For the past three seasons, the Saxony Lutheran volleyball team has advanced to the district championship game, but the Crusaders have finished in second place each time.
In what will be Saxony head coach Emily Wahlers’ second year at the helm this season, the tide could be turning for a program that she said is on the rise.
“This year we’ve got everybody coming back except for three,” Coach Wahlers said. “The youngsters we had playing up — it seemed like last year was an eye opener for them. This year they’ve got a lot more confidence, are taking a little bit more risks and are willing to try a lot more new things.”
Wahlers said the team developed camaraderie while playing over the summer and that there is now a family-like atmosphere on the court. The chemistry is already showing as Wahlers explained that even if a play doesn’t work how they want it to, they will still figure out a way to make something happen.
Along with being the Class 2 District 3 runner-ups, the Crusaders finished with an overall record of 10-22-2 in 2019. Saxony only had four upperclassmen on the roster, though, as the team now encompasses nine juniors and one senior.
Five of those upperclassmen played in 60 or more of Saxony’s 69 sets last fall as those Crusaders were senior Abbi Thomason and juniors Lauren Barnes, Isabella Deckard, Carly Summers and Emma Voelker.
Barnes returns as the team’s leader in kills as she was one of the two players for Saxony to record at least 100 last season with 101. Recording the most kills in 2019 for the Crusaders was Olivia Spanley with 189, who graduated this summer.
Spanley was a force at the net blocking wise as she recorded 68 of her team’s 164 overall blocks. Saxony also graduated its third leader in kills Clara Yokley, who produced 58 kills as well as 21 blocks.
Deckard and Summers join Barnes as returning players who finished in the top five in kills with 51 and 45, respectively. Summers was also behind Spanley for most blocks with 31 as Deckard was third at 22.
“Because of our heigth, we have a strong, tall front row all the time this year,” Coach Wahlers said. “I’m very excited about our blocking possibilities.”
The third and final 2020 graduate for the Crusaders was none other than their libero Makayla Mueller, who had a team-high 345 digs, 204 service aces and 26 aces.
Voelker was the team’s primary setter her sophomore campaign by finishing with a total of 255 assists, which was 238 more than anyone else on Saxony had last season. Voelker was also one of her team’s top servers with 171 service aces and 12 aces overall with a 95.3% serve percentage.
Barnes and Thomason were also two of the team’s top servers along with Voelker. Barnes finished second last year behind Mueller with 179 service aces (95% serve percentage) while Thomason (96.6%) had a total of 145.
Barnes and Thomason return as the only Crusaders who came up with triple-digit digs for Saxony’s defense. Barnes finished with the second most at 212, while Thomason had 161.
Players who will step up this season from last year’s junior varsity squad are junior Anna Thomason and sophomore Anna Mueller. While playing in 17 sets, Thomason recorded five kills, four blocks and seven digs last season.
Mueller will be vying for the starting libero spot as Wahlers described her as a defender who reads well and makes adjustments in order to keep plays alive. Also fighting for the job will be junior Audrey Daniel, who is “very aggressive and so fast,” according to Wahlers.
There are a total of 36 players in this year’s program counting varsity, junior varsity and the freshman class that has a total of 16 players in it. Six of those freshman are already listed on the junior varsity roster (Annie Adams, Clara Brune, Landre Hoehne, Callie King, Grace Ozark and Paige Seibel). Initially, Coach Wahlers had 50 players tryout for the team.
“I’ve got a lot of players from this freshman group that have so much talent,” Wahlers said. “I even had some of them playing with the varsity over the summer, and they hung with them. This is just the tip of the ice berg for Saxony.
“Hitter Paige Seibel, setter Landre Hoehne and libero Callie King are kind of the biggest ones. I have three others: Grace Ozark, Annie Adams and Clara Brune that just can hit the ball. I’m telling you, this squad is going to be pretty exciting for the next few years.”
Wahlers said when she has these freshman take on the varsity squad that they make the upperclassmen “scramble” as they try to figure out what to do.
The ultimate goal Coach Wahlers has set for her program is simple: “State.”