VOLLEYBALL | Blue Devils set high goals after district runner-up season

Roger Gordon
Correspondent
Tallmadge's Emma Eyre hits against Akron East's Dantea Hopson and Mykia Whitehead during a 2019 match. Eyre is a senior returning starter for the Blue Devils.

It’s going to be tough for this season’s Tallmadge volleyball team to match what last year’s squad accomplished. Last season, the Blue Devils posted a 22-7 record and advanced to a Division II district final, where they lost in five sets to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

“The seniors we lost to graduation left a lot of holes,” second-year head coach Jim Maloof said. “There was a lot of experience and three- and four-year starters there. And the American Conference has a lot of good teams.”

The young ladies that Maloof was referring to are setter Amelia Perdue, outside hitters Jill Catalano and Sydney Kirker and middle hitter Katie Seeker.

Leading the way for Tallmadge this season are seniors Emma Eyre and Kelsie Horner. Eyre is an outside hitter, and Horner is the libero.

“Emma brings a lot to the team across the board. She’s going to play all the way around,” said Maloof. “She can hit from the right side or the left side effectively, and we can also get her to do some stuff in the middle. When she gets to the back row, she’s going to do a good job there because of her hustle. She’s going to pick up a lot of balls and play great defense. She also has a good work ethic.

“Kelsie is another hard worker. One of the things she does best is covering our hitters. I’ve never seen a player pick up more blocked hits, so she keeps a lot of balls alive. She just has a sense of being able to save that ball from being a blocked, kill, and giving us another chance to win the point and extend the rally. She makes a lot of nice passes moving around on the back of the court.”

Senior defensive specialist Kaela Skubic will be another key contributor.

“Kaela has an outstanding platform,” Maloof said. “She does a great job digging those hard hit balls down the line. She’s been on fire and does a great job.”

Three players moving up from the junior varsity team are junior middle hitter Mia Hurst, sophomore middle hitter Kendall Kirkland and sophomore outside hitter Zoe Rensel.

“Mia is very athletic, very quick,” said the coach. “She’s going to do a good job as a hitter and as a blocker.

“Kendall is tall and does a good job of spreading her hits around the court. She’s able to see the block, and she’s able to move it side to side and avoid that block. She gets a nice snap on the ball putting it down, forcing the defense to move up on the court, which is nice because once she can get them up, she can hit the ball a little bit deeper. She’s been doing a good job on her lateral movement, her blocking. She gives us a lot of options.

“Zoe is going to bring a lot of intensity. She’s improving at a very fast rate. She’s bringing a good, solid contact on the outside and has the ability to put that ball away. She does a good job just powering through. Watching her develop, I’m really curious to see where she goes.”

Also bringing much to the table will be junior setter Ellie Kirker, Sydney’s sister, and senior right-side hitter Maddie Arnold.

“Ellie is a fantastic setter,” Maloof said. “She has great hands, good court awareness and a really high volleyball IQ. She’s going to be a great weapon in the front row and in the back row.

“Maddie is going to hit from all three positions in the front row. She brings some varsity experience. She has the ability to move that ball around. She can run the quick stuff, she can run the high stuff and she can run the plays. She also brings versatility.”

Other team members are senior Mia Marino and sophomore Ella Bee.

Maloof’s assistant coaches are Mark Helmuth and Sydney Schertzinger.

Despite the loss of the four aforementioned players, Maloof and his team still aim for high places.

“The team goal is always the same every single year,” he said. “If you don’t go out setting your goals high to achieve the best, there’s no way you’re ever going to achieve them. So we’re always going to set the goals to be the best. It’s going to be tough, but we’re still going to set the goal there.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how this season plays out because, given the fact that you’re on, you’re off, you’re on and you’re off due to the pandemic, the biggest key is going to be the focus, to stay driven and make sure you’re ready for whatever comes you’re way because you don’t know what the next week is going to bring.

Tallmadge was scheduled to open the season against Suburban League crossover rival Stow-Munroe Falls Aug. 22.

Tallmadge's Kelsie Horner dives to keep a ball in play next to Jill Catalano against Aurora in a 2019 match. Horner is a senior returning starter for the Blue Devils.