Girls Volleyball: Strong bond paying off for Central Crossing

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Delaney Pfeiffer, a senior libero, is one of two returning starters who are expected to lead the Central Crossing girls volleyball team.

Meredith Shifley definitely knows her five seniors on the Central Crossing girls volleyball team.

The fourth-year coach worked with the players as seventh-graders before she left to coach at Grandview for one season. She returned to take over the Comets during their freshmen year, which has put her in tune with the players.

"I have coached them five of the last six seasons, and I think that bond has carried over," said Shifley, whose team finished 6-15 overall and 3-7 in the OCC-Central Division last season. "They all make sure they're on same page and work together. They are very used to each other and they have built a relationship with me and the team."

The Comets return four players with varsity experience -- all seniors -- with two being starters a year ago.

Right-side hitter Olivia Everett had 86 kills, 124 digs and 24 aces last season, and libero Delaney Pfeiffer (honorable mention all-league) had a team-high 195 digs.

"Olivia is in her fourth year on varsity and this is the third for Delaney," Shifley said. "They have really taken on the role as leaders for us. They're doing what they can to help the program."

Casey Brooks saw time at middle hitter last season, and Grace Watkins played at defensive specialist.

"I think things have gone well early on," Pfeiffer said. "We have been here for three or four years on varsity, and the relationship that we have built up is really showing."

Also in the lineup are junior Rosalyn Beckwith at setter, junior Maddy Myers at middle hitter and juniors Belle Lukemire and Maggie Lukemire at outside hitter.

Senior right-side hitter Madison Copas and sophomore setter Amy Thompson round out the roster.

The Comets were 1-3 after losing to Grove City 25-22, 25-16, 25-19 on Aug. 29. They beat Fairbanks 25-16, 31-29, 25-22 on Aug. 22, but lost to Upper Arlington 25-18, 25-17, 25-18 on Aug. 26 and Hilliard Bradley 25-13, 25-20, 25-23 on Aug. 27.

"Coach Shifley has been stressing communication," Everett said. "We work on a lot of drills where we have to talk to each other and move our feet. We definitely have gotten better at communicating on the floor."

The Comets have moved to the OCC-Buckeye, which also includes Groveport, Lancaster, Newark, Pickerington Central and Reynoldsburg. They begin league play Sept. 10 at Lancaster.

Greyhounds under new leadership

Grove City has a new coach as Erin Vanderzwart has replaced Alan Pham, who stepped down after 12 seasons.

Vanderzwart, 40, coached the freshman team at Grove City in 2013 and 2014.

"I took some time off when my own children were small and then when the opening came through this year I reassessed and decided to throw my hat in the ring and ended up with the job," said Vanderzwart, who is a math teacher at Grove City. "Alan was the head coach (and) he hired me (in 2013). I absolutely love the move. It was the right time where I am."

The Greyhounds won their first four matches this season. They open OCC-Ohio play Sept. 10 at New Albany.

After OCC realignment, the other teams in the league are Gahanna, Pickerington North, Westerville Central and Westland.

Last season, Grove City went 15-9 overall and finished third in the OCC-Ohio at 6-4, behind champion Gahanna (10-0). The Greyhounds reached a Division I district final before losing to Olentangy Orange 25-14, 25-21, 25-17.

"I'm really excited," Vanderzwart said. "We have a strong senior class coming back. We have seven returning letterwinners and we're looking for some of these seniors to step up and take that leading role."

Senior outside hitter Lauren Lucas was second-team all-league last season, and senior middle hitter Emily Parrett was honorable mention all-league.

Also back are seniors Rylee Jones (setter), Livvy Ouse (libero), Kayla Rutan (setter) and Bre Westerfield (middle hitter) and junior Lilly Parrett (right-side hitter).

Other players are juniors Kamryn Gries (defensive specialist), Mackenna Hines (right-side hitter/outside hitter), Scarlett Rahrig (right-side hitter/outside hitter) and Laykin Sigman (outside hitter).

