By SCOTT COTTOS
Sydney Johnson, having just completed her sophomore year, was among the students displaced when St. Wendelin High School closed in the spring of 2017.
The Fostoria resident was among several from the city’s Catholic school who subsequently enrolled at Tiffin Calvert. And as a member of the Senecas volleyball team, she’s gotten more than she bargained for.
“I was just, like, ‘OK, I’ll go to this new school and see what happens,'” said Johnson, now a senior and one of three former St. Wendelin students on the team. “I never thought in a million years that I’d be going to state.”
Indeed, she and her teammates have earned their way into today’s Division IV state semifinals at Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton.
Calvert, ranked 13th in the state coaches association’s final Division IV poll, will face unranked Portsmouth Clay in today’s noon match. Both teams will go in with 24-3 records.
The second semifinal, slated for 2 p.m., will pit defending state champion New Bremen (23-4), ranked third, against No. 9 Monroeville (24-3). Today’s winners will meet in Saturday’s 11 a.m. championship match.
And the Senecas have designs on being the ones left standing at the end.
“Why stop now?” Calvert coach Lori Rombach said after her squad’s 25-21, 25-14, 25-23 victory over fourth-ranked Leipsic in last Saturday’s regional final at the Elida Fieldhouse. “Somebody has to win. Why can’t it be us?”
Calvert, the Sandusky Bay Conference River Division champion, earned its first trip to the state tournament in Rombach’s first year as head coach. She inherited a team that was 19-4 last season, and the players said she’s had a big hand in making it better.
“Everything has changed this year,” said senior middle hitter Zoe Meyer, who led the Senecas with eight kills and five blocks against Leipsic. “Our mentality has changed. Our chemistry has changed. We are a completely new team this year. We have a lot of the same girls, but we are a new team this year and it’s so amazing — so amazing.”
Rombach said gaining a sense of trust throughout the team has been important to its success.
“They believe in each other and they believe in me,” she said. “I feel like they believe in me. I’ve had to make some difficult decisions, but they trust me and I trust them. … There are great girls who sit on our bench that don’t even get on the floor and they’re trusting me to put the girls who I feel can get the win on the floor.
“It’s a good team. It’s a really good team. We have some great senior leaders and we have some selfless girls on the bench who are supporting our girls on the floor.”
Ashlyn Jones, a 5-foot-8 senior, leads a balanced hitting attack for the Senecas with 204 kills, while 5-10 senior Lexie White, a third-team all-Ohio choice, is next with 200. Emma White, a 5-7 freshman, is first in aces with 61 and assists with 455. Shelby Hemminger, a 5-6 senior third-team all-Ohio selection, has team highs of 373 digs and 278 serve receptions. The 5-10 Meyer is the leading blocker with 138.
“I can’t help but think of the days in June and July when we were just gritting it out and it was for moments like this,” an emotional Rombach said after the victory over Leipsic. “And we did it. I’m just so proud of them.”
Jensen Warnock, a 5-11 second-team all-Ohio pick, has a team-high 429 kills for Clay, which is the only Division IV state semifinalist from outside the Northwest District and, like Calvert, is making its first state appearance.
Warnock’s setter, 5-5 senior Lila Brown, received honorable mention all-Ohio recognition. Skylar Artis, a 5-6 senior, owns a season-high 265 digs, while 5-1 senior Shaelyn Vassar is tops in serve receptions with 382 and 5-11 Taylor Lewis is the top blocker with 41.
New Bremen placed third in the powerful Midwest Athletic Conference under state coach of the year Diana Kramer. The Cardinals sport a first-team all-Ohio selection in junior Macy Puthoff, who is tied with sophomore Claire Pape for the team lead in blocks with 60. Pape is the leader in kills with 187.
Second-team all-Ohio choice Rachel Kremer, a senior, has a team-high 317 serve receptions. Other team leaders are junior Taylor Paul with 44 aces, senior Madison Pape with 431 assists and senior Blake Snider with 238 digs.
For Monroeville, 5-1 senior Stacia Stieber owns team-highs of 608 digs and 356 serve receptions, as well as a spot on the first-team all-Ohio team. Kylee Brooks, a 5-10 sophomore, is the team leader in kills with 304, while senior Camryn Hedrick has 1,049 assists .