TROY — Fort Loramie began its campaign toward its 13th consecutive district championship earlier this week at Troy High School with a dominating 3-0 win over Triad — and will likely be able to continue winning in similar fashion until it hoists the trophy.
That will come as a relief according to senior setter Maya Maurer, who said the squad is happy to be this far into the season after an offseason of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was definitely worried that we weren’t going to be able to play,” Maurer said. “But it feels really good to be in tournament now. We want to keep playing.”
The Redskins (20-3) have been on a roll since losing 3-2 to Marion Local in a nonconference match on Oct. 6. They’ve won four straight matches and have lost just one set in that time, which came in a 3-1 victory over state-ranked Fort Recovery on Oct. 10.
Fort Loramie was ranked No. 5 in Division IV in the final state coaches association poll of the season and was voted the top seed in the 23-team Troy D-IV sectional.
“I feel comfortable with these girls now,” Fort Loramie coach John Rodgers said. “They’re feeling comfortable with themselves out there on the floor. They’ve worked hard to get to this position right now. We’ve had our moments of greatness and moments where we were tripping over ourselves, trying to piece the puzzle back together. But I think we’re on the right track.”
The Redskins will have a busy week ahead as they try to capture the district title — and they hope to have two busy weeks after that with regional and state matches.
But their immediate concern is a D-IV sectional final with No. 22 seed Tri-County North, which is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
A victory on Saturday will advance the squad to a D-IV district semifinal on Tuesday against No. 7 seed Mechanicsburg, which has already advanced due to Bradford forfeiting a sectional final matchup that was originally scheduled for Saturday. The forfeit comes after Bradford reported earlier this week someone in the school tested positive for COVID-19.
Forfeits and canceled games have become more commonplace in recent weeks across the region as coronavirus cases continue to increase statewide.
A COVID-19 outbreak may be the greatest threat to Fort Loramie’s district title streak being broken. Maurer said the team has been trying to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“We all decided as a team that we weren’t going to get tested for it,” Maurer said. “We wear our masks whenever possible whenever we go anywhere, and we try to keep our circle small.”
Maurer has set up much of the team’s success. She has 752 assists to her credit and surpassed 2,000 career assists earlier this month; she could become the program’s career assists leader before the end of the season.
“I have no worries about Maya on the court,” Rodgers said. “She’s like a coach on the court. She makes corrections when necessary. You don’t have to tell her, ‘Hey, you need to do this and you need to do that.’ She knows what to do.
Maurer, who has made 53 blocks this season, was named first team all-Shelby County Athletic League earlier this week while senior middle hitter Kenzie Hoelscher was named the team’s player of the year.
Hoelscher has made a team-high 337 kills and 67 total blocks and is tied with senior outside hitter Grace Rose for second in aces with 43. She’s also second on the team with 166 digs.
Hoelscher has been depended upon more for points this year than originally anticipated due to the squad losing junior outside hitter Ava Sholtis for the year in a season opener against St. Henry. Sholtis, who was second on the team with 255 kills last year, suffered a knee injury in the opener.
“That throws a big wrench into things,” Rodgers said of losing Sholtis. “I know that happens to every team at some point, but we had done a lot of really good things in the summer with her playing and were in a good position, and then it all changed.”
Rodgers said several players have stepped up to fill the gap Sholtis left.
Freshman outside hitter Summer Hoying has quickly developed into a threat on the front line and has made 112 kills, including a career high 12 against Fort Recovery.
Sholtis was also a key defensive player and a key server; she had 201 digs last year and 38 aces.
Rodgers said seniors Ava Grudich and Grace Rose have stepped up in those areas. Grudich is a defensive specialist and has made 161 digs. Grudich leads the team with 49 aces while Rose has made 43.
“Credit to these girls for stepping up and overcoming (the loss of Sholtis) and really putting themselves in a good position for where we need to be at this time of the year,” Rodgers said.
Junior middle hitter Jada Drees ranks second on the team with 154 kills while senior middle hitter Hannah Raterman is third with 114 kills and third with 31 blocks. Junior libero Riley Heitkamp leads the squad with 246 digs.
Rodgers hopes the depth and experience the team has will help not only help in capturing another district title but in earning a second consecutive regional championship and state berth.
The road to a regional title will be tough. The winner of a stacked Northwest District 6 — likely either undefeated and top-ranked New Knoxville or defending D-IV state champion New Bremen — will play in the Southwest Ohio regional with the three Troy district winners this year.
That’s how the region has been set up in most recent years, though last year New Bremen played in the Northwest regional while a Columbus team played in the Southwest regional with three Troy winners.
The regional will likely include two other SCAL heavyweights in Russia and Jackson Center, who are the highest seeded teams in the other two Troy sectional brackets.
The Redskins got playing time against all those teams in regular season. They split with Russia in SCAL play and tied for the league title, swept Jackson Center, beat New Bremen 3-2 in a nonconference match and lost 3-2 to New Knoxville in a nonleague match.
Maurer said she thinks the team can make a return state trip.
“We’re playing well,” Maurer said. “Our offense has definitely picked up. We’re very consistent with our offense, and our defense has really picked up, along with our blocking. I feel like we’re just playing really well together. …As long is our communication is there, we’re a pretty solid team.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.