Fall comes into the Ohio Valley with a rush.
Not only do the temperatures change, the leaves turn and school doors re-open to a new group of students, the season welcomes prep sports back to the valley.
With the opening of school, athletes return to the football fields, cross country courses, soccer fields and golf courses. There are also those who return indoors to dive on unforgiving floors for sinking serves or stretch above sky high nets to block an opponent's attempt to add one more point.
It's time for volleyball in the Ohio Valley, the one sport that seems to get better with age. Here, in the conference split by the Ohio River, volleyball has become more exciting to watch as the talent level and teams have gotten better and better over the past few years.
This season will mark the second that the OVAC will be crowning five champions, something the conference has been doing in the sport for many years.
Last year saw the first Class 5A title handed out and it was an exciting three-set match that decided it. Cambridge, the 2009 and 2010 4A champ, edged regular season champion Indian Creek to capture its third straight title. If the Lady Bobcats are to repeat, they will need to do it without the ultra-successful Rod Johnson who stepped down after last season. Johnson is one of the OVAC's winningest volleyball coaches.
Another veteran coach, Bob Shansky, led his East Liverpool netters to the Class 4A title by making short work of Meadowbrook in the finals. In 36 years coaching the Lady Potters, Shansky has amassed a 463-322 career record and last season advanced his squad to the Elite 8 in the Ohio state tournament.
Monroe Central and head coach Troy Baker returned to the winners' stand winning the Class 3A title in a battle with Buckeye Trail in the finals. Baker's Lady Seminoles had a championship run that brought the school crowns each year from 2005 to 2008. Trail, coached by Jeff Beros, has the most playoff championship in the OVAC with 13. Beros enters this season with a remarkable 429-96 career mark.
Class 2A had some unusual pairings last season, but regardless Steubenville Central was locked in a battle with Frontier before taking the title. Kurt Vandeborne has since relinquished his Lady Crusader head coaching post.
Paden City and its highly-personable coach Fred King returned as champions in Class 1A, topping Madonna. King guided the Lady Wildcats to a title in 2005 and is back this season with a 193-94 career record.
Again this season, the OVAC will be holding the volleyball championships at two sites. At Steubenville High School the Class 4A matches will start at 10 a.m., followed by the 5A matches at 12:30 p.m. and 3A at 3 p.m. At Brooke High School, 2-A action starts at 10 a.m. and 1-A at 12:30 p.m. The championships are set for Saturday, October 13.
This year's OVAC All-Star Match is set for Sunday, November 18 at 2 p.m. at Bridgeport High School.
With the talent level increasing in the conference, five talented players will not be returning this fall. The quint comprises the 2011 players of the year in the OVAC. All were seniors. They are Dominique Craft of Paden City, Megan Blackburn of Steubenville Central, Kayley Stephens of Monroe Central, Kelly Kiger of East Liverpool and Vontisa Harvey of Cambridge.
In addition to coaches mentioned earlier, the conference has some of the winningest coaches in both Ohio and West Virginia. Ethel Riser of Oak Glen has been a staple in the Mountain State volleyball scene for many years and has not posted one of the career marks, but has quite possibly seen more post-season success than any other coach in that state. Dan McKinstry, at Wellsville, is another who has quietly put together an amazing record. McKinstry surpassed the 500-win mark a few years back.
There are a few new coaches throughout the OVAC, but not quite the turnover of the past few years a sign that coaches are starting to settle in on the courts.
Most notable among the new coaches are Jeff Fluharty, who takes over at Beallsville, Lisha Stocker who is filling the shoes left by Johnson at Cambridge, Lynn Meyer, who coached OVAC champions at Edison, takes over at Steubenville.
Joel Joseph is trying to resurrect the volleyball program at Shadyside. That school has not competed in the sport since 1983, but Joseph is hopeful that despite some growing pains he can develop the sport in Tigertown.
Linda Yourko will be taking the East Richland Christian School into it's first full season of OVAC competition. The school joined the conference last year and has jumped into the conference with both feet this season hoping to contend for a playoff spot.
Below are capsule reports on some of the OVAC teams. Note that local schools that did not submit data were not included: