Entering her second year as Stow-Munroe Falls volleyball coach, Liz McDade is about to see a new crop of players take the reins.
Stow doesn’t have much choice.
In 2018, Stow went 16-9, including 9-5 in the Suburban League National Conference. McDade led the Bulldogs back to the Division I district final, losing in four sets to Walsh Jesuit.
"I definitely feel like it was a good season for it being our seniors’ send-off year," McDade said. "Just the entire season was good."
However, McDade has to deal with some big graduation losses, with none larger than All-Ohioan Lizzy Stefanov, who now is playing at Tulane University. Multi-year starters Lauren Fair (setter), Claire O’Verko (libero) and Brooke Britton (hitter) also graduated.
"Four varsity starters is not going to be easy to replace," McDade said. "We have seven seniors here, though. This year, we’re going to be doing a lot of switching around to find the right combination.
"We are fortunate we have great athletes all over the floor," she added. "They're going to have good games and bad games. As coach, it’s my job to evaluate what they’re doing and try to put them in right spots."
McDade plans to work from a 5-1 formation this year and still plans to play offensive volleyball, though she wishes to get many of her players involved.
"Last year, It was our mission to spread the ball around," she said. "We have a lot of very talented hitters, so we want to attack with them. Whenever you have depth, you want to be able to use it. The puzzle changes every game."
Regarding the National Conference, McDade said defending champ Wadsworth should be back in the mix, along with a much-improved Nordonia team. Meanwhile, Brecksville-Broadview Heights has a new coach in former Stow mentor Miguel Ramirez.
"In my opinion, the top four teams are going to be right there again," McDade said.
On McDade’s staff, Krissy Darling returns as varsity assistant coach, while former Kent Roosevelt player Hayley Chlad will serve as junior varsity coach. Longtime freshman coach Pam Fair returns as well.
McDade notes her front line is likely to be switched often this season, but there’s a high chance senior Ryleigh Schelien will become Stow’s attacking option at outside hitter. Schelien enjoyed a big season opposite Stefanov last year.
"Ryleigh is going to be bigger this year," McDade said. "She played JO [Junior Olympic volleyball]. She has a great arm swing."
McDade called senior Molly Richards "the most well-rounded volleyball players on our team." Because of that ability, Richards might rotate out of her middle blocker spot to see time at setter this fall.
Senior Kira Philpot has improved dramatically in the last two years and is likely to start at middle or right-side hitter for the Bulldogs.
"She's probably going to lead the whole team in blocks, just because her hands are so big," McDade said.
Another returning frontline player is senior Sam Croyle.
"Sam has always been a good middle [hitter]," McDade said. "We have been working on her back row skills."
McDade called senior Sara Day "one of our leaders," as she could see time at defensive specialist.
"Because I'm not sure where the pieces are going to go, I’m not sure we’re going to use a libero," McDade said. "We’re going to need specialists, if that happens."
Senior defensive specialist Hannah Seckinger could see more playing time if McDade opts for no libero. Rounding out the senior class is Molly Haas, who transferred from Walsh Jesuit and could see time in the back or at right-side hitter.
"Everyone is fighting for their playing time," McDade said. "It’s been a very fun group to coach."
Stow’s junior class includes five junior varsity call ups. Sydney "Stacy" Braunscheidel and Abbie Poole were outside hitters on last year’s JV team, while Emily Dittman and Carly Feckley saw time at middle hitter.
Junior Sydney Uridel could see time at right-side hitter.
One player whose position is certain is sophomore Olivia Harris, who will serve as Stow’s primary setter this fall.
"She’s does a great job spreading the ball around," McDade said. "She does a great job utilizing all the players."
Sophomore hitter Natalie Fairchild could see time at right-side hitter this fall.
Stow was set to open the season with four road games, beginning with a trip to Elyria Saturday at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs will visit Tallmadge Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. and Aurora Aug. 24 at 1:30 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO