[This is my column in the Oct. 23 issue of The Commercial Review.]
This was supposed to be the year.
It was going to be the season the Jay County High School volleyball team finally broke through and won the program’s first sectional in more than a decade.
All the pieces were in place.
It returned its top five players from last year in seniors Abby Wendel, Kylie Osborne and Ava Kunkler, and juniors Lizzy Schoenlein and Abby Barcus.
A fourth senior, Emilie Walter, and a host of other players — juniors Britlyn Dues, Alli Campbell, Katie Lyons, as well as sophomores Chloe Trissel and Kaelyn Weaver — were hoping to build off the most wins (24) in the two decades Fred Medler has coached the Patriots.
After a devasting loss to Homestead in the sectional semifinal last season, Jay County had its sights set on returning to the sectional championship match for the second time in three years.
But the IHSAA had other plans, making a tough sectional even more difficult by adding 2014 Class 3A state champion Fort Wayne Concordia and perennial powerhouse Muncie Central.
The Patriots marched on; starting the season 14-2, including a 10-match winning streak that saw them upset Class 2A No. 1 Wapahani for the second consecutive year. Their only two losses were to then-Class 3A No. 4 Delta and Brownsburg, which was ninth in Class 4A.
Jay County responded with four consecutive victories, one of which was against a Class 3A No. 9 Adams Central squad. The win against the Jets put the Patriots in prime position to win the program’s first Allen County Athletic Conference championship.
The Patriots beat Southern Wells and Heritage to run through the ACAC with a perfect 6-0 record in the regular season to claim the title.
After sweeping the Patriot Invitational on Oct. 3, it was time for the conference tournament at Heritage, during which Jay County knocked off both Woodlan and South Adams to set up a finals rematch with the host team.
Jay County came on top — again — in the battle of the Patriots to win the conference title.
That’s when things started to turn sour for Jay County. When the sectional pairings were released, it was given an opening-round match with Concordia.
Then, the Patriots lost in four sets to Bellmont at home on senior night.
Three days later, Jay County went 3-1 at the Union County tournament, falling to Alexandria-Monroe, which was No. 2 in Class 2A.
Tuesday, Class 4A No. 9 Concordia overpowered Jay County. The Cadets won in three sets, handing the Patriots their third loss in six matches.
“We knew going in that Concordia was going to be really good and that we were going to have to play exceptionally well to beat them,” Wendel said. “And I think we played good but not at the level we needed.”
“We knew that we would have to play out of our minds if we wanted to beat them,” she said. “I don’t think any of us were disappointed at all with losing though, just because we played pretty well.”
Schoenlein did too.
“We definitely put up a fight against them and I don’t think they were expecting it,” she said. “It’s a bummer knowing that this was the year that we could really make things happen and we just drew a team that was maybe more prepared with a better game plan.”
She’s right. They were supposed to make things happen.
In fact, they did.
They set a new school record for wins in a season (27). They had the fewest number of losses (six) in Medler’s Jay County career, one season after setting a new mark with eight.
They beat three teams — Madison-Grant, Wapahani and Adams Central — that were state-ranked. Only one of its losses (Bellmont) was to an unranked team.
The Patriots lost 22 matches in 2012 and another 23 in 2013.
The last two seasons, they’ve lost 14. Combined.
Jay County won 11 matches in both 2012 and 2013.
It had 51 wins combined in the last two seasons.
The four seniors were a big reason for that success.
“We did some major rebuilding since my freshman and sophomore years and that has shown these last two years,” Wendel said.
Two years ago, there wasn’t a senior on the roster. That allowed the team to win, and lose, together, but continue to mature and gel to become a dominant team in the last two years.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the experience and the fact that a lot of us pretty much all played together for the last three years,” Osborne said. “In the past two years we only graduated three players and that makes a huge difference.”
While a sectional championship wasn’t in the cards this season, Wendel, Osborne and Schoenlein all agree they still had a good year.
“I think we had a very successful season,” Osborne said. “Twenty-seven (wins) and six (losses) is an awesome record. More wins than last year and conference champions … couldn’t ask for much more than that.
“I think we gave a lot of teams a little more competition than they expected and either stuck with them in the game or handled them rather easily. That’s awesome for us.”
And, it’s awesome for the program too.
The Patriots are no longer a team other squads can overlook.
Now it’s up to the underclassmen to carry the torch.