Senior standout Laurissa Poling, the Raiders’ 6-foot-1 obstacle at the net, attempts to lead Russia to a second straight regional tournament appearance since the mid-1970s.
Russia – Since her junior high days, Russia High School senior Laurissa Poling has towered over most of her classmates. But few – including Raiders volleyball coach Aaron Watkins – anticipated the heights Poling reached last season.
Poling made leaps in nearly every major stat from her middle hitter position, helping lift Russia to the Division IV regional semifinals. A four-set loss (18-25, 20-25, 26-24, 24-26) ended the Raiders season. But it didn’t stop their determination.
The last time Russia reached back-to-back regional tournaments was 1975 and 1976. Though Poling is chasing individual school records of her own, it’s the team history she wants most.
“Russia volleyball has never been (to state). Baseball went a couple years ago in boys. Russia volleyball has never been there but it would be awesome if we did,” Poling said. “We’ll just keep on trying our hardest and seeing what happens.”
Russia finished 19-8 overall and 9-3 in the Shelby County Athletic League, tied with Fort Loramie for second place. Anna won the SCAL at 10-2.
Poling is one of four seniors on the roster along with setter Jenna Cordonnier, outside hitter/defensive specialist Morgan Wenrick and middle hitter Samantha Gaerke. Poling credits Cordonnier – who is chasing some records of her own – with much of her success. Living in a small town has helped, too.
“With Russia being so small we’re always around each other,” Poling said. “My setter, Jenna, we have really good chemistry. We’ve been playing together since fifth grade. We kind of know each others tendencies on the court. I know where she’s going to put that ball every time. A lot of my stats come from Jenna.”
Poling nearly doubled her kills, blocks, digs and aces from her sophomore season to her junior season. In 2016, Poling recorded 183 kills, 64 blocks, 64 digs and 20 aces. Last season she had 321 kills (nearly every other ball she hit resulted in a kill), 100 blocks, 166 digs and 33 aces. That puts lofty expectations on her senior season.
Among her milestones, Poling holds the school record for kills in a match with 26 (set against Jackson Center). If she gets 332 kills she’ll set the single-season record. And she’s 297 kills shy of the career record of 858 held by Kylie Wilson, who also has the single-season mark.
Poling needs 110 blocks for the single-season record. She’s 44 blocks behind the career record of 252. Claire Sherman holds both marks.
“I’d be excited to get records this year, but we’re focusing as a team,” Poling said. “We usually get to districts but we want to get to regional again this year.”
Getting to the regional tournament is tough enough with a field loaded with SCAL teams. Getting out? Consider this: the regional Russia played in last season produced the last 11 state champions with defending state champion New Bremen, Marion Local (five), Jackson Center (two) and Fort Loramie, Lehman Catholic and St. Henry.
“When we saw Fort Loramie lost to the state champions we wondered what could we have done?” said Poling, whose Raiders split with the Redskins during the regular season. “But New Bremen was very strong last year. It would have been tough to get past them. … I think it’s nice being in such a tough conference. Local teams go to state and win often. You know if you get to state what kind of teams will be there.”
To give her team a better chance, Poling played Junior Olympic volleyball during the off-season and has attended camps including the University of Dayton’s Elite camp. Her cousin Lindsey Winner, a standout junior for Versailles, also attended the UD camp. Poling hasn’t decided where she’ll play her college volleyball but Wright State University is very high on her game.
So is Russia coach Aaron Watkins. Her size and athletic ability forces opponents to play away from Poling at the net. That means less court for her teammates to cover.
“It’s awesome for me as a coach because I can run my defense around her,” Watkins said. “Laurissa is taking away this part of the court, you guys need to be here where she’s not blocking. It makes my job coaching extremely easy. … She’s very coachable. She’s exactly what you want in an athlete. She will do anything I ask of her. And when she does it she wants to do it the best she can.”
Poling returns as a contender for the SCAL player of the year. She was a first-team SCAL selection along with fellow returning seniors Raquel Kessler of Jackson Center (last season’s player of the year) and Emma Meyer and Lexi Wells of Anna. Poling was also named honorable mention All-Ohio in basketball.
Those accolades would be great to have again, of course. But the title Poling most wants – and one she can share with her team – is regional champion.
“My senior class is a very strong class,” Watkins said. “I know their goal is to make it to regionals again. Russia volleyball has not done that since 1975-76. It’s been a long, long time. That would be awesome for them.”