COVENTRY TWP. Now they know.
The Coventry volleyball team may not have been fully aware that it was about to make history, but the realization of what they’ve accomplished is now crystal clear. Earlier this month, the Comets defeated Woodridge to clinch the program’s first-ever Portage Trail Conference Metro title and the first league title of any kind since 1965, when they were the champions of the now-defunct Metro Conference.
Sixth-year head coach Breanna Caslow took over the program when it was a long way from the top of the PTC standings and as her team won the first two sets against the Bulldogs and closed in on the title, she and her coaching staff let players know what was about to happen.
"They were super excited. I don’t think they realized at first because we clinched after the Woodridge match," Caslow said. "We won the first two sets and we told them they were 25 points (winning the third set) from clinching the title. But I don’t know if they realized every other team in the league had two losses and we don’t have any."
Being two games ahead with one conference match left to play made the math simple and it touched off a massive celebration for the Comets, who are now 18-3 and finished undefeated in conference play.
Clinching a league title for the first time in more than half a century isn’t a novel phenomenon at Coventry. Four years ago, the boys basketball team snapped a similarly long title drought and went on to win back-to-back PTC titles.
Given that her players were largely unaware of their own history-making moment, Caslow believes most of them didn’t realize that the basketball team had done the same thing when they were in middle school.
The hoops title was cause for a massive celebration for then-head coach Lynn Wess and his team and this title was no different for the volleyball team.
Many of the players on the roster have been part of a beefed-up program that Caslow started putting in place, along with the other coaches in the district, when she took over the program.
"We developed a bigger youth program. Before, Coventry never had a youth program and now, we have a fifth and sixth grade team and camps for players as young as second grade, which is big because volleyball can be hard to get involved in at that age, Our middle school programs have been really successful," Caslow said.
Developing a youth program is often a first step for a program trying to rise out of the bottom of the standings. When Springfield girls basketball coach Kevin Pletcher took over his program a few years ago, establishing a better youth program was one of his first goals.
Coventry volleyball has benefited from that approach and now has seniors such as Ashley Mirka and Gracie Collins who have risen through the ranks and become leaders for the varsity team, as has junior Leah Ungashick.
Knowing that she would have a strong team this season, Caslow crafted a challenging schedule that has tested the Comets ahead of the tournament. Its only losses have ben to Division I Federal League programs Lake and Perry and also St. Vincent-St. Mary. With their strong record, the Comets earned a first-round tournament bye, the latest evidence that people are taking notice of what kind of team they are and what they’ve accomplished.
When the tournament tips off for the Comets on Oct. 18, they’ll take on the winner of CVCA-East match, with Coventry as the fourth seed in the Tallmadge Division II bracket. Should they reach the district final, they could see a rematch with St. V-M, which is the third seed and in the opposite side of the bracket.
Another aspect of the program’s success is the boost provided by the district’s new high school. Now in their third season in their new home, the Comets are happy to have more space and a modern, well-equipped gym and weight room to use.
"It’s nice … I like how we can have separate varsity and JV practices because more courts with the auxiliary gym and main gym," Caslow said. Instead of having 20 girls on the court, you can have 12 on one court and 12 on the other court."
All of those elements have come together in what is a magical, though not unexpected, championship season for Coventry. Its win total has inched upward the past few seasons and and this year turned out to be the time to take the final step toward making history.
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