The Falcons are experienced, but Ursula has six state championships.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
AUSTINTOWN -- The 1999 season was a turning point for the volleyball teams at Austintown Fitch High and Cincinnati St. Ursula Academy.
It was the first year the Falcons made it to state -- and first year since 1992 that the Bulldogs failed to win state.
When the two teams meet in Thursday's Division I state semifinal at the Nutter Center in Dayton, one team will have more experience.
Funny thing -- it's Fitch.
The Falcons have advanced to regionals for three straight seasons, and the state experience from two years ago will help them prepare this week.
"I certainly know what to expect from my end," Falcons coach Tom Case said. "It can get overwhelming. There's so much excitement, you can play the game just on energy."
Veterans: Senior Ashlee Lemke (5-foot-6) was a starter on the 1999 team, and seniors Jessica DiCarlo (5-11) and Megan Casey (5-1) played on last year's team.
Sophomore starters Stacie Mang (5-5) and Maggie Case (5-11) were in eighth grade in 1999, but traveled to state as aides.
"Nobody goes down there who doesn't want to win, but that can't be your only thought," Tom Case said. "The season goes by very quickly and this may never happen again. You have to enjoy the moment."
Ursula may not have as much experience as past years -- they lost in the regional semifinal in 1999 and in last year's sectional -- but it does have tradition.
Eye seventh title: Lots of tradition. A title this year would give the Bulldogs seven volleyball championships, tying Newark Catholic for the most in Ohio history.
"Tradition is awesome. I think tradition is the key to success," Ursula's 21-year coach Julie Perry said. "We're really young, but we're talented. We had some great wins last year but we had a lot of injuries."
Both teams rely on youth. Fitch (24-3) starts three sophomores -- Case, Mang and Rachel Terzak -- and one junior -- Katie McDermott. Mang and Case have been playing volleyball together since they were 11.
The Bulldogs (23-4) also start three sophomores -- Beth Shelton (5-11), Beth Gillming (5-10) and Bryn Kehoe (5-10) -- and have just one senior, Tory Neyer (5-9).
A first: This is their first appearance in the Div. I state semifinals, but after playing in the Greater Cincinnati League -- arguably the state's toughest -- they'll be ready.
"We never get a day off," Perry said. "There are three other teams in our league that are playing at state. We beat up on each other in order to get out of Cincinnati."
The league includes state finalists Cincinnati Ursuline and Roger Bacon, as well as Mt. Notre Dame, which won the Div. I state the past three years but failed to qualify for state this season.
Never met: Fitch and Ursula have never met, and the two coaches were very guarded in their comments.
"I hear they attack the ball very well, so we'll have a difficult time defensively," Case said. "We'll have to be very sharp with our serving."
Said Perry, "We're just excited about playing [Fitch]. We're preparing like we're playing a regular game."
That isn't true, of course, but Perry isn't revealing any secrets. When asked what she does to get ready for state, Perry laughed.
"I can't tell you that," she said.