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Looking Back at the OHSAA’s Volleyball Championships

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Looking Back at the OHSAA's Volleyball Championships
A centennial moment

By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
www.SportsHeritagePublications.net
 

The high school girls in Ohio have been playing for a state championship in volleyball since 1975.  (Some of the boys around the state are just starting to “discover” the sport, which is pretty true for the boys around much of the rest of the country as well, with a few notable exceptions like Illinois, California and Hawai’i.)  When the tournament first began the schools were divided into three classes: AAA (the biggest schools), AA, A.  In 1990 this changed, with the schools now divided into four Divisions, again based on enrollment, with Division I being for the biggest schools, then Divisions II, III and IV.

There are many great stories across the whole spectrum of Ohio high school girls state tournament volleyball, be it team success, rivalries between two teams or great players and coaches.  But perhaps the most amazing thing about this sport is the way that the girls of the Queen City have become the “Kings” of Division I volleyball.  We are talking almost complete domination here, unlike anything found in any other sport, boys or girls.  From the time that the state tournament began in 1975, thru 2005, only four years have gone by in which a school from Cincinnati did not advance to at least a semi-final berth in the Class AAA/Division I tournament.  In only three other seasons did a Cincinnati school fail to make it to the championship match, and in those 24 championships, the girls of the Queen City have reigned as the kings of Ohio volleyball 17 times.  And their grip on the final four has only gotten stronger over the last 11 seasons. 

This amazing run of success began with the very first tournament in 1975, when a relatively unheralded team from Cincinnati’s Seton High School (17-6) advanced to the Class AAA finals, only to be sent packing by the undefeated state champions from Stow-Munroe Falls (20-0).  The Seton Saints would not be back in the final four for a few years, but when they did return they would take over the world of big school volleyball for more than a half-dozen years.

In both 1976 and 1978 Cincinnati area schools would be shutout from the final four, but in 1977, and again from 1979 through 1982, the Bobcats of Mother of Mercy High School would be the foremost team in big school volleyball.  In 1977, coach Rose Bauer had the Bobcats hitting on all cylinders as they completed an undefeated season, 27-0, by defeating Whitehall-Yearling for the state title.  In 1979 the Bobcats were back in the title game, this time with Rose Koch at the helm, but it would be Whitehall-Yearling High School taking the championship rematch in straight sets, 15-12, 15-11.  The next season the Bobcats would again make it to the championship round, and after dropping the first set against Brecksville-Broadview Heights, came back to win the next two for their second state title.  In 1981, Mother of Mercy lost out in the semi-finals, but in 1982 the team was back in the state finals.  Here they defeated another state power of the 1980s, Canton McKinley, to win their third championship of the last six years.

Except for a couple of runner-up finishes in 1991 and 2004 the Bobcats run of success had ended.  Their mantel, however, would be taken up, and carried to even greater heights, by the Saints from Seton High School, coached by Mary Jett. 

From 1983-1985 the Class AAA state finals would feature the same two teams each time, Seton High and Canton McKinley.  The Bulldogs would win the state championship in ’83 in straight sets, but in 1984 and 1985 they would have the misfortune to go up against arguably the greatest collection of volleyball players in state history, in any class or division.  The 1984 Saints (28-1), led by All-State and All-Midwest player Barb Mannis, closed out their season with a 19-match win streak, defeating the Bulldogs for the state title in straight sets.  In 1985 Seton was even better, winning all 30 matches, including the state finals against McKinley, to run their win streak to 49. 

Unfortunately for the opponents on their schedule, the Saints’ winning ways were not even half over.  In 1986, Seton was again undefeated, extending its win streak to 77 straight with a 28-0 season, and winning its third consecutive championship.  In 1987 the Saints ran off 25 more wins as they advanced to the final four for the fifth consecutive season.  But this time the Saints got blind-sided, falling to the relatively unknown Raiders of Reynoldsburg High School in the semi-finals.  Canton McKinley defeated the Raiders for the state title, but one wonders if the Bulldogs would have preferred to take their chances in trying to even some old scores with the Saints.  Be that as it may, Seton’s 102-game winning streak is still the longest in state volleyball history.

