Jonathan Alder’s Jaden Phelps (center) sends the ball back over the net during a 2020 match. Phelps will be one of the senior leaders of the Lady Pioneer squad this fall. She was also a key player during Alder’s Division II state Final Four team a year ago. (Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Jonathan Alder’s varsity volleyball team opened the 2021 preseason looking to fill some spots vacated by graduations.
A stellar senior class led the Lady Pioneers to a 22-1 record and a berth in the Division II state Final Four during the 2020 campaign.
Alder fell in three sets to Chardon Notre Dame Cathedral Latin during the state semifinals at Vandalia-Butler High School.
Third-year head coach Joe Ross will have to find athletes to fill the spots vacated by, among others, Ava Francis, Emma Shepherd and Kennady Izzard.
Francis, who is preparing for her freshman season with the University of Arizona women’s spikers, spearheaded a stout Alder offense. She tallied 394 kills during the campaign.
“We’re not going into the preseason with the idea of replacing Ava or any of the other seniors from last year,” said Ross. “Our goal is to maximize the talent we have available this season.”
There are still some impressive numbers returning among several of this season’s seniors.
Jaden Phelps finished with 104 kills and 38 blocks, Lizzie Lombardi accounted for 655 assists and Ellie Heisler finished with 255 assists as juniors.
“We’re going to have some new faces on our varsity roster, but we’re still going to be ‘old,’” said the coach. “We have several seniors who are stepping up into leadership roles.
“That’s going to make for continuity in our program.”
The Lady Pioneers used the month of June to compete during a summer league at Olentangy Liberty High School.
“It was fun,” said Ross. “The girls worked hard and it was nice to have fans in the stands to watch those matches.”
The most important thing for the Alder coach was his team had what he called a normal summer.
“We didn’t have to mess with face masks and were able to compete against other schools,” he said.
That wasn’t the case a year ago.
Summer leagues for various sports were canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ross was asked what he felt this year’s Lady Pioneers can do as an encore to 2020.
He said he’s not looking at the upcoming campaign in that way.
“I’m going to quote President Teddy Roosevelt on that,” said Ross. “He said ‘comparison is the thief of joy.’
“This year’s team doesn’t have to do what our 2020 squad accomplished in order to make this a special season,” he said.
“We will want to write the best 2021 story we can and make it the best season it can be.”