The Avon High School volleyball team finds itself in the Class 4A state championship match for the second consecutive season. Last year, Penn topped Avon in four games. Fourth-ranked Avon (34-5) will take on No. 2 Carmel (37-1) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Ball State's Worthen Arena. (The complete state finals schedule appears on C15.) Here are five things to watch:
Rare volleyball success
Carmel has a record 111 Indiana High School Athletic Association state titles in various sports, but this is the first appearance in a state title game for the volleyball team.
"The Carmel athletic program is tradition rich and we're happy to be part of that success now," Greyhounds second-year coach Rich Coleman said. "(This is) a special group of athletes and they've worked hard to achieve that. We've had some lineup changes and things that have happened over the course of the season and everybody steps up. There are really no selfish attitudes or any issues we've had over the course of the season. They accept whatever role is given and do it to the best of their abilities."
Carmel is led sophomore outside hitter Carly Skjodt (527 kills, 463 digs, 75 blocks), senior middle hitter Lauren Pitz (231 kills, 127 blocks), junior outside hitter Carly Durr (216 kills, 411 digs), junior outside hitter Emily Stebbins (173 kills, 63 blocks), junior defensive specialist Grace Muller (751 digs), senior defensive specialist Shelby Foyer (315 digs) and junior setter Carly Harbison (798 assists, 253 digs, 71 blocks).
Impact of rematch
Host Carmel swept Avon 25-20, 25-16, 25-17 on Aug 21. Coleman said a lot has changed for both teams since that meeting.
"Early on, it will be two teams feeling each other out to see what changes we've both made," he said. "Avon has beaten some good teams during the postseason. They've had to play at a high level for a long time now. They got a lot of momentum and a load of talented players."
Orioles coach Scott McQueen said both teams have shown improvement over the two-plus months since the last meeting and the key will be which team passes better.
"Both teams have some nice offensive options and the key to almost any volleyball match is who handles the ball best off the first contact," McQueen said.
Avon's Beth Prince
The 6-3 sophomore outside hitter (443 kills, 164 digs) is considered one of the nation's top players and was named national Freshman of the Year by ESPN last year.
"She brings so much to what they do and how they do it," Coleman said. "She is definitely fun to watch, except for when you are coaching against her. It will be a huge challenge for the girls."
Nine of Avon's 16 players were on last year's team.
"We hope it's a benefit," McQueen said. "I'm not sure how much it affected us last year, not being there before. There are some depth perception issues (on the court) and pressure issues. But we really feel pressure every match. We feel we've been there, done that."
In addition to Prince, Avon is led by sophomore outside hitter Calle Weddle (254 kills, 163 digs), senior middle hitter Kayla Springer (161 kills), junior defensive specialist Rebekah Strange (320 digs), junior setter Rachel Griffin (910 assists) and senior middle hitter Emily Graves (170 kills).