After going 18-11 just a year ago, the Aquinas volleyball team lost one of its most successful senior classes in girls athletics history and faced some difficult challenges that left it with a 13-19 record in 2019.
There were some high points in the year, including winning games over top-level opponents like North Bend Central, Lincoln Christian and Auburn, and a win in the C2-6 sub-district playoff against Shelby-Rising City, but much of the season was a learning experience.
The Monarchs were a mix of five seniors growing into leadership positions after playing only sparingly a year ago and seven other juniors, sophomores and freshmen learning how to be successful on the varsity court.
"Overall, I was pleased with the growth of our team," head coach Jody Pelan said in comments. "Given that we had virtually an entirely new team, and we moved people to positions they had never before played, I thought we progressed well."
Pelan said the challenging season didn't come as a surprise to her since much of the roster was learning together.
"I definitely expected us to have to work extra hard to be successful this year," Pelan said. We had only one returning starter, and we had no setter coming in. We had to find people to fill every position, and that meant shuffling players around almost every day until we could find our team.
"The girls did a fantastic job of supporting each other, and this was a very enjoyable year for me as the head coach even though we finished below .500."
Senior Gabrielle Oborny led the team in kills with 219 and 55 blocks while sophomore Gracyn Wollmer finished with 178 kills and 20 aces, both second highest on the team.
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Senior Jadyn Siroky recorded 138 kills and 151 digs, junior Madi Jelinek had 106 kills and 51 blocks and senior Justine Beringer served a team high 29 aces and led in digs with 240.
Senior Macey Thege led the Monarchs with 327 assists.
"I learned that they were a group with more mental toughness than they were given credit for," Pelan said. "We got down big in several sets, but this team battled and battled to get back in those games to give themselves a chance. We overcame some huge deficits to compete with the best teams in our conference. This team stayed positive throughout the season, and they always rallied around each other."
A loss to Wahoo Neumann in the sub-district tournament ended the season for the Monarchs and was the final match for five Aquinas seniors - Katie Thompson, Thege, Oborny, Beringer and Siroky.
"It’s always fun to see who will step up to lead," Pelan said. "This year, our senior class did a terrific job of keeping everyone motivated and keeping everyone accountable. They imposed a lot of self-discipline on the team members. If someone missed a serve or got aced in practice, the seniors immediately called for everyone to do five scissor lunges or push-ups or tuck jumps. The girls had fun personalities, and we had tons of laughs, on and off the court."
Pelan also said that she hopes that the Monarchs learned lessons in the challenging season that they'll be able to apply to life outside of volleyball.
"We always talk about the bigger picture on our volleyball team," she said. "Facing uphill battles is inevitable in sports, just as it is in life. These girls did a good job of picking themselves up, looking for the positives after each match, and working to improve so that we were playing our best volleyball at the end."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at DVDsports@lee.net