RUSSIA — Russia’s volleyball team entered the season expecting to be among the state’s best Division IV squads but got a wake-up call in a 25-18, 25-21, 25-12 loss to defending state champion New Bremen on Aug. 25.
“I don’t think we got into system or got into a groove or got momentum against New Bremen, and you have to have some stuff go your way when you’re playing them,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said.
The Raiders had plenty going their way in their next two matches as they knocked off last year’s D-IV runner-up Fort Loramie 3-1 in a key Shelby County Athletic League contest on Thursday and followed with a 3-0 win on Saturday over Versailles, which was a D-III regional finalist a year ago.
The Raiders’ hot streak has been halted — not by an opponent, but by COVID-19.
Due to a surge of cases in the village, Russia Local Schools has closed its junior and senior high school buildings until Sept. 15 and will be conducting online classes in the interim.
The district has also postponed or canceled all athletic events scheduled for the next two weeks and aims to restart sports on Sept. 15.
Watkins’ squad will have to work out outside of school until then. He said he has given players daily workouts to do at home in addition to game film to review a few days a week.
“The whole goal of doing what they’re doing now is to just try to keep them active so we won’t have to build conditioning back in when we get back (to practice),” Watkins said.
It won’t be a completely new setup for the squad, as Watkins gave the teams workouts to do at home last spring when the Ohio High School Athletic Association imposed a no-contact period due to the initial COVID-19 surge in the state.
But coming in the midst of the season — and a hot streak — makes this break tougher for Russia (4-1).
“Our girls have had a lot of coaches and area players reaching out to them just to say they’re in their thoughts and prayers and to say how sorry they are that this is going on right now,” Watkins said. “We’ll get through it. The good thing is it’s early in the season. I’m glad it’s happening now and not in October.”
The Raiders got hot last October after a slow start to the season. They lost most of their 2018 roster to graduation and had many varsity newcomers. They still fought to a second-place finish in the SCAL behind Fort Loramie and won 11 of their last 14 matches, five of which were tournament contests.
Russia advanced to a D-IV regional final for the first time in program history and lost to the Redskins 3-1. The Raiders were Fort Loramie’s only tournament opponent to win one set in a match, save for New Bremen in the state championship match.
The Raiders are looking to avoid a slow start this year with six starters back. Among them is senior middle hitter Ashley Scott, who became the program’s career kills leader against Versailles on Saturday.
Scott had eight kills against the Tigers to improve her career total to 862. She had 14 kills, four aces and one block in Thursday’s win over Fort Loramie.
“She and Kendall Monnin, our libero, are co-captains again this year for the second year in a row, but they’ve really stepped up being seniors,” Watkins said. “They’re more vocal and do a better job of keeping the girls focused. They do a good job of keeping the vibe and the attitude in huddles and practice all positive.
“I think that was a big part of the win on Thursday. We had a couple of bad passes and maybe a hitting error here and there, and they did a good job of picking the girls up and refocusing them right away.”
Scott is one of several key returnees to the front row for the Raiders. Also back are 6-foot-0 sophomore middle hitter Kate Sherman and sophomore middle hitter Cece Borchers.
Sherman is second on the team this season with 35 kills, three behind Scott. Borchers has made 16 kills and a team-high 16 blocks, eight ahead of Sherman.
“Kate is just more comfortable in what she’s doing,” Watkins said. “Not that she hasn’t improved a ton; she has. But I think she’s just more comfortable and knows what she needs to do. I would say the same thing with Cece. We moved her from outside to middle, and she’s done a great job blocking for us and really sliding into the role we need her in this year.”
The squad also has had a boost in the front row from freshman outside hitter Carley Scott, who is Ashley’s younger sister. Carley Scott has 25 kills, seven of which came Saturday against Versailles.
“She’s going to be a nice player for us,” Watkins said of Carley Scott. “She hits really well and fills that spot for us really well. I think for her, it’s just getting that experience, working on mixing up her shot.”
Monnin is leading the squad’s defense. She has 55 digs to her credit.
Sophomore setter Miah Monnin is guiding the team’s offense and has 95 assists. She surpassed 1,000 career assists against Versailles on Saturday.
“She’s a lot more comfortable in what’s she doing,” Watkins said. “… Even as a sophomore, she knows more instinctively, ‘This is where I should be going right now, this is who has the hot hand that I should be feeding.’”
Russia’s match scheduled against Houston on Tuesday has been rescheduled to Sept. 28, while its home match against Fairlawn scheduled for Sept. 3 has been rescheduled for Oct. 5. A nonleague match at St. Henry scheduled for Saturday has been canceled, and an SCAL match at Jackson Center scheduled for Sept. 10 will be rescheduled.
The Raiders’ next scheduled match is a home SCAL contest on Sept. 15 against Anna.
“We wanted to get the workouts to them so they stay active, and hopefully after a practice or two, we can jump right in there and get the rust shaken off and get back to rolling like we were,” Watkins said.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.