FORT LORAMIE — Fort Loramie’s volleyball squad didn’t stick around the village much this summer. The Redskins traveled to tournaments around Ohio and Indiana, often facing schools with substantially larger enrollments.
“We definitely traveled so we could see some better teams and bigger competition, and I think that’s what has really helped us this year be prepared for bigger games,” junior middle hitter Victoria Mescher said.
“When you play under pressure against a lot of good teams, I think that’s what helps us pull through in tough games, especially when it gets really tense.”
The tough summer schedule, tough nonconference schedule and a win over New Bremen have the Redskins believing they can pull through in the biggest games deep in postseason play.
Since losing to St. Henry for the second time this season, the Redskins (16-2) have won five straight matches, beat defending Div. IV state champion New Bremen and secured at least a share of the Shelby County Athletic League title.
The Redskins are mostly upperclassmen and mostly veterans. The group has won SCAL and district titles each year they’ve been on varsity.
“We have great team chemistry,” senior defensive specialist Ella Boerger said. “We’ve been playing with each other for so many years, we know each other so well and can trust each other in big moments.”
John Rodgers, who is in his 18th season at the helm of the program, said the summer travel was designed to help the squad elevate.
“They understand the big picture,” Rodgers said. “They’re a great group of kids. The hard work is second nature to them. The biggest compliment I can pay them is their work in practice is harder than any team I’ve ever had, I think.
“And on their own. We’re not driving them as much as they are driving themselves. They are perfectionists. They want to be perfect. They won’t leave until they get things where they want them and until they feel good about practice that day. That is showing up in game situations.”
Fort Loramie beat the Cardinals (who won their third D-IV state title in five years last season) 3-1 on Saturday in New Bremen. The Redskins then followed Thursday by beating Jackson Center 3-0 to clinch at least a share the SCAL title; a win over Fairlawn this Tuesday can clinch an outright title.
The win over New Bremen was the program’s first since 2020.
“It wasn’t just any other match for a lot of us,” Fort Loramie senior libero Hallie Grillot said. “New Bremen’s just such a good team, and a lot of us hadn’t had a chance to beat them yet. It was an obstacle we had to overcome.”
New Bremen (12-3) was the top-ranked team in the most recent Div. IV state coaches poll, while Fort Loramie was second; the teams will almost certainly flip places in next week’s poll. St. Henry (13-2) is in D-III this season and is ranked No. 3.
Fort Loramie’s statistics reflect balance everywhere on the court, including on the front row.
Senior outside hitter Summer Hoying has made 216 kills, while junior Avery Brandewie has made 146, junior Victoria Mescher has made 107 and senior Skyler Albers has made 101. Mescher and Albers each have made 47 blocks, while Hoying, Barhorst and senior Ellen Frilling all have made over 20.
Hoying is in her fourth year on varsity and was named the SCAL player of the year last season. During a group interview before a practice on Wednesday, she let other teammates do the talking.
She isn’t vocal like other dominant front-row players tend to be; Grillot said she’s the most humble person she knows.
“She doesn’t lead by talking a lot, but by example,” junior setter Jenna Barhorst said. “Seeing that, and seeing when she gets fired up, the whole team gets energy.”
Barhorst is in her third year on varsity. She has made 560 assists this year and could come near or surpass 2,000 career assists by the end of the season.
“She’s leading the band,” Rodgers said. “… She’s a leader. She holds her teammates accountable. Heck, she holds the coaches accountable. She’s just a great competitor across the board who wants nothing but the best for the team and is really working hard to get everything from every player on the floor at all times.”
Brandewie has made a team-high 172 digs while Hoying and Barhorst each have made over 100; junior Katie Luthman has made 93. Brandewie leads the team in serve receives (213); Luthman, Hoying and Grillot have each made over 100.
Albers has made 42 aces, while Barhorst, Brandewie and Mescher each have made between 22 and 29.
“I think the phrase we’ve been using is, we’re trying to be the best version of ourselves,” Rodgers said. “Every player is a different kid, a different style, a different way of playing. We try to just let them be themselves, and that’s okay, as long as they’re fitting into the grand scheme of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Fort Loramie’s SCAL title is its fifth straight; it has won 14 consecutive district titles to earn regional berths.
Regional titles and state berths have been rarer; the program has advanced to state once since winning a title in 2014. That berth came in 2019, when New Bremen was sent to a Northwest Ohio regional. The Redskins lost to the Cardinals in a state title match.
The last two seasons, Fort Loramie lost to St. Henry and New Bremen in D-IV regional finals. A state berth this year will likely require beating New Bremen, who will play in the D-IV Wapakoneta district that feeds into the Southwest Ohio regional.
It’ll be over a month before the Redskins can take the court at Northmont High School’s Thunderdome for the regional. Until then, they’re focusing on closing out SCAL play and earning the program’s 15th consecutive district title.
“I think working 110 percent in the gym during practice and working extra, and just keep doing what we’ve been doing (is key),” Barhorst said. “Working hard, brining a lot of energy.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.