BY ANDY ROWER | MIRROR SPORTS — With seven players returning from last year, there is plenty of excitement swirling around Maumee’s 2018 volleyball team.
“It’s a good core group coming back,” said Maumee volleyball coach Lindsay Vannett.
All seven players were either starters or regular contributors in the nine-win 2017 season, the most decorated being sophomore setter/front row hitter Brynn Brown and senior outside hitter Jamyson Butler.
Brown earned first-team honors from the district and second-team accolades from the Northern Lakes League for a freshman season in which she racked up 370 assists, 225 digs, 148 kills and 48 aces.
“Brynn will again do very well for our team this year,” Vannett said.
Butler earned second-team district honors after totaling 291 digs, 155 kills and 56 aces as a junior.
“It’s huge having Jamyson back,” Vannett said. “She’s been with the varsity team in some capacity since she was a freshman. Her leadership and ball control really help our team on offense and defense.”
The Panthers also return their other setter and their other outside hitter in seniors Nicole Archambeau and Lexi Uscilowski.
Despite missing three weeks of games due to illness, Archambeau still managed to post 161 assists, 101 digs and 26 aces, while Uscilowski recorded 184 digs, 68 kills and 22 aces last season.
Also back are Maumee’s defender duo of senior Maddy Foreman (54 digs) and junior Chloe Bunce (56 digs), while junior returner Ashlee Arndt will see time both as a hitter and in the back row after notching 126 digs and nine aces as a sophomore.
“We got quite a bit of our defense back with our returners, so we didn’t start fresh with them,” Vannett said. “We just have to start building on where they left off last year.
“A lot of our core serve receive is back, so we did not have to start fresh from there either. We started stronger than we have in the past – not having to start with the basics – so we’re starting ahead of where we’ve been.”
Replacing the graduated front row of Olivia Harrison, Tatyana Jackson and Ellie Manley will be a trio of varsity newcomers in seniors Karissa Wilgus and Brianna Zattau and junior Jessica Perrault.
“Jessica and Karissa got some varsity time last year, but they were major players on our JV team,” Vannett said.
When asked if she had seen a big improvement in any particular player, Vannett pointed to Perrault.
“Jessica Perrault is like a completely different kid from last year to this year,” she said. “She played some beach volleyball in the offseason and it really helped develop her game. Her court awareness is better, her jumping ability is better and she is moving faster. She is not only able to hit and block, but is able to step in the back row, serve and play defense if I need her to.”
After a pair of successful basketball and softball seasons last year, Zattau is returning to volleyball after taking a year off.
“Brianna has come into the gym with a determined mindset of earning her spot and she is doing very well,” Vannett said. “She’s competing with Jessica and Karissa, and all three could play in the middle or on the right side at any time.
“There’s a lot of competition in our gym right now, so it’s breeding better players and it’s fun to see.”
Sophomores Beth Brady and Maddie Kontak will also move up from last year’s junior varsity team as defenders and freshman Jolie Sobb could play as both an outside and right side hitter.
“Our defenders all offer different things and will be utilized depending on the opponents we play,” Vannett said. “Jolie has a heck of an arm. She kind of reminds me of Brynn. She really developed in the offseason.”
Maumee’s volleyball coach since 2012, Vannett is returning after taking the 2017 season off for maternity leave.
“It was very exciting for me last year to kind of take a step back and watch them from a more objective perspective,” Vannett said. “I feel like I got to know more of their strengths and weaknesses. It’s nice to be able to start practice that way this year and sell them the things that I’ve noticed.”
Last year’s interim coach, Angie Wannemacher, will stay on as Vannett’s varsity assistant in 2018.
“Having had to adjust to a new coach and now me coming back, along with Coach Wannemacher, they understand going forward that there is a higher level of expectations from us,” Vannett said. “It’s a little bit more intense and a little bit more competitive. They are being held to a bigger standard.”
The Panthers will open the season at Wauseon at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, August 18. Maumee will then play non-league matches against Evergreen (August 21), Bowsher (August 23) and Swanton (August 25) before starting conference play against Anthony Wayne on Tuesday, August 28.
“A big goal we have this year is improving our NLL record,” Vannett said. “Our out-of-league record is usually pretty good. A lot of our wins come from outside the league, so we’re really working on improving our league winning percentage.
“I know the girls want to win at least half their league matches, which is something we have not done in a while.”