Seton came right back in 1988 and 1989 to play for two more state championships.  In ’88 they got some revenge of their own, handing Reynoldsburg its only loss in 30 matches and giving Seton its fourth state title in the last five seasons.  In 1989, Reynoldsburg (26-1) took the rubber match between these two schools, defeating Seton (23-6) in straight sets to win the Raiders’ only state volleyball championship. 

In 1990, Class AAA became the new Division I.  The name may have changed, but the city at the top did not, although the girls from Cincinnati got off to something of a slow start in their “new” division.  The Cougars of Mt. Notre Dame (1990) and the Bobcats from Mother of Mercy (1991) played in the first two Division I state championship matches.  Mt. Notre Dame (25-1) saw its perfect season ruined by Stow-Munroe Falls (25-5), while Mother of Mercy (22-5) fell to Canton McKinley (23-4) in the Bulldogs’ final trip, thus far, to the state finals.

In both 1992 and 1994 none of the Cincinnati powers advanced to the final four, but in 1993 Ursuline Academy ended the Queen City’s championship drought by winning that school’s second championship, but only its first since the inaugural tournament 18 years earlier.  In 1995 the Lions would again play for the state championship.  It would be something of an unusual match in that their opponent would be Mt. Notre Dame, thus making it a state final in which both schools were from the same city.  Mt. Notre Dame won its first state championship in straight sets, but they were just getting started.

That 1995 season marked the beginning of something else that is a bit unusual in state tournament history.  Ever since that year there have been at least two Cincinnati schools in the Division I final four each season.  With a 50-50 chance at a title, no wonder the city has won so many.

Seton High’s Saints would win their fifth state title in 1996, and be the sole Cincinnati school to make it as far as the semi-finals in 1997.  In 1998, coach Donna Mechley would start the Cougars of Mt. Notre Dame on a roll that would take them to three consecutive state championships, posting a record of 78-8 from 1998 through 2000.

The 2001 volleyball season would see the start of something quite out of the ordinary, if not altogether unique, not just for girl’s Division I volleyball, but for any sport.  From that year, pretty much up to the present day, if you did not go to a school run by the Ursuline order of nuns, your chance of winning a state Division I volleyball championship appeared to be quite limited.  In 2001, 2002 and 2003, Cincinnati’s St. Ursula High School and Ursuline Academy played against each other in the state championship finals each year.  St. Ursula’s Bulldogs won the title in 2001 and 2003, while Ursuline Academy’s championship in 2002 was its third overall. 

However, these were not the only Ursuline schools to make the final four those years.  From 2001 thru 2005, Toledo’s St. Ursula Academy also made it as far as the semi-finals.  In 2004 and 2005 the Arrows finally advanced to the state title game, winning the school’s first championship in 2004, but finishing second to Seton High in 2005.

Cincinnati St. Ursula’s success in volleyball (a record 8 state titles) did not begin in 2001, however, for before that the Bulldogs played in Division II.  From 1993 to 1998 the Bulldogs ran off with a record six consecutive state championships in that division, under the direction of head coach Julie Thoman-Perry.  When the Bulldogs moved up to Division I, no one was happier to see them move on than the Tallmadge Blue Devils.  The Blue Devils advanced to the Division II championship game each year from 1994 to 1997, and each time they were defeated by St. Ursula’s.  Adding insult to injury, in 1998 the Blue Devils were knocked out of the championship race in the semi-finals, again by the St. Ursula Bulldogs. 

While the story of the success of Cincinnati’s Division I volleyball teams is impressive, it is certainly not the only story of volleyball success in Ohio.  Some of the best volleyball around the state is played at some of Ohio’s smaller high schools, as we are about to see. 

