State championship teams are crowned in November but are made months before the first serve of the season crosses the net.
While the regular season isn’t for another few weeks, three Jackson County high school volleyball teams are putting in work together this summer.
Seymour, Brownstown Central and Trinity Lutheran are all in the same league that meets Mondays at Seymour Middle School.
Jennings County coach Blakli Hukill is in charge of the league, which has seen a variety of outside schools come in to compete.
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The league, which has both junior varsity and varsity matches, allows coaches to see which players have made the biggest gains in the offseason and figure out which rotations will work best come season.
Owls growing in offseason
Seymour, under head coach Angie Lucas, looks to continue trending upward this fall.
After going 8-25 during the 2017 season, the Owls finished with a record of 17-15 last year.
Thus far into the summer, Lucas, who returned to coaching last fall, likes what she’s seeing on the court.
"We love the growth that we’re seeing," she said. "It has been a great offseason. We’ve been working on offense and defense. We’ve seen huge, huge improvements since last season. The other thing the girls have bought into is the weight room. They have been in three days per week. The improvement they have made there carries over to the court, and they’re more mentally tough."
The Owls have graduated Jessica Blevins, Morgan Bobb, Emily Corcoran, Makenna Fee, Jenna Gray and Elizabeth Wehrkamp from the program. Both Blevins and Fee were All-Hoosier Hills Conference first team in their final seasons. Blevins was the Owls’ most valuable player in 2018.
While she has a young team with just three seniors on the roster, Lucas said her kids are showing maturity.
She stressed the difference she has seen in the players from the weight room work she has seen this past school year.
"We have really pushed that," Lucas said. "Kids are jumping higher. When you’re strong, it just carries over. We’ve been working really hard on physique and have talked about what we eat, things they didn’t think were important. We’re trying to push being a family and getting everyone involved."
While she has seen technique improve, Lucas said it’s the intangibles that have impressed her this summer.
"I just like the fact they are learning to play for each other. That’s such a big thing to get them to understand," Lucas said. "We are trying to accomplish something big here, and it will take all of us together to do it. I’m very proud of the work we have put in."
Lucas said she plans on taking the team to a three-day team camp at Purdue University before the season starts.
Braves laying foundation for ’19 season
Brownstown Central has big dreams this fall and is using last year’s final result as motivation for the 2019 season.
Coming off of a 29-6 season, the Braves return a majority of their team that went undefeated in the Mid-Southern Conference last year.
After a stellar regular season, the Braves fell to Silver Creek in the Sectional 30 championship.
The Braves graduated Brooklyn Snodgrass, Heidi Booher and Madisen Polly. Snodgrass was All-MSC, all-district and Class 3A all-state second team as a senior.
This fall, Braves head coach Jennifer Shade expects to have a strong offense.
"Our front line is strong. We don’t have a weak spot on it," Shade said. "I think that will be a big plus. We feel like we can give anyone the ball. As long as we can keep our passing game going like we have it, we have the offense that can put the ball away. I would like to see our defense be a little more hard-nosed."
While Silver Creek has beaten Brownstown the past two years in the sectional finals, the teams will not meet in the postseason this year.
The Braves have been moved to Sectional 26, which features Edgewood, Northview, Owen Valley, South Vermillion and West Vigo. Northview was the state runner-up in 2018.
"Travel time may be a little more than in the past," Shade said. "The biggest thing for us is that we don’t see the teams that are in our sectional. Our schedule is geared more toward what our sectional was before. For us to see those teams, it will require some scouting. We won’t see any of them in the year. Whether that’s a plus or minus, I don’t know."
Shade said she has high hopes for the team.
"Every time we’re not working hard, we remind them of what has happened the past couple years where we have fallen just a little bit short," she said. "We have tried to handle situations where things are going perfectly. We are looking at how to make it better instead of crumbling. I am trying really hard to get the girls to understand that what they do now will reflect what happens at sectional time. I already have them dreaming big.
"I’m really excited. This is a really fun group. I can already tell by what’s happening in practice and out here that they’re really going to click. They’re going to mesh and work well together."
The Braves will compete in a tournament at Hanover College on July 13.
Cougars setting huge goals
Trinity Lutheran’s expectations for 2019? Winning the Class A state title.
The Cougars went 28-10 last fall.
After winning a fifth-straight sectional, the Cougars advanced all the way to the regional championship game at Loogootee before falling to Barr-Reeve. The Vikings went on to win the state title over Pioneer in four sets.
"We want a state title. We think that because we lost to Barr-Reeve last year and they went all the way that if we play hard and with enthusiasm, we can do it," Cougars coach Faith Wilder-Newland said.
The Cougars graduated seniors Abby Schult and Savannah Harweger. Schult made Class A all-state second team and all-district in her final year.
In the summer months, the Cougars are mastering the little things.
"We did our team camp the very first week after school and have been doing weights and this Monday night league," Wilder-Newland said. "We’re working hard to get stronger and jump higher as well as learning our fundamentals and fine-tuning our skills.
"I have seen a couple kids come out of their shell a little bit and are hitting and playing harder. That has really been good. We’ve had kids that haven’t gotten playing time in the past who are really starting to step up and make big plays. Right now, we are just trying to make improvements for each individual."
Wilder-Newland said she’s pleased with the improvement she has seen.
"We’ll have some strengths in hitting," she said. "We need to improve on our blocking a little bit, but we have the size. We need to work on our footwork and hand positioning. Our defense has made some improvement, but I think we can make more improvement, especially once we solidify our blocking because then our diggers will be able to dig around the block.
"I’m very excited. The kids are pulling together well. They play with a lot of emotion and support for each other. That’s definitely a bonus."
Trinity’s sectional has expanded with Crothersville, Medora, Jac-Cen-Del, Oldenburg Academy, Rising Sun and West Washington all in the mix.