The volleyball banner in Greenwood’s gymnasium has an empty space on it where sectional championships would be listed.
For the first time in a while, filling that space actually feels like it isn’t some pie-in-the-sky pipe dream.
The Woodmen, fresh off a 19-win season and appearances in the county and sectional championship matches, believe that the next step is within reach. They’ve got a talented nucleus back in place — and a coach that seems to be connecting with them.
Melissa Antrim is Greenwood’s fourth head coach in as many years, but ask the players and you get the sense that she’s already generating a different vibe in the gym.
“We’ve had other coaches that can say the stuff she says,” senior setter Ella Dean said, “but she’s actually putting in the work to try to change it.”
“She’s very honest with us and straightforward,” fellow senior Mya Ayro added. “She really believes in us, no matter how hard she is on us.”
Antrim, who is the regional director for Team Indiana and also coaches the Westfield boys in the spring, has spent her first few months in Greenwood trying to foster an atmosphere where every player on the roster feels valuable. For all of the success the team did enjoy in 2021, there was a sense that the Woodmen were a little too reliant on Ayro, who had almost twice as many kills as any of her teammates.
An emphasis has been placed on building self-confidence and trusting teammates, because Antrim knows that lifting up all of the other players on the team will not only make Greenwood tougher to defend, but also prevent opponents from loading up their block on the UConn- bound Ayro all season long.
With larger contributions from the likes of Ella Stivers, Brooklyn Bell and Amy Luttrell, and more depth across the board — the Woodmen have 36 girls out this fall and will suit up a freshman team for the first time — the new coach plans on being able to unleash more of a multi-pronged attack this year.
“You’re going to see a very unconventional offense from me,” Antrim said, “because I actually have more weapons than what anybody really ever knew that Greenwood had.”
Greenwood’s turn-the-corner moment last fall came during the first week of the season, when it pulled out a five-set road win against a Franklin team it hadn’t beaten in more than a decade.
From that point on, the Woodmen believed they were capable of escaping their reputation as just another doormat.
“It showed all of us we can actually do something and we’re not just Greenwood,” Ayro said.
Although that victory did serve as a bit of a springboard, it also cost the Woodmen their starting setter; Dean injured her elbow in a collision during the fourth set and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
She says that time on the bench helped give her a new perspective heading into her senior year.
“I think I was able to connect better with my hitters following that,” Dean said, “because I could see how the other setters were setting to them and where the passes would usually go, so I was better able to adjust when I got back.”
With Dean back healthy, a proven go-to girl in Ayro and several other potential standouts eager to make their mark, Greenwood is ready to shed all of the labels it has worn in the past and create a new reputation for itself.
In the process, perhaps it can fill that long-empty spot in the gym rafters.
“I feel like this year could really be our year,” Dean said. “We’re putting in so much work to try to make that a reality.”
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Jennifer Hawk
Last season: 22-10, won county and sectional championships; lost to Columbus East in Class 4A regional semifinal
Key returnees: Alana Aucremanne, Allee Dieterle, Malia Owen and Julianna Weems, seniors; Sophia Sabol and Sheridan Young, juniors; Reese Dunkle, Maddie Higginson and Ellen Zapp, sophomores
Top newcomers: Emma Leavitt and Ava Mardis, juniors; Lily Jones, freshman
Outlook: The Trojans threw several freshmen and sophomores into the mix last year and matured enough through the season to win a seventh consecutive sectional crown. Hawk’s second team begins the year still young, but with a bit more seasoning. Dunkle and Weems both have big-time capability in the middle, and the back row has some proven talent back with Higginson, Young, Dieterle and Sabol in the mix. Center Grove still needs to make some pieces fit together, particularly at outside hitter, but this will again be a talented team that comes into the season favored to defend its county and sectional titles.
Coach: Kristi Allen
Last season: 9-21, lost to Waldron in Class A sectional opener
Key returnees: Gracie Crawhorn, senior; MacKenzie Bieker, Zoe Sida, Kyah Streeval and Jessica Walsh, juniors; Mia Dodson, sophomore
Top newcomer: Kenna Streeval, freshman
Outlook: The Lancers have nearly everyone back from last season, including top hitters in Crawhorn, Sida, Walsh and Bieker and an established setter in Kyah Streeval, whose younger sister Kenna steps in at libero. Allen, an assistant a year ago, believes the team is in a solid place and should be able to improve its record if it can develop greater consistency. With a more experienced squad, that should be doable.
