It took Lindsay Diehl just four years to build the Clarke softball team into the Class 3A state runner-up.
Now, she takes the reins of the volleyball team and will try to rebuild that program into a South Central Conference contender.
“Last year we didn’t win a conference game,” said Diehl, who was an assistant with the team last year. “I told the kids, right now our reputation as a volleyball team is not something you really want to hang your hat on, and they’re going to have to outwork people. I hope we can get in and win a couple of matches in conference.
“A couple of years ago, they won conference,” she continued. “It wasn’t that long ago that Clarke was something everybody knew who it was in the conference. I really want to get it back to that. Really, I want to get it to a level that softball is.”
Joining Diehl on the coaching staff in a mentorship program is Clarke alum Brooke Shultice, who graduated in 2011.
“I really look forward to Brooke being a part of the coaching staff,” Diehl said. “She’s from here. She was a part of the squad when they were a power in volleyball. Any time you have that in your belt, when you’ve been part of a successful program, you know what it’s going to take to get back to that and the work it’s going to take. She’s passionate about the sport, and that’s the biggest thing you can have as a coach.”
Forming the nucleus of this year’s Clarke team will be senior setter Mackenzi Otto.
Last year, Otto finished with 201 assists and served 167-of-184 with 21 aces.
“She works really hard,” Diehl said. “Last year we didn’t always give her great passes, but she always finds a way to get a good set so at least our hitters can get an attempt at the net.”
Senior Kennedy Crees will likely fill into the libero role, providing solid defense in the back row for the Lady Indians.
Sophomore Baylie Balcaen returns to the front row after recording 61 kills as a freshman last year.
“Baylie, last year was a starter as a freshman, and she really has figured it out,” Diehl said. “Last year she was trying to figure out her body and how to make it work at the net, and this year I think she’s really going to be a force to be reckoned with. She’s learning every day.”
Sophomore Maddie Heath, who recorded 32 aces and 100 digs last year, also returns to the Clarke lineup.
“She’s just so athletic, she can play all the way around,” Diehl said. “She’s not very tall, but she has springs in her legs and she can jump so high.”
Seniors Delaney May, Allyssa May and Elly Eddy also return, and Diehl said she expects them to play a major role for the Lady Indians this season.
Sophomore Kara Campfield earned some playing time with the varsity team last year in the postseason, but will likely play a much larger role this year.
“It’s a fresh face in the varsity lineup, but I think she is a workhorse,” Diehl said. “She wants to get better. You’ll take 100 of those kids who want to get better.”
Sophomore Ally Deutsch will also see some varsity time this season.
“She has improved a bunch defensively,” Diehl said. “We could maybe prepare her to take the role of like a Mackenzi Otto as a setter when she leaves.”
Diehl noted there are a number of girls who did not go out last year as eighth graders, who are out this year as freshmen.
One such athlete who could make an impact with the varsity this season is Alex Boyce.
“She’s just so tall,” Diehl said. “She keeps getting taller every day she comes to practice. I think she’s growing overnight! She’s another kid who is just an athlete, who I see big things for in the future of Clarke volleyball.”
Sydnee Redman is another freshman out this year who was not out last year, and has been pushing the older athletes during preseason practices.
Clarke opens the season 8:30 a.m. Aug. 31, hosting the Clarke Invitational.