Adena High School in Frankfort, Ohio, has less than 300 students, only about 130 of who are girls, playing their volleyball in Class A/Division III.  A lack of numbers, however, did not keep the Lady Warriors from having some outstanding success in the earliest days of the volleyball tournament, and even before that.  In fact, most of their success came just before the advent of the state championships, but the Warriors were able to hold on long enough to take home some of the early championship hardware.  From 1971 to 1977 the Adena Warriors won 96 consecutive volleyball matches, the second longest such streak in the state.  Included in that run were the undefeated seasons of 1975 (20-0) and 1976 (22-0), when the Warriors won the Class A state championship under the direction of coach Marvin Seyfang, thus far their only state titles.

Newark Catholic High School is probably more known for its success on the gridiron, but the Green Wave volleyball team takes a back seat to very few when it comes to championship history.  Newark Catholic is another small school formerly from Class A/Division III, now playing its volleyball in Division IV.  With the exception of just a few years, from 1979-1989 the Green Wave was pretty much the team to beat in Class A, but from 1979-1983 there was one team in particular that battled them tooth and nail for the state title – the Blue Streaks of Archbold High School. 

In 1979 and 1980 Newark Catholic put together back to back unbeaten seasons that totaled 61 consecutive victories.  In both of those years they played, and defeated, Archbold in the championship match.  (The Blue Streaks had won the Class A championship in 1978.)  In 1981 it was Archbold’s turn to go undefeated, 28-0, winning another title and knocking off Newark Catholic in a semi-final match.  The two teams again locked horns in the state finals in ’82 and ’83, with the Green Wave of coach Bill Copperrider winning both times.  In 1984 the Green Wave won a championship without defeating Archbold, instead handing Dola Hardin Northern (29-1) its only loss of the season in the finals. 

From 1985-1987 the best that Newark Catholic could manage was a semi-final appearance in 1987, but in both 1988 and 1989 the Green Wave was again back on top of the Class A volleyball world, winning the state title both years.  Since 1989 the Green Wave has reached the final four just five times, winning a record tying eighth state championship in 2004. 

Hopewell-Loudon is a big name for a little school from Bascom, Ohio.  There are barely 100 girls in this Division IV school, but they play some big time volleyball, as they proved from 1994 to 2001.  In 1994 the Chieftains made their first trip to the final four, dropping a semi-final match to eventual state champion St. Henry High School.  In 1995 coach Dave Reinhart and his girls advanced to the championship game, where they were again defeated by the team from St. Henry, which completed its undefeated season, 29-0, by winning a second consecutive state championship.  For the third straight year, in 1996 Hopewell-Loudon was again eliminated by St. Henry, this time in the semi-finals. 

However, this had just been the beginning for the Chieftains, as they proved over the next five seasons.  From 1997-2001, coach Dave Reinhart’s team posted a combined record of 141-4, including a winning streak of 74 in a row, in winning five consecutive Division IV state championships.  The Chieftains have not made it to the final four since then, but they certainly have the legacy on which to build another champion or two. 

The St. Henry team that gave Hopewell-Loudon fits has an outstanding volleyball tradition of its own.  In addition to their two championship victories over the Chieftains, St. Henry won state titles in 1985 and 1987 in Class A, 1990 in Division III, and 2004 back in Division IV – giving the Redskins six state championships, the second highest total in the state.

While we have just mentioned some of the outstanding teams and coaches in Ohio girls volleyball, this story would be lacking if it did not mention some of the outstanding young ladies who have played the sport.  For example, Jill Shiley (New Knoxville H. S., 1977-80) is ranked #5 nationally with career 444 service aces, #7 with 176 in one season (1979), and #4 with an average of 7.0 service aces per match for a whole season (1979).    Darcy Bice (Riverview H. S., 2004) is tied for third in the national record book for assists in a match with 66, while Katy Smykowski (Parma Heights Holy Name H. S., 2005) is ranked fourth with 62.  On defense, Trish Brashear (Swanton H. S., 1999-2001) is third in the national records for career blocks with 656, while Faye Barhorst (Fort Loramie H. S., 1999-2002) is fifth in the same category with 580 and Emily Hammond (Frankfort Adena H. S., 1990-1993) is sixth with 553.

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