RUSSIA — Russia’s first big nonconference test didn’t go as hoped, but its second went about as good as can be hoped.
The Raiders (5-1) couldn’t keep up with New Bremen in a 3-0 loss on Aug. 22 but have won four straight since, including a 3-1 win over neighboring rival Versailles last Saturday. The Tigers entered the match undefeated and had a nonconference win to their credit over defending D-IV state runner-up St. Henry.
“That was definitely a big confidence boost,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said.
Watkins said Russia junior middle hitter Roni Poling rolled her ankle in the first set against New Bremen and had to leave the match.
She missed a 3-1 win over Jackson Center, the Versailles win and a 3-0 win over Fairlawn on Tuesday but returned for a 25-13, 25-11, 25-18 win over Houston on Thursday at Clair C. Naveau Gymnasium.
“We were right with (New Bremen) that first set, and after she rolled her ankle, I think that just kind of took the air out of our sails,” Watkins said. “Trying to find a lineup that’s going to work without the middle that’s been with us all summer, that kind of throws a wrench in things.
“Now that we have her back and have that lineup we want, we can really get rolling.”
The Raiders lost 25-16, 25-8, 25-16 to New Bremen. They lost 25-23 in the first game against Versailles on Saturday but won the next three 30-28, 25-22, 25-22 to earn a win.
“We were very excited with how we played,” Watkins said. “Emma Muhlenkamp, a sophomore, stepped up and played Roni’s spot while she was gone. She was a big part of (beating Versailles).
“I was very proud how the girls stepped up, made the adjustment. Now we’re going to adjust back to having her.”
Russia, which has earned regional berths the last five years, is looking to make another deep postseason run this season.
To prepare for that, they’re playing a strong nonconference schedule again. Aside from Midwest Athletic Conference foes like New Bremen and Versailles, they are competing in St. Henry’s Redskin Invitational on Saturday and have Div. I schools Centerville and Whitehouse Anthony Wayne scheduled for later this month.
“A lot of what we’ve been focusing on is speed,” Watkins said. “We’re trying to play a little quicker, play with some tempo and really get back to basics. Our first week of practice, we really did nothing but pass. We’re breaking things down and building it all back together. It’s been a good offseason and a good preseason, and we’re happy with where we’re at right now.”
Senior middle/outside hitter Kate Sherman has a team-high 58 kills and 10 blocks to her credit. Senior outside/middle hitter Cece Borchers has a team-high 20 blocks and 37 kills to her credit. Junior Carly Scott has 39 kills and senior Kelby Doseck has 19.
Senior setter Miah Monnin has 136 assists.
“She is as solid as she can be,” Watkins said of Monnin, who is in her fourth year as a starter. “There’s just something about being around it for four years. There’s just a steadiness that comes with her and makes our job a lot easier, giving us the confidence that she knows how to run the game.”
Senior libero Jilian Chapman leads the team in digs (66) and serve receives (63). Scott ranks second in both categories with 51 digs and 45 serve receives.
Sherman and Chapman are the team’s captains.
“I think both those girls have done a nice job, not just statistically, but as leaders vocally also,” Watkins said.
Russia, Fort Loramie ahead in early SCAL standings
Russia and Fort Loramie again look like the Shelby County Athletic League favorites. They’re the only two remaining undefeated teams.
The Raiders are 3-0 in SCAL play while Fort Loramie (5-1) is 2-0. Jackson Center (3-2) is in contention at 2-1; the Tigers are scheduled to host the Redskins on Tuesday.
Fairlawn (4-2) and Anna (1-4) are tied for fourth at 1-2. Botkins (3-4) and Houston (1-4) are both 0-2.
Sidney progress continues to show
Sidney has continued to show progress, even in losses.
The Yellow Jackets improved to 4-4 by beating Stebbins and Xenia 3-0 in Miami Valley League Valley Division matches on Wednesday and Thursday. They look to be the runaway favorite in the Valley Division; they’re 4-1 in league play, while the other four squads are either 1-3 or 1-4.
The Yellow Jackets have been competitive in recent losses. They played Minster (3-2) to a 3-2 loss on the road last Saturday and played Vandalia-Butler (3-2) to a 3-2 loss on Tuesday in Sidney. They lost 3-0 to both during last year’s 5-18 campaign.
Sidney is scheduled to host Troy (5-1, 5-0 MVL Miami) on Tuesday at Sidney Middle School; all the Yellow Jackets’ home games are being played in the middle school’s gymnasium this season.
Lehman Catholic, Riverside struggling early
Lehman Catholic and Riverside, which are scheduled to face off Thursday in a Three Rivers Conference match in De Graff, are each off to rough starts early.
Lehman beat Milton-Union 3-1 in a TRC match on Tuesday to earn its first win of the season but lost 3-0 to Miami East on Thursday to drop to 1-4 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
The Cavaliers lost 3-1 to Fairlawn, 3-0 to Parkway and 3-0 to Marion Local to open the season.
Riverside dominated Northridge in a 3-0 win on Thursday to earn its first TRC win of the season and improve to 2-4 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
The Pirates lost 3-0 to Jackson Center and Indian Lake in nonconference games in the first week of the season, then beat Waynesfield-Goshen 3-0 and lost 3-0 to Fairlawn last week. They lost 3-0 to Bethel on Tuesday.
Lehman has a busy week ahead. They are scheduled to host their Labor Day tournament on Saturday and host Bethel in TRC play on Tuesday before Thursday’s match at Riverside.
Riverside is scheduled to host Bellefontaine on Saturday and Troy Christian on Tuesday before Thursday’s match against the Cavaliers.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.