Wherever she was on the court, the team could count on Keeli Darlage to make the right play.
The Brownstown Central junior filled a variety of roles for the Braves volleyball team this fall, helping the team to 29 wins and the Mid-Southern Conference title.
On top of leading the Braves on the attack, Darlage could also take over a match from the back of the court.
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“She could be a threat from the back row and the front row,” Braves head coach Jennifer Shade said. “We were able to use her as an offensive threat in all six rotations and all across the front line. She was a big part of the success of our program. We had a lot of good players that did a lot of good things, but feeding the ball to her to put the ball away, she did a lot of that for us.
“She was also a huge part of our strong defense. She was able to play that left side, which is a big, important role.”
For all of her accomplishments this season, The Tribune has named Darlage the 2018 Volleyball Player of the Year.
The Braves dominated the regular season, winning their first 11 games before finishing 29-6.
They only lost two three-of-five set matches in the season with one coming to powerhouse Providence in the regular season and the other to Silver Creek in the Sectional 30 finals. The losses to Bellmont (Ill.), Castle, Fishers and Franklin Community were all in two-of-three set tournaments.
Perhaps Darlage’s biggest performance came against Silver Creek in the regular season. She finished with 13 kills and 12 digs in the 3-1 win.
“I thought our team had a lot of respect for a lot of the other teams on our schedule,” Darlage said. “I thought we communicated better. We played together like a family. We hustled hard and worked hard on the court.”
The outside hitter had 10-plus kills in 22 matches, including a season-high 17 in a win against Trinity Lutheran.
In digging, Darlage had seven double-digit performances. Against Floyd Central, she totaled 20 digs.
Going into the season, Darlage had to get comfortable with a new setter: Freshman Reagan Nuss. Luckily for Darlage, Nuss turned out to be one of the top underclassmen in the state.
“I liked Reagan as a setter. She got me the ball where I wanted it,” Darlage said. “She knew how and where I liked my sets.”
While the first thing you notice about Darlage is her ferocity at the net, she felt that the defense was noticeable this season.
“I think I really grew defensively,” she said. “I picked up a lot more balls toward the end of the season. My hitting also got a lot better. I hit more shots in the court.”
Darlage said winning the match against the Dragons for the MSC title and winning the Bloomington South Invitational are some of her best memories of the season.
“There were several matches where she dominated,” Shade said. “When we can run her a two ball in the middle and then run her around to the outside, it is a threat all across the front line. The Silver Creek game was memorable. She played phenomenal. On a weekend when we beat Cathedral, she had another great performance. She had several outstanding matches, it’s hard for me to name them all.”
The Braves often looked to her strong arm, as she went 823-for-971 with 376 kills.
“She is a six-rotation player,” Shade said. “What I really saw her improve on this year were her shots. You can go up and swing as hard as you can, but if you have a big block in front of you, you won’t score points. She learned to place the ball in different positions and hit around that block.
“I think that Keeli is a quick hitter. She jumps high, and Reagan was able to speed our offense up. I think the setter throwing the ball a little quicker, and us running a faster offense played into Keeli’s game.”
At the season’s end, Darlage racked up the awards.
On top of being named the Braves’ most valuable player by her peers, Darlage made the Class 3A All-State second team, Class 3A South All-District team and All-Mid-Southern Conference first team.
Darlage also will try out for the Indiana High School Volleyball Coaches Association’s Junior All-Star team.
In the offseason, she plans on putting in work so the team can go out with a bang her senior season.
“My team motivates me. My team picks me up when I’m down. They know how to make me hype,” Darlage said. “I feel like I need to be more talkative. I need to communicate with my team more and become more of a leader. I try to work my hardest. I just love volleyball. I try to work hard every day to get better.”
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Joining Darlage on the 2018 All-Jackson County team:
Reagan Nuss, Brownstown Central, freshman
Key stats: 1,055 assists, 53 aces, 95 percent serving (444 attempts), 44 kills.
Accolades: Class 3A All-State second team, Class 3A South All-District team, All-Mid-Southern Conference honorable mention, BC assist leader.
Brooklyn Snodgrass, Brownstown Central, senior
Key stats: 351 digs, 55 aces, 96 percent serving (400 attempts).
Accolades: Class 3A All-State second team, Class 3A South All-District team, All-MSC, Academic All-State, BC leading server, BC outstanding server, will try out for IHSVCA Senior All-Star team.
Riley Nuss, Brownstown Central, junior
Key stats: 241 digs, 25 aces, 94 percent serving (342 attempts).
Accolades: 3A South All-District team, will try out for IHSVCA Junior All-Star team, BC leading passer award.
Maddie Riley, Crothersville, senior
Key stats: 260 kills, 676-for-772 hitting, 95 percent serving (262 attempts), 63 aces.
Accolades: All-Southern Athletic Conference, CHS serving and hitting awards.
Kailen Flynn, Medora, senior
Key stats: 179 kills, 578-for-653 hitting, 36 aces, 89 percent serving (228 attempts).
Accolades: All-Southern Roads Conference.
Makenna Fee, Seymour, senior
Key stats: 309 assists, 149 digs, 24 blocks, 163 kills, 396-for-441 hitting, 50 aces, 89 percent serving (309 attempts).
Accolades: All-Hoosier Hills Conference.
Jessica Blevins, Seymour, senior
Key stats: 237 kills, 594-for-696 hitting, 27 aces, 11 blocks, 159 digs.
Accolades: All-HHC, SHS MVP.
Chloe Criswell, Seymour, junior
Key stats: 317 digs, 40 aces, 86 percent serving (292 attempts).
Accolades: All-HHC honorable mention, SHS coaches award.
Hannah Sabotin, Trinity Lutheran, junior
Key stats: 410 kills, 726-for-790 hitting, 75 blocks, 250 digs, 33 aces, 95 percent serving (346 attempts).
Accolades: Class A All-State first team, Class A South All-District team, sectional champion, Trinity MVP.
Abby Schult, Trinity Lutheran, senior
Key stats: 256 kills, 454-for-522 hitting, 81 blocks.
Accolades: Class A All-State second team, Class A South All-District team, sectional champion, Trinity Cougar Award.
Bailey Reynolds, Trinity Lutheran, sophomore
Key stats: 867 assists, 68 aces, 96 percent serving (390 attempts), 61 kills, 196 digs, 27 blocks.
Accolades: Sectional champion.
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All-County honorable mention
Kendra McCory, Brownstown Central, sophomore
Addie Wilkerson, Brownstown Central, junior
Hayley Harpe, Seymour, freshman
Savannah Harweger, Trinity Lutheran, senior
Sydney Jaynes, Trinity Lutheran, sophomore
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2018 Jackson County Volleyball Player of the Year
Keeli Darlage, Brownstown Central, junior
Key stats: 376 kills, 85 percent hitting (971 attempts), 16 blocks, 89 percent serving (343 attempts), 53 aces, 216 digs.
Accolades: Class 3A All-State second team, Class 3A South All-District team, All-Mid-Southern Conference, will try out for the IHSVCA Junior All-Star team, BC MVP.