District 7 Player of the Year,” McGhee said, noting 1,000 kills for her career are in the realm of possibilities for Grant. “She just gets more powerful and every year she brings a new shot to her arsenal. She can go line, she can go cross, she can push deep and her defense is phenomenal. She’ll never leave the floor. Same with Emily Ray, so that’s nice when you have hitters that can pass.” Ray, a second-team NLL pick and district honorable mention, had 199 kills, 166 digs and 34 blocks last season. She shares her coach’s enthusiasm for the Generals’ championship chances this season. “I think we should repeat this year,” she said. “We have most of the same talent, so we should do well like we did last year. I think most of our seniors this year will carry the team.” Ray, an aggressive hitter with a remarkable vertical leap, prepared for this season by playing club ball for much of the offseason. “My goal is definitely to be a leader for the team, because our team really needs some leadership,” she said. “Leading by example is very important.” The freshmen middles McGhee mentioned are Lauren Curry and Eva McClure, tasked with helping replace Maddy Pollard, a first-team NLL selection who served as the vocal leader of the Lady Generals. “Obviously, we’re going to miss Maddy,” McGhee admitted. “She was second on the team in kills (202), so that’s a big hole to fill.” He said both Curry and McClure bring a blocking ability and good hands that will toughen up AW’s defense, and that’s only the beginning of their contributions. “Curry can put a ball down inside the 10-foot line,” he said of the freshman who spent her summer dominating opponents’ bats on the softball diamond as a summer league pitcher. Another fresh face and key member of the varsity squad figures to be Olivia Womack in the libero position, replacing the graduated Erin Leupp (189 digs). “I think Olivia’s going to bring a lot to the table,” McGhee said. “She’s a talker and she’s fast. She’ll just be all over the place.” Ray agreed, saying she’s excited to see Womack and sophomore Libby Ludwig get the chance to show off their talents this fall. “It’s not just the seniors that are good,” she said. “The younger kids have a lot of talent, too, and they’ve been working really hard. I’m actually really proud of them because they’ve been doing really good.” Another experienced part of the Generals lineup this fall is senior Bella Troiani, a third-team NLL pick who McGhee called “one of the league’s premier setters last year.” Troiani was second on the team last year in assists (320). McGhee is trying to walk the line between being humble while wanting to set the expectation bar high for this year’s squad. “There’s a good chance that we can do it,” he said of repeating as NLL champions. “We’re solid at every position.” Anthony Wayne won the NLL from 2000 to 2002 and it’s clear McGhee sees that as a possibility from 2016 to 2018. Other likely contributors include Ludwig, who got some varsity experience last year filling in for an injured Troiani, and senior Yvonne Fullerton, an opposite player who showed the ability last year to make an impact at the net. “(Libby) is the future of my setting,” McGhee said. “She just wants to learn. She told me her goal is to be the all-time assists leader. She’ll put up numbers and she’ll be good.” While McGhee sees the Generals near the top of the NLL this fall, he knows there will be plenty of teams in the mix. He believes Perrysburg will be in the running for the top of the league, while Bowling Green, although it lost some key contributors, is always tough. Springfield always has spoiler potential as well, he noted. “Southview to me is going to be the surprise this year,” he said. “Watch out for Southview.” Other varsity team members are seniors Hanna Sickelbaugh, Eve Sroczynski and Jordan Lee and juniors Taylor Case and Maya Vogel. Jillian Stawicki serves as McGhee’s assistant, while Kris Witker is the new JV coach and Andrea Helminiak takes over the reins as freshman coach. The Generals open their season at Clay on Tuesday, August 22.

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