Newark Catholic has no fear of a youth movement.
With only two seniors, it was clear how fast the young players matured would play a large role on just how far the Green Wave went this season. Given NC is preparing to play in its first state tournament since 2008, the question emphatically has been answered.
Sophomore Taylor Daignault, one of three co-captains, quickly became a go-to outside hitter during her freshman season. Classmate Christine Joyce has followed in her footsteps this season.
“I feel like I took a huge (180-degree turn) at the beginning of the tournament,” Joyce said. “We have talked about state ever since the beginning of the season. We all knew we had the potential to do it. I guess I realized I had the potential starting tournament because we just wanted it so bad.”
NC (24-4) plays Cleveland Villa-Angela St. Joseph (22-5) at 6 p.m. in a Division IV state semifinal at Wright State’s Nutter Center. Defending state champion and top-ranked Maria Stein Marion Local (26-1) plays No. 2 McComb (27-0) in the other semifinal.
Joyce plays in the front row beside senior Becca Kapavik. Her emergence has given freshman setter Megan Stanton another weapon and has made the Green Wave lethal offensively in virtually any rotation.
With Kapavik and junior Jill Blacksten focused on the defense in the middle against Beaver Eastern, Daignault — an All-Ohio honorable mention selection — and Joyce combined for 24 kills in the regional final. Joyce also had 10 kills in a regional semifinal against Waterford and had nine kills in a breakout match during the regular season against eventual Division III district champion Pleasant.
“I think (Eastern) got frustrated just because we picked stuff up and were able to attack out of it,” NC coach Jeri Helfer said. “It wasn’t like we picked it and sent them a free ball. I am proud of our hitters for continuing to swing on those that weren’t great sets or right at the net.”
Helfer never has been shy about playing young players, and it is paying off handsomely this postseason. While the team is a traditional power, the Green Wave are a bit of an underdog this season, already having upset Eastern.
“Nobody expects us to be there, and we are just coming out on fire,” Helfer said. “That is who they are as people. They want to have fun all of the time, and they want to get after people. I think that is definitely making a difference.”
The Vikings have not been in the state tournament since 2006, and they beat recent state participant Tuscarawas Central Catholic in four sets in its regional final. VASJ also is led by senior outside hitter Danielle Hicks, who joined Daignault on the All-Ohio honorable mention list.
The Vikings dominated their regional final with long scoring runs of 11 and seven sparked by aggressive serving. Helfer knocked on wood during the regional tournament when talking about her team’s serving. NC had just one error Saturday.
During the regional final, several recent NC alumni were seated together not far from the court. Members of the 2004 state championship and ’05 state runner-up teams occasionally practice with the Green Wave, and Kenzie Egan — libero on the most recent regional champion — is an assistant coach.
Now, all those alumni can do is watch. This Green Wave team has taken center stage.
“Sometimes they play with us, and you are still in awe of how amazing you think that they are,” Kapavik said. “Now, they think you are amazing. It feels good.”