Friday, March 23, 2001

Ohio boys volleyball preview

Moeller favored, but Elder, St. X will challenge

By Dave Schutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two-time defending state champion Elder, Moeller and St. Xavier have dominated Cincinnati-ares boys volleyball the past four seasons and the same will be true this year.

        Based on the return of UCLA-bound Jeff Silber and major college prospect Chris Pennekamp, Moeller is the top choice in The Enquirer's preseason poll.

        Elder, St. Xavier, Roger Bacon and Lakota West round out the top five.

        “Cincinnati graduated a lot of seniors, but Moeller has about everybody back,” St. Xavier coach Donna Mechley said. “They will be great. They're tall, quick, jump well and are smart hitters.”

        1. Moeller: Coach Tom Brinkman has the luxury of six seniors, plus an outstanding group of underclassmen.

        The Crusaders, who won state titles the two seasons previous to Elder's titles, not only have Silber and Pennekamp, two of the best hitters in the state, but also setter Jude Hueber, junior middle hitter Joe Ryan, sophomore Nick Meyer and senior Mike Walsh.

        “We have a lot of experience, but don't ever underestimate Elder,” Brinkman said. “Our strength is hitting but you can't do it without good passing and setting.”

        2. Elder: Although Elder lost 10 seniors to graduation, the Panthers junior varsity matched the varsity team last season, recording an undefeated season.

        Coach Tom Silbernagel will rely on returning veterans Chris Morman (outside hitter), Scott Benken (middle hitter) and Pat Nienaber (setter).

        “We will be strong up the middle and at the setting position,” Silbernagel said. “The toughest job will be teaching the kids to play defense.”

        Silbernagel pointed out although Columbus teams have several outstanding players, they will have difficulty competing against Cincinnati because of depth.

        “Repeating will be very difficult,” Silbernagel said. “We were involved in a six-team scrimmage with Columbus last week and in my opinion, whoever comes out of Cincinnati, will win state.”

        3. St. Xavier: An injury to Aaron Meirose, a 5-foot-11 senior outside hitter, will hamper coach Mechley's Bombers early in the season. Meirose injured his index finger in a blocking drill and will miss the first five weeks of the season.

        “Aaron would have been a dominant outside hitter for us and his loss will hurt,” Mechley said.

        Setter Kevin Bruner, a 5-10 senior, returns and is expected to provide leadership while Vladan Jovanovic, a senior transfer will take over as middle hitter.

        Bruce Endres, Paul Toogood and Keith Haun also are expected to contribute for the Bombers.

        “Offensively we'll be stronger as well as blocking,” Mechley said. “Defense will be our weakness, which is something we work on everyday during practice.”

        4. Roger Bacon: Coming off a 13-12 season, the Spartans return five starters, including setter Dan Combs, a senior with a 94 percent setting proficiency last year.

        Coach Sally Veatch also will rely on Beckham and Nate Wyrick, along with R.J. Post and Chad Stockman.

        “Outside hitting and middle blocking will be our strengths,” Veatch said. “Serve reception and defense are the weaknesses.”

        5. Lakota West: Coach Jenny Schwarz has a veteran team as the Firebirds return 10 seniors, several who started the past two seasons.

        Three-year starters Matt Knollman and Lukas Graham, along with two-year starters Jake Butman, Thomas Le and John Felini will provide the leadership for a Lakota West team that could move up in the poll.

        Clint Betlej, out last season with an injury, also is expected to play an important role.

        “Our strength is that many of these guys have worked together for two seasons,” Schwarz said. “But, this is only our third season, and we are still learning everyday.”

        5. Purcell Marian: Because of construction, the Cavaliers will play every game at the opponents gym.

        “We face a rebuilding year,” Cavalier coach Angel Miller-Ell “We return only one position player.”

        Hitters John Anderson and Josh Robertson, along with defensive specialist Nick Horton and Nate Pucke and freshman setter Rob Ryan will be the main players. Darrell Brown is expected to develop into a solid hitter.

        6. Princeton: First-year Vikings coach Jon Bennett faces a rebuilding season with Marquis Wofford and Dave Wernersbach the only returning veterans.

        “Marquis and Dave played very little last year,” Bennett said. “The rest of the players were on the junior varsity.”

        7. Lakota East: A lack of experience will be tough for the Thunderhawks to overcome.

        Coach Dave McKain's team will rely on a freshman/sophomore lineup. Matt Williams and Mike Inel Lander are the returning seniors and Brad Williams, Jarrod Mahaffey and Jeff Flaig are the returning juniors.

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