"We are working on team unity since we lost basically the summer to jell," Vanderzwart said. "We lost our first week of actual practice to jell, so we've been working on team building and team unity and we're really working on trusting each other."

A key loss to graduation was outside hitter Molly Michalak, who was named first-team all-district and all-league. She is playing at Eastern Kentucky.

--Frank DiRenna

Eagles looking for winning season

Grove City Christian coach Joe Bradford hopes his team can improve on last year's finish of 8-15 overall and 3-9 in the MSL-Cardinal.

The Eagles were 1-1 before opening league play Sept. 1 against Harvest Prep.

"It's a nice group," said Bradford, who is in his 12th season. "It a good group to be around. We have a lot of experience back. It's always nice to have an experienced setter back (in) Alaina Dawson. We're looking for big things from her."

Dawson, a senior, was honorable mention all-district and all-league last season.

Also back are seniors Brooke O'Dell (outside hitter), Tara Johnson (opposite hitter) and Taylor Rice (defensive specialist) and juniors Berenice Espinosa (defensive specialist), Kristen Phelps (defensive specialist), Alayna Riggs (middle hitter) and Bryanna Trout (middle hitter).

"Offensively, our middles are going to drive the boat," Bradford said. "Alayna Riggs and Bryanna Trout got some great experience last year. Both are hard workers. They give us a middle presence that's going to be hard for other teams to compete with. Riggs is also a high-level blocker. It's going to be a tough challenge for other teams.

"We have a lot of balance. We should be hard to defend as long as we pass the ball."

Other players are senior Jamie Dozier (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and sophomores Sienna Brunicardi (setter/outside hitter) and Carissa Hunt (outside hitter).

"It's been a lot more challenging than anything we've dealt with before," Bradford said of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "We waited and started probably a week later than we usually do in June. We've done as much as we've been allowed to do."

--Frank DiRenna

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At a glance

CENTRAL CROSSING

*Coach: Meredith Shifley, fourth season

*Top players: Casey Brooks, Olivia Everett, Delaney Pfeiffer and Grace Watkins

*Key losses: Jordan Brothers, Olivia Castle, Morgan Geddes and Mackenzie Keller

*Last season: 6-15 overall

*2019 OCC-Central standings: Dublin Coffman (10-0), Upper Arlington (8-2), Hilliard Davidson (5-5), Marysville (4-6), Central Crossing (3-7), Westland (0-10)

*2019 postseason: Lost to Olentangy 25-18, 25-14, 25-12 in first round of Division I district tournament

GROVE CITY

*Coach: Erin Vanderzwart, first season

*Top players: Lauren Lucas and Emily Parrett

*Key losses: Lexi Bapst, Lauren Clark and Molly Michalak

*Last season: 15-9 overall

*2019 OCC-Ohio standings: Gahanna (10-0), Pickerington North (7-3), Grove City (6-4), Pickerington Central (3-7), Reynoldsburg and Lancaster (both 2-8)

*2019 postseason: Defeated Logan 25-16, 25-14, 25-15; def. North 25-23, 25-23, 25-21; def. Big Walnut 26-24, 25-22, 15-25, 25-21; lost to Olentangy Orange 25-14, 25-21, 25-17 in Division I district final

GROVE CITY CHRISTIAN

*Coach: Joe Bradford, 12th season

*Top players: Alaina Dawson, Alayna Riggs and Bryanna Trout

*Key losses: Brooke Benson, Odette Espinosa, Madeline Lewis and Ashley Stoll

*Last season: 8-15 overall

*2019 MSL-Cardinal standings: Berne Union (11-1), Fairfield Christian (10-2), Fisher Catholic (9-3), Zanesville Rosecrans (6-6), Grove City Christian and Millersport (both 3-9), Harvest Prep (0-12)

*Note: Corning Miller has joined the MSL-Cardinal.

*2019 postseason: Lost to Shekinah Christian 28-26, 25-4, 25-22 in first round of Division IV district tournament

Senior outside hitter Lauren Lucas is among seven returning letterwinners for the Grove City girls volleyball team and first-year coach Erin Vanderzwart.