FORT LORAMIE — The Fort Loramie Redskins will find out in a hurry just how they match up against some of the area’s top volleyball teams. And the Redskins, who graduated eight seniors from a regional finalist team, have no plans on slowing down.
Loramie coach John Rodgers is optimistic the Redskins can again contend for the Shelby County Athletic League title and make a deep postseason run. The first test comes during the season opener when Coldwater hosts teams like Fort Loramie, Versailles, Miami East and St. Henry. The first four teams all reached regional finals.
St. Henry reached the Division IV district final before losing to eventual state champion New Bremen. Fort Loramie gets St. Henry in its opener.
“You can come out of there 1-2 and be a state champ,” Rodgers said.
State-caliber talent returns for Loramie, especially at the net. The Redskins return their top three leaders in kills. Junior outside hitter Marissa Meiring led Loramie with 225 kills, sophomore middle hitter McKenzie Hoelscher added 190 and senior outside hitter Chloe Stang 160.
Hoelscher led the team in blocks (53). She and Meiring (18) are the only returning players who reached double digits last season as four graduated seniors accounted for 138 blocks.
Stang led Fort Loramie in digs (301) and senior libero Emily Austin was fourth (265). The Redskins also deliver some pop from the service line as Meiring was second in aces (46), Hoelscher third (42) and Stang fourth (30).
“They’re leaders on and off the court,” Rodgers said. “Marissa and McKenzie are both leaders on the basketball team so they’ve been to the regional finals in basketball and volleyball. They definitely have experience playing in big matches.”
As for holes to fill, one of the team’s biggest graduation losses came at setter where 809 of the team’s 964 assists came from a senior.
But, Rodgers said, the roster is deep at every position and competition for playing time “has been tremendous.” That will help contend for the SCAL title. Loramie, 17-11 overall last season, finished tied for second with Russia at 9-3. Anna won the SCAL at 10-2.
Loramie beat Russia 3-1 in the Division IV regional semifinals before falling to eventual state champion New Bremen in four sets, winning the first one 25-19 before dropping the next three 20-25, 13-25, 17-25.
“Once you’ve been in that situation, in that gym with so much on the line, with so much on the line you don’t really lose. You learn how to get better,” Rodgers said of the valuable tournament experience. “I think it really helps the girls realize they can play with any team around. They can compete at that level. Getting to the final four is not a dream, it’s a reality as long as we do our job during the season.”
Meiring, Hoelscher, Stang and Austin enter with the big stats from last season. But much like last season Rodgers doesn’t want to focus the offense around one person. The team approach is again emphasized for the Redskins.
“One of the things we’re stressing is we want everyone involved,” Rodgers said.
Especially facing a tough season opener against St. Henry at Coldwater’s tournament. And don’t forget that loaded D-IV postseason field. Loramie’s regional has produced the last 11 state champions.
“It’s a measuring stick because them and New Bremen and Marion are kind of the big horses right now in our division,” Rodgers said of the postseason brackets. “We get a look at them early. It’s going to be just like last year. Whose it going to be? … As much as we battle it out I think all (the coaches) enjoy it. That’s why we’re doing it.”
Boys cross country
Fort Loramie qualified for its third consecutive Div. III state cross country meet last season after winning the Troy D-III regional meet. But the Redskins finished seventh in the state meet — far below their expectations after winning the title in 2016.
Coach Dennis Prenger said the disappointing end has fueled the squad’s offseason training and motivated them to aim for gold this season. With two of Ohio’s best D-III runners back, a state title could be within the squad’s grasp.
The Redskins return five letterwinners from last year’s squad, including seniors Joe Ballas and Jake Rethman. Ballas was first team all-Ohio last year and won the regional race in 16:19. Rethman was second in the regional in 16:23.
“I like to think we have one of the best one-two punches in the state in Jake Rethman and Joe Ballas,” Prenger said.
Other returnees include senior Gavin Schulze, junior Jordan Drees and junior Evan Luthman.
“We will look to Gavin Schulze to build upon a strong junior season,” Prenger said. “… Jordan Drees is definitely a runner that I have high expectations for. If he meets my goals, it will go a long way towards us getting back to (state). Junior Evan Luthman has had a great start to practice and looks determined to claim a varsity spot.”
Senior Charles Wray will join the varsity squad, and Prenger said he hopes Wray will have a breakout season.
The rest of the program’s roster is made of juniors Nathan Hess, James Keller and Kaden Mescher along with sophomore Jason Chaney and freshmen Evan Eilerman, Colin Gasson, Colten Gasson, Trey Ranly and Isaiah Scheer. The freshmen helped the Redskins’ junior high squad finish second in the SCAL race last year.
“We will look to several talented freshmen this year to step up and fill vacancies,” Prenger said. “If that happens, we will be a pretty good team.”
Prenger expects a tough fight for the SCAL title this year.
