The reigning champs in Division III volleyball can’t take anything for granted after losing too many McEldowneys and Winners. Actually, just two, but two too many…?
Versailles – Kenzie Bruggeman doesn’t discount the fact that she might have lived a charmed life last year. “Unreal” is the word she uses to describe her Tigers winning the Division III state title in volleyball.
Unreal? Well, you compete in a volleyball-rich conference the Midwest Athletic Conference, you fall short of winning the league (always a first priority)…and still have enough to compete strongly in the post-season, finish 24-6 on the year, make the ‘Final’ game, and win. And not only win, but win over #1 Coldwater, one of the two conference favorites throughout the year that prepped you ultimately for a title better than winning the league!
And irony. Don’t forget the irony. That same Coldwater beat Versailles in the next-to-last regular season match of the year (three of four games), which seemed to spark the Tigers to their eight-match tournament win streak that carried them to the Division III title.
“It’s a tribute to our league,” said Bruggeman at the time. “When you have to play teams like Coldwater and Fort Recovery and New Bremen (the Division IV champion) it prepares you for about anything.”
True, Kenzie, but it doesn’t prepare you for graduation, or graduation losses, like front-row stalwart Danielle Winner…and a libero and all-around athlete like Kami McEldowney. Which means…that while the cupboard is hardly bare as Versailles prepares for its opener in two weeks, a 2018 encore title is anything by automatic.
She lost great athletes, of course, and seasoned ones as well, as both Winner and McEldowney won multiple titles in basketball and volleyball during their four-year tenure at Versailles.
And Ellen Peters!
“Don’t overlook her,” said Bruggeman this week. “She really contributed a lot to the year we had, as did all seven of our seniors on that team.”
But they’re gone now (because you can’t redshirt in high school), and the search is on for their replacements. And Bruggeman believes…they’re there someplace, they just have to make themselves known. It is, of course, her job to find them, and Kenzie Bruggeman is in about as enviable position as you can have in high school volleyball.
She’s fun. Kenzie Bruggeman is fun – smiles a lot, and is a total buy-in to the theory that everything happens for a reason. And in just her third season, she already has that coveted state title that some coaches work for decades to attain and never get.
A special education teacher at Versailles, she coaches in a talent-rich district, and makes no bones over being blessed to compete in a talent-rich conference; one where it’s impossible to keep track of the titles because the figure is always on the move, like the spinning symbols of a slot machine.
“I am really fortunate,” she said this week. “It’s a fortunate situation because to follow people like Jeremy Riley and Karla Frilling, and what they left behind. I inherited some pretty good chemistry here.”
And the chemistry, because of periodic titles (last year was the Tigers’ second in five years (2013), appears destined to stay good. They say success begats success? Bruggeman’s summer camp recently attracted more than fifty girls interested in playing volleyball.
But to the present, the Tigers’ young coaching prodigy (from St. Henry) is indeed looking for those leadership replacements for Kami McEldowney and Danielle Winner.
“Those two were such special girls,” she smiles. “They both had the benefit of championship experience, and there’s no one more competitive than Kami. And I think I really learned more from Danielle the last three years than she learned from me. She had an uncanny ability to take disappointment and move on from it. Me, I tend to dwell on things like that.
“But we’ve still got seven girls back from last year’s team, and I expect a big boost from Kelsey Custenborder and Alexa Didier, to start. There’s two big pieces right there.”
Lindsey Winner, with big game experience from last year in volleyball and basketball, adds a third.
She shakes her head when you mention “the league”…St. Henry, Coldwater, Fort Recovery, Minster, and New Bremen, the other title holder from 2017 that holds the gold in Division IV.
“The competition is so good,” she adds. “You really learn how much bigger volleyball is than by just stepping on the court.”
And before she even samples the league she and the Tigers will get a reality check in non-league play from three of the Shelby County League’s best – Fort Loramie, Russia, and Anna, all post-season favorites in divisions III and IV.
If you look in the books you’ll find that there are repeat winners down through the years – Marion Local, St. Henry, Miami East, and Jackson Center, and some others – but such chemistry is hard to maintain. Titles in volleyball seem to come and go like comets.
Kenzie Bruggeman’s edge? She’s played against them, coached against them already, and her comet won last year. She has her title.
She’s also energized the future of her sport with the new enthusiasm that a title can bring.
And, she has the benefit of time. She’s young, and like other great coaches she borrows liberally from other great coaches in the area – Diana Kramer, John Rodgers, and Nikki Etzler, et. al. She knows that encores in anything aren’t automatic. Volleyball, after all, is bigger than just stepping on the court.
That, and just about everything else…when you play for Versailles.