Lakeview volleyball entered this season with question marks and uncertainty as new players were required to fill new roles.
The Lady Vikes steadily grew throughout the season. They finished the season 22-10, defeated St. Paul on the road for their first win over the Wildcats in eight years, placed third at the Central Conference Tournament and earned their third straight trip to a district final.
“This was a hard season for us to evaluate going in. A lot of new faces in new places and obviously a whole lot of people who’ve been key parts of the team for two or three or four years were gone. You never know how each team is going to build their own team dynamic,” Lakeview head coach K.C. Belitz said.
“It’s hard to say now did it meet with our expectations. If you said early on we would have 22 wins, we probably would’ve been satisfied with that. At the same time, as we got into the summer and early fall and see what the team is capable of, it raises those expectations.”
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While Josie Bentz assumed her role as the senior middle hitter, Lakeview entered this season with players filling different roles or players seeing the varsity court for the first time.
Autumn Gibbs switched from setter to libero, become one of the state’s leaders in digs. Elly Luchsinger stepped into the setter role and built chemistry with Bentz, outside hitters Ava Tessendorf and Kiara Kula and right side Taylor Helms. Rallie Boyer proved to be a vital player in the back row and behind the service line.
Belitz said the group showed passion and mental toughness all season as it played five five-set matches this season. In the end, they were two sets away from qualifying for state for the third straight year.
“You can’t give your self that chance if you aren’t winning some tough matches. You’re going to have to create an environment where people feel confident, they feel trusted and all that kind of stuff,” Belitz said. “All that teamwork, it absolutely plays in to whether or not you’re able to do that. This team had those qualities about them and as a result of those things and having some talent as well, we were able to put ourselves in a position where we gave ourselves a chance.”
The senior quartet of Bentz, Tessendorf, Gibbs and Luchsinger all were named All-Central Conference performers. Bentz and Tessendorf spiked the most and second-most kills on the team with 318 and 234, respectively. Bentz tallied 302 digs and Tessendorf posted 240 digs.
Gibbs dug 554 balls and received 502 serves committing just 18 errors. Luchsinger recorded 893 assists and 214 digs.
Along with Bentz and Gibbs, Belitz said Tessendorf and Luchsinger were really critical in the team’s success.
“Ava (Tessendorf) obviously had some experience last year, but this was a whole different level of expectation. She was not a surprise at all. She’s always prepared well and been ready when called upon,” Beltiz said. “She became one of our steady performers, which you have to have at your outside one position. One of our leading servers. One of our primary passers. One of our primary diggers. She had to do it all.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a player (Luchsinger) as you look at the arc of their career when they got done. She had some moments that were pretty tough last year,” Belitz said. “She would say that and I’m sure questioned if this is what she wants to do in her senior year. To have completely bought in and invested in her team the way Elly has, I think and I hope it was a really great experience for her. I know it has made us a far better team than we would’ve been otherwise.”
Lakeview will return three key players in Kula, Helms and Boyer. Kula and Helms will return as the team’s top two attackers at 171 and 159 kills, respectively. Boyer led the Lady Vikes with 45 aces and a 94% serve percentage. Kula and Helms will be seniors and Boyer will be a sophomore in 2023.
“Taylor (Helms) completely reached a new level this year in terms of her play and her leadership. She’s going to be our emotional leader next year. There’s no question about that,” Belitz said. We’re going to rely on her for that. Even though she did improve this year, I think there’s a whole new next level yet for Taylor to find in her senior year. We’re going to need that.
Kula played her best game of the season on Oct. 4 at St. Paul. The Wildcats struggled to contain Kula on the outside as she spiked a career-high 17 kills to go with a .341 hit percentage.
“Not much question that we’re going to rely on Kiara (Kula) to play six rotations and be a leader on the floor, be a leader of the team off the floor,” Belitz said. “She’s going to be key for us to be successful.”
Boyer served in big spots for Lakeview, including staving off five match points as the server in the subdistrict final against Aurora. The freshman propelled the Lady Vikes to the match victory in five sets.
“For Rallie (Boyer) to be as comfortable and confident as she was this year as a freshman, being able to serve those six points against Aurora in that moment and serve again in the fifth set,” Belitz said. “There was just so many key moments Rallie ended up serving this year. She delivered, so that’s a great place for her to start from in her career. The expectation for her will also go up next year.”
For the second straight summer, the Lady Vikes will have a big roster turnover as they graduate eight seniors. Belitz lauded the senior class for the work they put in this offseason making everyone feel welcome and feel like a part of the team. It’s something, he said, he will look to the next group of seniors to do.
“This senior class did such a great job in the offseason. That is a model that obviously Taylor (Helms) and Kiara (Kula) and others who will be seniors next year have seen. I know having those conversations with them already,” Belitz said. “They get how important it is and I think they’re committed to making the right things happen this offseason. That’s a big key in the learning that will determine whether or not we’re really ready to move forward from a team perspective.”
Sam Ficarro is a sports reporter with The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.