If Bellmont is going to take out NorthWood Saturday in the first round of the Plymouth Volleyball Semistate, they're going to have to get a handle on Panthers' setter Kaci Heeter, who has to be one of the busiest volleyball players in the state.
"We have to be aware of Heeter. She's a crafty kid who runs the offense and scores points for them," noted Bellmont coach Craig Krull.
Well, that's only part of the story! Heeter, a 5-6 senior, does have 878 assists, which is a pretty good season's work. She has put down 57 aces and somehow has had time for 405 digs, the most on the 15-member NorthWood team, which has 11 seniors in tow. While setting up the next hit, Heeter jumps to the net and has recorded 46 blocks, second-most on the club.
"Girls at every position have been stepping up, but our key players lately have been Kaci Heeter — leading the team not only with her setting but with her great defense — and middle hitter Taylor Olson (333 kills), who needs to get some big kills and blocks and keep up her tough serve," stated NorthWood coach Hilary Rebber.
"They like to run a quick offense, and they definitely go through their middles if their passing is on. We are going to have to serve aggressively and take them out of their comfort zones," added Krull.
The Squaws, 32-4, play in the second match at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday after No. 1 Yorktown (31-5) meets Knox (33-4) in the 11 a.m. opener. The title match, which will decide one of two state slots, will be held at 7 p.m.
Knox has the least tradition of the four semistate competitors, but the Redskins have won sectionals two seasons straight and have seven titles as a school. They earned their first regional title by knocking off Hammond Gavit Tuesday.
Yorktown has won eight sectionals and four regionals, and a state title in 2000. NorthWood won its 19th sectional crown a few weeks ago and now has three regional crowns after defeating perennial state power and No. 7 Mishawaka Marian on Tuesday. NorthWood dropped the first game, then won three close ones, 25-23, 25-22, and 29-27.
Bellmont has a state title in 2007 and two players on its current roster played on that team, senior All-State outside hitter Alex Fuelling and libero Chelsea Colclasure. Bellmont won its 27th sectional crown and added a 12th regional title on Tuesday.
Rebber has the same plan as Krull. "We want to get them out of their system with tough serving and we have to keep the ball away from their middle and block tough on the outside! We cannot have letdowns where we give them more than one of two points in a row. We must stay mentally tough," said Rebber.
The coach feels that the turning point this year for the Panthers was a battle with Snider at the Penn tourney. "We were down 14-12 in the final game and came back and won it. I saw a change in those girls at that moment that has carried them through so far," added Rebber.
NorthWood has a solid outside attack with 5'9" sophomore Hannah Stump earning 194 kills and 5'7" senior Morgan Yoder with 169 kills. Middle-opposite Taryn Johnson has 144 kills for the Panthers.
Olson is a 6-0 senior who has 64 blocks, 333 digs and 40 aces. Senior libero Maddie Spitaels has 351 digs and senior Allison Schrock 197. Spitaels has 58 aces.
"Spitaels needs to serve tough and made big plays in the back row," said Reber.
Heeter and Olson will likely play collegiately but have not committed to a school.
Bellmont is led by the 455 kills of Fuelling, who adds 203 digs, 90 aces and 28.5 blocks. Chelsea Colclasure is the counter to Spitaels, and the Bellmonter has 431 digs and 55 aces. Middle hitter Madison Schultz has 244 kills with 65 blocks. Middle opposite Payton Schultz has 221 kills and 31 blocks. Senior outside hitter Emily Pierce has 147 kills with 68 aces and 154 digs.
Defensive specialist Allison Gutierrez has 21 aces and 175 digs for the No. 4 Squaws. Frosh Holly Hankenson has 99 kills and 14.5 blocks. Bailee Hankenson has 65 kills and 20 block-kills.
Junior setter Steph Shoup has lifted 936 assists. She adds 22 aces and 19.5 blocks. Shoup lofted 45 assists with 3 blocks and 2 kills in the win Tuesday.
Knox has an outstanding player in Caity Farus, who has 420 kills, 52 aces and an amazing 147 solo blocks.
Bellmont lost 2-1 to Yorktown in an early season tourney there. The Yorkies are led by 6-2 senior middle hitter Jill Hopper, who has 511 kills, 256 digs, 27 solo blocks and 60 block-assists.
Yorktown starts 6-1 right side hitter Emily Wolfert, and has 5-11 middle-opposite Kelsey Barker. The setter is senior Kacee Acree.
"Our focus is defense and ball control, and our players have done a great job of buying into that philosophy so that we are able to run a quick offense," stated coach Stephanie Bloom.
Bellmont has won 16 straight matches since losing to perennial state champ Muncie Burris. "We've been playing well the last two to three weeks and it is starting to show how good we can be during this tourney run," stated Coach Krull.