Merrill girls hit, set, dig their way onto Valley team
The Bluejay volleyball team may have finished fourth in the Valley this year, but the level of play of several of their girls was noticed by conference coaches and recognized at the ballot box.
All-around player Renee Sladek was a unanimous First Team pick for the third consecutive year, outside hitter Lauren Hojan was named to the Second Team, and setter Reegan Byer and all-around player Katie Zuelsdorff earned Honorable Mention. All were seniors.
Sladek ranked second in kill % at .359 and was third in blocks at .95 per game. She also had the third-best serving % at .972.
“The experience from those four girls was invaluable; all the playing time they’ve seen over the past four years,” MHS coach Kris Albrecht said.
“Renee has just proven to be such a dominating force in the conference. There’s not going to be another player like her in Merrill for awhile. Her strengths were obviously her hitting, and her court sense. When she smacks that ball down it bounces to the ceiling. She’s just a powerful player.
“She’s a leader on the court. She’s very competitive and she plays with intensity. She stays level-headed and keeps her cool even when the going gets tough.”
Hojan was 11th in kill % at .203, and 12th in blocking at .51 per game and assists at .47 per game.
“She probably made the biggest strides of any of the All-Conference picks,” Albrecht said. “She was a force to be reckoned with. It was hard for teams to block her because she can reach for the ball. She played the right-side hitter, which was a perfect spot for her because she was a setter in her early days and she could help out there. She can jump, she can block.”
Zuelsdorff, a Second Team selection last year, had a .110 kill %, was 7th in digs (4.0 pg) and 14th in serve % (.933).
“Katie played the back row very well for being a hitter,” Albrecht said. “She dug up a lot of balls and wa a strategic server. She didn’t make a lot of mistakes. She was also able to change it up offensively, with a hit down the line or roll shots (lob-like spikes). She’s a thinker.”
Byer rated 4th in assists (6.11 pg), 20th in serve % (.908), led the team in aces (23) and offered 95 digs.
“She pretty much ran our offense,” Albrecht said. “She’s a smart player and knows where to place the ball. She likes to pick apart the opposing defense.
“She plays with great intensity and wants to win so bad. It’s always exciting to have players on a team that want it so badly. I referred to her as my ‘game-changer,’ because she could swing us in a positive way.”
Junior libero Morgan Marnholtz was 2nd in serve % (.979) and 3rd in digs (4.76 pg).