Most of the Defiance volleyball team’s seven seniors started playing volleyball together in the fourth grade, playing for coach Stacy Brashear in the Antwerp League.
Last season, though, just three of them – Kaylee Brashear (Stacy’s daughter), Jordan Davis and Janelle Bryant – were on the varsity full time.
Two of the others, Tori Vukadinovich and Abby Elwood, were on both the varsity and junior varsity. Another, Courtney Daeger, would have made the varsity full time, but only played in a few games because of an injury. The seventh member, Ashley Tettenhorst, was the junior varsity libero.
This season, all seven are on the varsity full time and collectively have made quite an impact.
Defiance is off to one of its best starts ever at 11-2, having won seven consecutive games.
“At the beginning of the season, with the amount of seniors and how close we all are, I knew this year would be special,” said senior outside hitter Janelle Bryant. “We all have the same goal, to win the WBL and go as far as we can in the postseason. And we are determined to get to that goal.”
Of course, head coach Jolene Williams is focusing the team on taking it one game at a time. But she admits that this group has the makings of putting together a very special season.
“As a program, we have had our eyes on this class for awhile,” Williams said. “They have so much chemistry and they are a tough class. They are like sisters on the court and this team is really like a family.”
Vukadinovich has taken over the libero role with flying colors. She leads the entire Defiance six-county area with 166 digs (an average of 22.2 per match). In addition, she is first on the team in successful serves received (213) and is third on the team in serve percentage (91.5 percent).
“Tori knew that the libero spot was going to be hers this season and she worked hard all off season for the role,” Williams said. “She has faces a lot of challenges, but any new challenges we give her, she faces it head on and does well with it.”
Most importantly, a big role for the libero is communicating with teammates, letting them know where the opponent’s balls are going to be hit. Vukadinovich, who has played the libero for several years on her club team, communication is the easy part.
“The communication is going well, it comes natural for me to be pretty loud,” Vukadinovich said. “I plan to keep up the amount of digs, too and one of the main purposes is for me to pass the ball to (setter) Jordan (Davis). She kind of knows where the ball is going, because we know each so well, we’ve been best friends since kindergarten.”
Davis has had a bit of a challenge in making sure that she has her hands in the proper spot for setting the ball. She struggled at the beginning of the season, getting called several times for double hits in her first couple of games.
But Davis seems to be past that now, upping her setting percentage to 96.1. In addition, she currently leads the six-county area with 357 assists. In addition, Davis is 16th in the area in service aces (20) and is second on the team in serve percentage (93.0 percent). She is also in the area’s top 20 in digs (123).
“The main thing for me to focus on is staying consistent,” Davis said. “At first, it was rough, but all the hitters and I are starting to connect really well. I call a lot of the plays for the hitters, so the coaches have a lot of confidence in me. And for the back row, I definitely feel my digging’s gotten better (over last year). I’m reading the ball better and what the (opposing) hitters are doing.”
Bryant, the team’s top hitter, is strong in several other categories, as well. She is second in the area in kills (167, 14 per contest) and service aces (33), third in serve receive percentage (.947) and 12th in digs (155, 12.9 per match).
“I worked hard in the offseason on my hitting and I’m hitting with more power,” Bryant said. “I’m also seeing better where to hit the ball. My goal has been to average 15 (or more) kills per match and I’ve been pretty close to that the last several games. As far as the back row, my goal is to turn my body around in the best way possible, in order to get the ball to Jordan as close as I can. That way, she can easily get the ball to our hitters.”
Outside hitter Kaylee Brashear is also strong in several categories. The daughter of a former player, Brashear’s mom Stacy (Gutman) was also a hitter. However, Stacy only played in the front row, so Brashear more models Stacy’s twin sister Sarah (Gutman). She was also as a hitter for Defiance but, like Kaylee, played in the back row.
Kaylee is finally completely healed, now, from an injury during the summer that hampered her play early in the season. She is 10th in the Defiance area with 106 kills, third in digs (199) and is in the top 25 in aces (16). In addition, she is fourth on the Defiance team in serve percentage (91.1%) and in numbers of serves received (124).
“My mom has helped me with playing volleyball ever since I was little, even before fourth grade,” Kaylee said. “I haven’t had any delays because of the injury and am hitting the ball well. The hardest part has been in playing the back row, getting the ball to Jordan, because we are running a faster offense. I’ve worked on getting the ball to the height of her head, so she can get the ball quicker to our hitters. Also, my serving is going well. I have my jump serve down and I can change between a top spin and a float.”
Of the other seniors, middle blocker Daeger is seventh in the Defiance area in blocks (30) and is fourth on the team in kills (37). Opposite side hitter Elwood is fifth on the team in kills (35) and defensive specialist Tettenhorst is fourth on the team in digs (135) and third on the team in serves received (135).
“Last season was heart breaking for Courtney and the team when she got hurt,” Williams said. “Now, she is a leader on the court, is so coachable and wants to learn. Abby is high energy and the pace of the varsity level really fits her. And Ashley, I’ve seen a big jump in her play from the beginning of the season. She has adjusted to the faster pace of the varsity level and is doing a good job.”
“Of the others, Jordan is a total team player,” Williams continued. “She puts everyone else on the team ahead of her and she only celebrates when the others do. Kaylee is just a solid all-around player and I’m glad she’s on our team. We call her the voice of the Bulldogs, because she’s such a vocal leader. Janelle has played on the varsity since her freshman year and has become an awesome senior leader. She handles the pressure of the game so well.”
Also, junior Kendall Black middle blocker Kendall Black has contributed a lot. She is fourth in the Defiance area in hitting percentage, in the top 15 in blocks (21), 16th in serve percentage (96.6) and tied for 18th in the number of aces. (20).
Led by the seven seniors, Williams admits that this group, as displayed by its 11-2 overall record and 4-0 mark in the WBL, has the makings of putting together a very special season.
“The seven seniors, they have been playing together since elementary school and now, everything they’ve been working for is a reality,” Williams said. “This team has specific goals in mind, but at the same time, we can’t look past anybody. We have to take it one game at a time.”