By Chad Richards, Contributing Writer
After last year’s record setting season, the West Liberty women’s volleyball team is ready to do it all again. Last season saw the Lady Toppers put up a 23-14 record and 11-6 in conference, making it their first winning season since 1991 and their most wins since back-to-back 26-win seasons in 1981 and 1982, when West Liberty began play.
Highlights of last year include being one of two teams in the Mountain East Conference to take a set from the then defending National Champions Wheeling Jesuit, winning five straight games against conference opponents, and earning a fourth straight bid to the MEC volleyball tournament.
Many of the members returning to the team were recognized for their contributions throughout the season and in tournament play, earning them spots on the 2016 All-MEC Volleyball Team.
Middle blocker Sydney Scherer earned a first-team selection for leading the MEC and ranking second nationally with 163 blocks; she also ranked in the MEC’s top 10 for hitting percentage and West Liberty’s top three with 217 kills.
Right side hitter Amanda Leonard earned a second-team honor for her MEC-leading and No. 3 nationally ranked five triple-doubles in the season. She also earned team rankings for kills (189), assists (393), and digs (203). She did all this despite missing matches early in the season due to injury. Her twin sister Stephanie Leonard, a middle blocker/outside hitter; along with teammate Raimey Benson, an outside hitter/right side hitter, earned honorable mention All-MEC picks.
Stephanie Leonard’s 119 blocks put her second on the team and sixth in the MEC. She also held down second on the team in kills with 227 and added 173 digs. Benson earned the team’s top spot for kills with 307; she also brought 136 digs and 25 service aces.
Freshman libero Kailee Cunningham was honored with a selection to the MEC’s All-Freshman Team for her 644 digs, which led the MEC and ranked her No. 9 nationally.
While the returning Lady Toppers make a strong team, Head Coach Kayla Mull used the offseason to make additions and signings that hope to bolster the team further. Philo High School’s Maddie Clayton was one of the first new faces to join the team, taking advantage of the NCAA’s early-signing period. She earned Ohio Division II All-East District honors and first-team All-Muskingum Valley League for three years in a row, earning that honor unanimously in her final season. She was also the 2015 Muskingum Valley League Defensive Player of the Year.
Signings over the summer included Centerburg’s Renee Lemke. The defensive specialist was a 2-time Ohio Division IV All-District selection, earned back-to-back berths on the All-Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference team her final two seasons, and was honored as Centerburg’s Most Valuable Player. Megan Stanton will be coming to the hilltop from Ohio’s Newark Catholic, where she led the team to four sectional, three district, and two regional titles along with state tournament “Final Four” appearances. She was also a three-time All-Licking County League and All-District selection and earned an All-Ohio Division III honor and an appearance in the OHSVCA Coaches’ All-Star Game in her final season.
Finally, Kendall Souder will be joining from Edgewood High in Elletsville, Ind., after first playing at Shelby County High in Shelbyville, Ky. She made the starting lineup at both schools, earning 3-time first-team All-Western Indiana Conference selections; she was also named to the Bloomington-Herald Times All-Area Team in her junior and senior years at Edgewood. These new additions will prove to be a strong presence this season.
Last week, the MEC released their preseason poll which had the Lady Toppers coming in fourth in the conference. The Lady Toppers will kick off the season on the road in the LIU tournament tonight, Friday Sept. 1, and tomorrow, Saturday Sept. 2. The Lady Toppers will then make their home debut on Friday Sept. 15 at the WLU/WJU Crossover Tournament.
MEC play will begin on Friday Sept. 22 at Fairmont State with home conference action starting the next Friday Sept. 29 against Urbana. Be sure to go out and support the team this season as they come off last year’s historic season.
Photo credit: Hilltoppersports.com