by Matt Deutsch | Correspondent
This season is one of transition for the Tallmadge High School volleyball team.
First and foremost, the Lady Blue Devils lost eight players from last year's squad to graduation.
After finishing the regular season with a record of 9-13 in 2012, Tallmadge embarked upon a lengthy postseason run.
That run ended in the Division II regional semifinals, where the Lady Blue Devils lost a 22-25, 25-21, 25-18, 25-14 decision to Canfield in the regional semifinals. As a result, Tallmadge finished 13-14.
The eight players who graduated were outside hitter Emma Mathieson, libero Demi DeLorenzo, middle hitter Christa Wilk, right-side hitter Briana Burgan, defensive specialist/right-side hitter Kelsey Knutty, defensive specialist/outside hitter Morgan Stack, defensive specialist Katy Schubauer and outside hitter Meryl Wiebrecht.
Second, the Lady Blue Devils have a new head coach in Ami Stevens, who graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007.
With the program in transition, Tallmadge have adopted a theme that not only fits the occasion, but also its philosophy regarding the upcoming 2013 campaign.
That theme is "forward with every step."
"No matter what happens, we're moving forward," said Stevens. "Every point, no matter if it's a great kill or a bad pass, we have to move forward. Our goal is to focus on the next point and the next milestone, whether it's in practice or competing in a tough match. It's equally important."
Having lost so many seniors, the Lady Blue Devils have just two returning players from last year who have appreciable experience starting at the varsity level.
Those two are senior setter Karly Helmuth and junior middle hitter Rachel Gardella.
"It's a rebuilding process right now," said Stevens. "We have a lot of new faces who are going to see playing time."
Those new faces include freshman outside hitter Jessica Herman, freshman defensive specialist Olivia Ayres, junior middle hitter Jenna Straika and sophomore defensive specialist Lexi Philen.
There are a total of three seniors on the varsity roster. In addition to Helmuth, the other two are outside hitters Mackenzie Gershom and Michaela Murdocco.
The other juniors on the roster are middle hitter/outside hitter Emily Schott, defensive specialist/setter Nina Spitali and defensive specialist Gabby Myatt.
"We're learning how to play the game of volleyball," said Stevens. "The No. 1 thing we're working on is ball control and also being able to put the ball away. The group has improved 100 percent from the team camp to the preseason.
"We had a lot of catching up to do skill-wise and now we're really enhancing those skills and going to the next level. As a team, we're nowhere near our peak."
Tallmadge had scrimmages with Kent Roosevelt and Rootstown during the preseason and Stevens liked what she saw during those games.
"I was very pleased with our performance," she said. "Our passing was phenomenal compared to what I saw earlier. One of our major challenges as an inexperienced team will be playing our game consistently. Great volleyball teams have an identity and we're still searching for that."
Of course, Tallmadge plays in the always tough Suburban League. The Lady Blue Devils finished 7-7 in the league last year. Stevens is looking forward to the challenge.
"There's a lot of good competition and a lot of Division I schools," she said. "I'm excited to play against these schools because I came from a smaller town and the league I coached in previously didn't have that level of competition."
The junior varsity coach and Stevens's varsity assistant coach is Paige Schertzinger. Also serving as an assistant coach this year is Katy Helmuth.
The Lady Blue Devils are scheduled to open their season Aug. 24. Tallmadge is set to battle West Salem Northwestern and West Salem in a tri-match at Northwestern High School. Play is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
"I'm really excited to be here and part of the program," said Stevens. "I'm looking forward to seeing what these girls can do this season and to watching them grow as volleyball players."