“Several Shelby County League teams have qualified for the state meet the last four seasons,” Prenger said. “We’ve established new team goals and the boys know it will take a concerted effort by all runners to achieve those goals.”
Girls cross country
The Redskins will look for another trip to state after finishing fourth in Div. III last year. They return all runners from last year’s team and will aim to win the title this year.
“We are extremely excited about the future as the freshman class that is being added to a core of talented runners and can help us build around this season and into the future,” Prenger said.
Leading Fort Loramie’s returning letterwinners is junior Danielle Berning, who finished 27th in the state meet last year with a time of 19:43.
Also back are senior Erin Chaney, juniors Paige Rethman and Hannah Siegel and sophomores Dani Eilerman, Caitlyn Gasson, Clara Gephart, Corynn Heitkamp, Angel Rodriguez and Maddie Simon.
The rest of Fort Loramie’s roster is made of sophomores Reece Boerger, Claire Chaney, Ellie Holthaus, Kelsi Holthaus, Jada Mescher and Hailey Sherman along with freshmen Elsie Beresik, Olivia Borchers, Anna Detrick, Kaitlyn Grillot, Claire Rethman and Elizabeth Shatto.
The Redskins’ freshman helped the middle school squad finish first in the SCAL race last season.
“We will look to our incoming freshmen to add depth and competition,” Prenger said. “Our practices and meets will be a battle for anyone with a goal of making our postseason travel team. As a team, we look to improve upon last season’s success.”
With many other SCAL teams returning their top runners, Prenger said he looks for the league race to be competitive.
Fort Loramie is hoping to compete for the SCAL title this year with three of its top four golfers returning from last season’s squad, which won the league with an 11-1 record.
Junior Zach Pleiman led the squad with a 41.67 average last year. Seniors Mitchell Puthoff (42.63) and Eli Rosengarten (44.87) also return.
“The trio that returns from last year’s team will give us a very strong foundation as a team,” coach Brad Turner said. “Mitchell, Eli, and Zach all have two varsity seasons under their belt, so with them we have a lot of experience and their scores will set the tone for us.”
The Redskins are unexpectedly looking for a fourth golfer. Senior Jared Middendorf was expected to fill that role but he injured his back over the summer and won’t be able to play with the team.
“This is a blow to our team,” Turner said of losing Middendorf. “… For us to be competitive as a team, we’re going to need to find that consistent fourth score, and we’re hoping that among the newcomers one or two or even three guys will emerge as dependable varsity golfers.”
A group of five sophomores will look to fill that role: Devin Ratermann, Caleb Meyer, Carson Barhorst, Trevor Middendorf and Alex Knouff.
“They all got some valuable time in playing some JV matches last year, but we’ll be relying on them to make the jump into varsity and have an impact on this team from the get-go,” Turner said.
Fort Loramie finished second in its sectional tournament a year ago to qualify for districts, where it finished seventh.
“We’ve had a decent run the past couple of seasons with being competitive in the league and sectional tournament,” Turner said. “I’m expecting that we continue this and hopefully be more competitive at the district level too.”
Turner, who is entering his 11th season as Fort Loramie’s coach, expects Jackson Center and Anna to compete for the SCAL title as well. He said Botkins’ Nick Fischio is the favorite for the league’s player of the year.
Turner said other top area Division III teams are Newton, Twin Valley South and Minster.
“Newton has four members back from a team that finished fifth at the district tournament last season,” Turner said. “… Twin Valley South finished one spot behind us at the district tournament. They have all five of their golfers back including Nathan Osborn, who won the district tournament last season with a 71 and advanced to state as an individual. Minster has all of their players back from a season ago. They will be a deep team where any one of the six guys playing can post a good score.”
Fort Loramie has four returning letterwinners off of last year’s team and is looking for success in its first season of Cross County Conference play.
“We are excited to join a league this year for girls golf and be a part of the CCC. Since this is our first year playing in league play, I don’t know how we stack up against the rest of the league,” coach Kreg Hollenbacher said. “It will be a slight adjustment, knowing you have to put up a score each night to compete for league honors and accolades.”
If postseason success is any indication, the Redskins should be among the CCC’s top squads. Fort Loramie finished second in the Division III sectional meet last year to earn a district berth.
Seniors Amy Eilerman, Riley Middendorf, Rylee Poeppelman and junior Savannah Henning return. Eilerman was the team’s most valued player last year, while Middendorf and Poeppelman are three-year letterwinners.
Key newcomers include sophomore Megan Eilerman and freshmen Eva Bolin and Rheese Voisard.
“We have had a good start, but the season is not over and we need to improve where we are able,” Hollenbacher, who’s entering his second season, said. “We are fortunate in that we have 13 girls that came out for golf this year and are able to have a JV team — which is great.
“Then our job, between our varsity and JV teams, is to get each player — 1 through 13 — to finish the year better than when they started the season. If we can do that, the year will be a success and any league victories and individual accolades that occur along the way will be a byproduct of that success.”
Freelance writer Greg Billing contributed to this article.