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coaches: Patrick Carlson
Last season: 13-18, lost to Center Grove in Class 4A sectional semifinals
Key returnees: Ava Pinnick and Emilee Rector, seniors; Scarlett Kimbrell, Kennedy Urban, Veronica Whitaker and Brooklyn York, juniors; Kate Pinnick and Aubrey Runyon, sophomores
Top newcomers: Brooklyn Hudson and Addie Reed, juniors; Maggie Doty, sophomore; Rose Mahin, freshman
Outlook: The Grizzly Cubs stumbled out of the gate last year with a ton of young players in big roles but improved as the season progressed; Carlson — a coaching veteran with a generation’s worth of experience around the state — inherits a team with plenty of proven offensive firepower. Kimbrell should again be the go-to hitter, but York and Runyon are also coming off 100-kill seasons. Kate Pinnick will slide back into the libero role after Franklin graduated most of its back row. The Grizzly Cubs may still be a year away from peaking, but if a young defense comes together, this should still be a formidable group.
Coach: Melissa Antrim
Last season: 19-13, lost to Center Grove in Class 4A sectional final
Key returnees: Mya Ayro, Ella Dean and Ella Stivers, seniors; Brooklyn Bell, Brooklyn Hanson, Amy Luttrell, Katie Newett, Addie Whitecotten and Abby Willham, juniors
Top newcomer: Maria Bellapart, junior
Outlook: Despite yet another coaching change, the Woodmen appear to be in a good place, with plenty of talent returning from the school’s most successful squad in recent years. Greenwood will benefit from having setter Dean back healthy after she missed most of her junior season. Ayro, a UConn recruit, is the headliner, but Antrim has several other options at her disposal and looks to balance the attack this fall. A realigned sectional still leaves nemesis Center Grove in the way, but the Woodmen come into the year feeling like their first-ever title is a possibility.
Greenwood Christian Cougars
Coach: Grace Woolsey
Last season: 14-15, lost to Morristown in Class A sectional semifinals
Key returnees: Mara Beumer and Olivia Shingleton, seniors; Elaina Causey, Savannah Danielson, Naomi Hillenburg, Milana Schundelmier and Hannah Swatts, juniors; Faith Kresge, sophomore
Top newcomers: Savanna Taulman, sophomore; Aiva Kresge, freshman
Outlook: First-year coach Woolsey takes over a Cougars team that returns nearly everyone but still has just two seniors. She notes that team morale is high and relationships between teammates are great, which she hopes will help GCA swing back into conference and sectional contention after a down year in 2021. Shingleton, Bremer and Faith Kresge each had more than 100 kills last season; they’ll be counted on to lead what should be a faster-paced and more effective attack this fall. Danielson and Hillenburg return in the setter and libero spots, respectively.
Indian Creek Braves
Coach: Andy Ferris
Last season: 16-14, lost to Cardinal Ritter in Class 3A sectional opener
Key returnees: Savannah Hall, Kylie Lemmon, Lauren McClanahan and Memoree Weekley, seniors; Grayson Burkett, Katie Heminger, Grace Meredith and Faith Wiseman, juniors; Mattie Key, sophomore
Top newcomers: Kendall Eden, sophomore; Gabbie Francis and Adriana Williams, freshmen
Outlook: Any conversation about the Braves begins with the 6-foot-4 Wiseman, a Division I basketball prospect who provides a dominating presence in the middle. Indian Creek also has solid experience at setter (Burkett) and on the back row (Hall). Several other players have seen at least some varsity time; some of them will need to step into bigger roles this fall for the Braves to emerge as a contender in the WIC and in postseason play.
Coach: Jill Cain
Last season: 7-17, lost to Greenwood in Class 4A sectional opener
Key returnees: Haley Kunz, Audrey Minks and Allie Shelburn, seniors; Amber McClung, Kennedi Morrison, Ashlyn Ricketts and Addie Stoll, juniors; Kiley Sullivan, sophomore
Top newcomers: Mia Waltz, sophomore; Sophia Dyer, freshman
Outlook: The Warriors labored through a slew of injuries last season and never truly got untracked; with most of the roster returning — including the top hitter in Morrison, a veteran setter in Kunz and five of last year’s top six in digs — the hope is that the ride will be a little less bumpy in 2022 and a climb into the top half of the Mid-State Conference is a possibility.