JACKSON CENTER — The recent past has been good to Jackson Center’s volleyball team, most notably state championships in 2015 and 2016 and last season’s run to the Division IV regional semifinals.
It’s fun to reminisce about those accomplishments. But Jackson Center coach Kim Metz stresses to her team it won’t help her Tigers on the court this season, especially a team with a mix of veteran leadership and young up-and-comers.
Jackson Center finished 18-9 overall last season and 8-4 in the Shelby County Athletic League, good for fourth. Anna (10-2) won the SCAL with Russia and Fort Loramie (9-3) tying for second.
“The competition was great last year. It could have gone either way for any four of us,” said Metz, whose team split with Jackson Center and Russia and lost both league games to Anna, including a thrilling five-set loss the second meeting. “That was kind of fun. … You’d like to walk away with everything but that’s not going to improve or enhance your competitive edge as you move toward the (postseason). I think it’ll be a similar situation this year. I know we’re certainly hoping to be in the mix.”
Jackson Center enters with the reigning SCAL player of the year in senior Raquel Kessler. Kessler led the Tigers in kills (495) and blocks (75) and was third in both aces (30) and digs (259).
“She has received some great accolades in her career,” Metz said. “You want to keep moving forward.”
Senior Caroline Frieders, running the setter and outside hitting options, led Jackson Center in aces (38), was second in kills (213) and assists (387) and fourth in digs (202). Senior libero Katelyn Sosby was the team leader in digs (522) and fourth in aces (21) and provides a spark for the Tigers.
“She’s a fireball,” Metz said of Sosby. “She gets mad at herself more than anybody. I’m not holding her back. She’s on her own mission.”
Senior Riley Jackson will play multiple roles.
Juniors Elizabeth Hickey (third with 124 kills) and Megan Argabright will again be on the front line.
“We’ve just got a mix of players across the board of experience and inexperience,” Metz said. “We’ve kind of got a melting pot of old and new. That’s what we’re dealing with.”
Metz has about 24 players on the roster this season. That’s down from several seasons ago when it hit 32. She’s also used to having perhaps a few more four-year varsity starters. But that’s fine with Metz. This group is again ready to challenge for the SCAL title.
“We have discussions all the time. I’m not lowering my expectations,” Metz said. “I’m not going to dummy down the system that we’ve worked hard to get. Every time I’m in the gym I’m still a student of the game as well. There are things I’m still learning as well. You need to continue to be a student of life no matter what it is. So our expectations don’t change. They just don’t change.”
Jackson Center reached the D-IV regional semifinals, joining fellow SCAL members Fort Loramie and Russia. Anna made the D-III regional tournament. It was there that Jackson Center ran into New Bremen in a three-set loss (17-25, 14-25, 19-25).
New Bremen’s state title run kept the Southwest regional streak of 11 straight championships intact with New Bremen, Marion Local (five), Jackson Center (two) and Fort Loramie, Lehman Catholic and St. Henry all winning state.
“There are an awful lot of farm kids out there that have a great work ethic,” Metz said of the competition from both the SCAL and Midwest Athletic Conference. “And then you’ve got a great parent base that may have high expectations, but their belief in God and making the most of every moment of the day makes our area an amazing place to be.
“This is what you want. The kids work hard and bust their rear ends all year long. We want to move on to what’s next.”