Franklin and Center Grove took turns atop the county high school volleyball scene each of the past two seasons.
The Grizzly Cubs won the county championship each year.
The Trojans took the 2012 and 2013 Class 4A sectional championships in which four Johnson County schools participate.
Both figure to stay at that level, but Greenwood, which returns experience and depth, expects to challenge for those trophies, as well. Other teams have reasons to be optimistic.
Third-year coach Dana Daprile returns height and experience from last year’s squad, which finished 21-15 overall, 6-2 in Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference play and won the Franklin Sectional title before falling to Columbus East in the regional.
This season, the Trojans are aiming to overcome the regional hurdle, which cut short each of their past two seasons.
“We’ve set expectations much higher,” Daprile said. “The county’s definitely gotten stronger, and the conference has as well. Our schedule’s brutal, but we like it that way. It’s going to prepare us for postseason play.”
Top returners include seniors Ali Line (6-foot-2 middle blocker) and Regan Wentland (6-2 outside hitter), along with juniors Taylor Hammill (5-11 setter) and Madison Smeathers (6-4 middle blocker) and sophomore Macy Carrabine (5-9 libero), all of whom return to the rotation.
Four freshmen (Emma Jones, 6-1 middle blocker; Ellen LeMasters, 5-10 outside hitter; Devynn Merriman, 5-7 defensive specialist, and Gabby Pugliese, 5-7 defensive specialist) figure to add depth.
“This year, the girls are very goal-driven,” Daprile said. “Some of these girls have been playing (varsity) since their freshman year. When you have that experience, you have confidence, too.”
Inexperienced last season, the Lancers labored through a five-win campaign and still have no seniors on their roster.
Despite that, coach Tina Bottorff said she believes this year’s squad will benefit from last year’s growing pains.
“Last year was probably one of our most successful seasons from a growth standpoint,” Bottorff said. “We had four freshmen and two sophomore starters. They weren’t ready, athletically or maturely. This year, the girls know the game better with their skills and fundamentals.”
Juniors Lillie Parmer (libero), Mikala Lain (outside hitter, middle blocker) and Megan Rooks (setter) return, along with sophomores Mara Cox (outside hitter, middle hitter), Sydney Schlotter (middle hitter, defensive specialist), Mayce Anderson (right side) and Brianna Howard (outside hitter).
Bottorff said newcomers Sydney Richardson (junior defensive specialist), sophomore Haylee Whitchurch (right side) and freshmen Alexis Adams (middle hitter) and Savannah Kellams (right side) also will contribute.
“We’re working on passing and being a fundamentally sound team,” Bottorff said. “Our offense isn’t where we want to be yet, but by the end of the season we’ll be there.”
The Grizzly Cubs lost five seniors to graduation and have a new coach, Travis Gabehart, who was an assistant head coach last season.
Despite the turnover, Gabehart is confident Franklin returns enough talent to build upon last season’s 26-8 overall record, 5-1 Mid-State Conference mark and county crown.
“We’ve had a lot of great seasons and been right there on the cusp, but tripped up during sectionals, so we’re working on ending this season on a high note,” Gabehart said. “We lost a lot of leadership, but skill-wise and talent-wise we should be just as good, if not better.”
Senior Jess Admire, a two-time county Daily Journal Player of the Year and 5-10 outside hitter, returns, along with fellow seniors Lexi Hash (5-8 outside hitter) and Caroline Rogers (5-7 setter). Juniors Morgan Hash (6-2 middle hitter) and Kaylee Phillips (5-8 defensive specialist) and sophomore Abby Sewell (6-0 middle hitter) also return.
Gabehart said he also expects contributions from freshman outside hitter Rachel Kinney, a 5-10 Franklin Central transfer. He said Kinney likely will start right away.
“The Hash sisters really stepped up toward the end of last year,” Gabehart said. “Rogers played a backup role at setter the last few years, and she’s done a great job so far. We have four really good defenders. It’ll be interesting to see how they mesh.”
Returning experience and strong depth makes fourth-year coach Lisa Laug optimistic that the Woodmen can improve significantly upon last year’s 15-15 overall record, 3-3 Mid-State Conference mark and third-place county tournament standing.
“We had so many girls with enough strength to be on the varsity team,” Laug said. “There is a good depth of skills. We have a lot of veteran leadership; not only seniors, but other people who are returning.”
Senior defensive specialists Morgan D’Angelo and Caroline Morris, along with fellow seniors Madeline Wolf (outside hitter), Katie Torrance (setter) and Savannah Short (utility), return, along with juniors Caitlin Johnson (defensive specialist) and Olivia Stilley (middle hitter), and sophomore Olivia Struewing (outside hitter).
Laug also expects contributions from newcomers to the varsity rotation, including juniors Emmalee Stier (middle hitter) and Geena Schneider (utility), sophomore Camryn LaMonaca, a Roncalli transfer, and freshman Hanna Anderson, who Laug said would be a setter and possibly play other positions as well.
“We’re hoping for a little more consistency, even in emotions and drive to win,” Laug said. “They certainly have the skills.”
First-year coach Megan Tolin, who takes over for Tracy Smith, will rely on a talented junior class and a strong work ethic to guide the Cougars this season.
“I’ve never walked into a gym and had girls push themselves as much as they have,” Tolin said. “I didn’t come on until a couple weeks were left in July, but they all worked out on their own, which says a lot about their dedication.”
Hannah Peters (outside hitter converted from setter), Bethany Ulrey (setter), Delanie Kent (middle hitter) and Lexi Hooten (defensive specialist) make up that junior class, while the team’s lone senior, libero Elena Check, will lead the Cougars this season.
Sophomores Katie Cruse (outside hitter) and Tara Pennycuff (utility), and freshmen Sierra Gilson (middle hitter) and Grace Peters (right side) also will contribute.
“I think we’re going to have a really strong front row,” Tolin said. “I want to be more consistent in the back row.”
The Braves lack experience on the court and on the sidelines, as first-year coach Andrea Knight leads a roster that includes 15 freshmen among 24 players overall.
Knight hopes the players’ work ethic and leadership from the remaining upperclassmen help offset the youth.
“We have two seniors and five juniors, so we’ll have leadership on the court,” said Knight, who was a volunteer assistant for the Braves during the 2012 season. “We need to improve at moving on mentally from mistakes, but they have come a long way since the beginning of practice.”
Knight will count on seniors Sam Morris (5-6 outside hitter-setter) and Kati Havens (5-8 right-side hitter), along with juniors Baylee Wilson (5-8 setter), Lucy Keiweg (5-8 outside hitter), Mikayla Baugh (5-7 middle blocker) and Sydney Williams (5-8 middle blocker) for experience and leadership.
Meanwhile, sophomores Sara Knight (5-8 setter/outside hitter) and Brittany Dugan (5-10 middle blocker), along with freshmen Tori Travers (5-4 defensive specialist), Mallory Hogue (5-4 defensive specialist), Morgan Hogue (5-4 outside hitter) and Sidney Doss (5-7 right-side and outside hitter) will lend depth.
Under the direction of first-year coach Kristin Estridge, the Warriors look to improve on last year’s 5-16 record.
Whiteland’s roster features three seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and one freshman.
The Warriors’ seniors are Madison Dotson, Kaylyn Alford and Alyssa Dailey. Juniors are Kylie Glover, Madison Scott and Alyssa McClung.
Sophomore Hannah Reed and freshman Lindsay Boltz round out the varsity roster.