Newton Falls volleyball ready for postseason

The Newton Falls volleyball team, who lost several seniors from last year’s squad that qualified for a Division III district title game, have not skipped a beat, since then. With just four seniors, the Tigers find themselves sitting at 21-1, with an All-American Conference Blue Tier title and a No. 1-seeding in this week’s Division III Leavittsburg district tournament under their belts.

“I think as long as we focus on one point, one set, one match and one game at a time, we’ll have a pretty good chance to win the district title,” Tigers coach Kristina Baker said. “That was definitely one of our goals coming into the season.”

Strong senior leadership has been the engine that has made this Newton Falls team go, which Baker says is a result of the now-seniors gaining lots of valuable experience from last year’s senior-laden team.

Kayla Barreca and Olivia Hedge are both three-year starters, while Autumn Hutson has started for nearly as long.

“They’re a big part of our team’s success, they’ve been setting a good example for our younger players,” Baker said.

“Losing seniors every year is tough and every year you have to kinda figure out who you are.”

Baker, who said her team is generally pretty young, had to proactively move some of the players on this year’s team around to new positions, even with the fact that those players had played their same position for years.

Thus far, the moving and shaking has worked, with great success. One player, who wasn’t moved by the way, who’s seeing tremendous success is junior Izzy Kline. Kline, a middle hitter, has done a great job of taking after her recently-graduated sister, Gabby.

Recently, Izzy broke Gabby’s single-season school blocks record, as the younger Kline currently has more than 100 for the year. Izzy’s ascension, according to Baker, starts with motivation.

“She’s just a powerful player,” Baker said. “Before, she was just laid back. But now, she’s really gone after it. She’s a big presence and she hits as hard as she can. We’ve had to have her tone it down in practice (a bit).”

While Kline set one record for the Tigers this year, Hutson set another. Hutson had 60 digs in a game earlier this year, breaking the school’s previous record of 51. While the defensive-minded libero has shown plenty of talent and leadership this year, it’s fellow senior Hedge who may be the best kept secret on the team.

“She’s had a great season, and she’s an all-around good player who can play every spot on the court,” Baker explained. “She’s a really good server for us. Her hitting has really improved a lot.”

The Tigers, the aforementioned No. 1 seed at LaBrae High School, takes on Mineral Ridge in the first round, a team they defeated in the second round a year ago. Their district includes Berkshire, the team that downed them in the district title game in 2015.

However, if the Tigers play as one, according to Baker, their chances are as good as anyone to take the title this year.

“They have their moments (when they’re out of sync and not focused), I guess,” Baker replied, laughing. “If they stay focused and play together as a team (the opportunity to win the district title exists).”