Sierra Kirk resists the urge to look ahead, yet every now and then, she can’t help but peek.
“We’re all excited because it’s been about 20 years since Kenton Ridge has been this good,” the Cougars’ workaholic junior setter said. “We’re not really nervous or getting big heads, we’re just taking one game at a time. We know there’s competition to come.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time,” she added. “Going to state is always in the back or our mind, but if you think about that too much you won’t focus on what’s right in front of you.”
Not since a Division III state-runner up finish in 1992 has a Kenton Ridge volleyball team enjoyed such a win-heavy season.
The Cougars, 24-1 and the Central Buckeye Conference, Kenton Trail Division champions at 10-0, are just two W’s shy of tying a school record for victories and haul a 13-match win streak into Saturday’s 4 p.m., D-II district final against Cincinnati Wyoming (22-3) at Kettering Fairmont.
“We’re determined to go in there and just play the way we know we can play and not think about who’s on the other side of the net,” said Kirk, a second-team, All-District and first-team, All-CBC pick who’s racked up 204 digs and a CBC-best 832 assists – 218 more than closest competitor Anyssa Gonzalez of Tecumseh.
“We know Wyoming’s a good team, but we think we can play with anyone. We just have to play our best.”
The Cowboys feature four six-footers and have won 16 straight matches since a 25-22, 25-20 loss at Mason on Sept. 7. They’re led by twin towers Madi Maisel, a 6-4 junior (136 kills, 59 blocks) and Megan Schneider, a 6-0 senior (246 kills, .365 kill efficiency).
Middle blocker Schneider is the premier hitter in the Cincinnati Hills League, averaging 4.47 kills per game. Maisel strikes quickly from the middle and right side, working off slides.
“We can play with them,” assessed KR coach Lori Saunders. “We’ve beaten Division I Troy and Northmont, beaten Tecumseh and Urbana twice. If we keep the nerves away, we can play with them.”
Kenton Ridge packs a balanced, five-hitter attack led by first-team, All-CBC and All-District standouts Taylor Brown (282 kills, 249 digs) and Karrah Batten (239 kills, 50 blocks).
A 5-7 senior middle blocker with serious leap, Batten is the District 9 and CBC Kenton Trail Player of the Year. Four college coaches were in the stands on Saturday as she battled triple block coverage during the Cougars’ 25-18, 25-17, 25-13 sectional-final win over Benjamin Logan.
“This group’s team chemistry is probably the best I’ve ever had,” added Saunders, who guided the Cougars to back-to-back state appearances in 1992 and ’93. “These girls are phenomenal together. That’s why this is working.”
Adding depth are first-team, All-CBC and second-team, All-District selection Julia Littell, a 5-8 junior with 144 kills and 318 digs, and 5-10 junior CBC honorable mention pick Alexis White (161 kills, .480 kill percentage).
The Cougars’ only loss is to cross-town rival Catholic Central, 23-1 and headed to Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. D-IV district final at Troy.
Both are ranked in the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association state poll. Kenton Ridge is No.7 in D-II; Central is No.8 in D-IV.
“That match definitely showed us that we always have to give 100 percent – that we’re always beatable,” Kirk said. “We learned from that match.”
- Urbana (18-6) has also advanced to a D-II district final and faces state-power Alter (19-2) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Fairmont.
Alter, a three-time state champion and 2011 and 2012 state qualifier, is on a 14-match win streak.
Bellbrook (19-6) meets Cincinnati McNicholas (16-8) in the day’s opening match at 2:30.
Urbana packs the one-two punch of senior middle blocker Becca Poppel (254 kills, 41 blocks) and senior outside hitter Ellen Henry (194 kills, 28 blocks, 159 digs).
The Hillclimbers captured the CBC Mad River Division with a 10-0 mark.
All six of their regular-season losses are to quality opponents, including 2011 and 2012 D-III state champion Miami East (20-2), Kenton Ridge, D-IV district qualifier and state-ranked Jackson Center (17-5) and St. Henry (20-7) among them.
- Where Catholic Central’s Ally Duncan is concerned, chalk up Newton coach Mike Albright as a true believer.
“She’s the real deal – not question about it,” the Indians coach said Tuesday of the junior star. “I don’t think that girl knows how to hit a blocker. She puts it wherever you’re not.”
The number of Division I colleges now recruiting Duncan has become “almost overwhelming for her,” according to Central coach Stacey Webster, who was recently tapped Clark County Coach of the Year for her squad’s 23-1 run thus far.