FORTVILLE — With success comes an expectation to sustain it.
For this year’s Mt. Vernon volleyball team, head coach Eric Bulmahn admits he wants to see the program continue its winning tread, but he’d prefer they do it their own way.
“I think this group feels the pressure that they have to live up to past expectations. I’m trying to get them to realize they are their own team,” Bulmahn said. “They don’t have to live up to what’s been here, but we do want them to have the pride of knowing we’ve won the last two 4A sectionals and have been the best team in the county.”
In 2015, the Marauders won a school-record 29 matches. Last year, they finished 27-8 en route to a sectional championship repeat. In order to match past production, Bulmahn said, the first step will be cohesiveness after losing several key players due to graduation.
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Gone is outside hitter Jaclyn Bulmahn, an All-Hoosier Heritage Conference selection who is now playing at Valparaiso University after posting 1,393 kills, 786 digs, 123 blocks, and 105 aces in her prep career.
Also off at college are Ashton Barr (Ohio Dominican University) and defensive specialist Julia Wayer (591 digs in 2016).
Six of the team’s 13 players from last season are back on the roster, however, which gives the Marauders a familiar look but with a chance to form a new identity — especially on offense.
“I was watching videos this summer, and I didn’t realize how much (Jaclyn) bailed us out of trouble. If the ball wasn’t under control, she was always able to go up and take a swing and keep the other team under pressure,” Bulmahn said. “We have to pressure from multiple positions this year. We have to be quick and faster as an offense and efficient. Definitely losing her will create a different dynamic for our offense.”
The Marauders caught a glimpse of what could be on Saturday when they opened the season against Greenwood, winning 3-0.
Of the 36 kills scored, no one had more than 10, as eight different players recorded at least one.
Sarah Herman, one of four seniors projected to be on the floor at the same time, had six as an outside hitter. Sophomore Victoria Bulmahn had 17 assists, partnering with senior returner Meridan Eads at setter.
“(Saturday) no one had more than 19 kill attempts in three sets. It used to be that Jaclyn would have somewhere between 25 and 36,” Bulmahn said. “I think by spreading the ball out more, we can get more one-on-one matchups and good hitting percentages.”
When in control, newcomer Claire Ertel, a 5-foot-7 freshman, will take her swings from the outside, while sophomore right side hitter Rachel Pilkington, who stands 5-9, will attack the net.
“Rachel Pilkington will be one of our key players. She will either play right side, front row for Meridan or middle because she does a great job at either spot,” Bulmahn said. “She’ll be one of our leaders this year.
“She didn’t play much varsity last year, but in club ball she played in open level, and her and Lillie Perdue have improved tremendously.”
Perdue will team with sophomore Sophie Schultz and senior libero Grace Hurst in the back row. Hurst had 330 digs as a junior and is a Southern Illinois University recruit.
Middle hitting duties will be handled by junior Lauren Pilkington and sophomore Olivia Yeley.
“We’re still trying to get a good grip on things lineup wise, so that will vary,” said Bulmahn, who is entering his fourth season. “I expect them to have the same drive to get back up to the top where the other teams were. It’s not about one team. It’s about building a program.”
Since taking over the program, Bulmahn has built a 20-plus win program and controlled the Hancock County Tournament until Greenfield-Central won last season. With the county tournament being discontinued this fall, the Marauders are focusing on the conference and particularly the postseason.
With the IHSAA’s recent classification realignment, the Marauders now can potentially face HHC foes Greenfield-Central or New Palestine in the sectional.
“Last year we said it was a pretty open sectional. Anyone could win it. This year, I feel it could be anybody. I see a lot of good battles, a lot of five-set matches to win it,” Bulmahn said. “I know it’s going to take time, though. I told these sophomores, ‘you have a lot of talent, but you’re going to have to be patient because you’re going to learn a lot as the season goes on, and there are going to be a lot of learning moments, but by the middle of the season, you ought to be getting it.'”