FORTVILLE — When Eric Bulmahn signed on as Mt. Vernon’s head volleyball coach last season, not only did he change the culture of the program, he taught the girls an important lesson — how to win.

In the past four seasons, the Marauders are 51-13 with Bulmahn on the sideline and 18-42 without. However, there’s one victory Mt. Vernon is still searching for — a sectional title.

After a 3-0 loss to state-ranked Yorktown last season in the sectional final at New Castle, the second-year head coach decided it was time to build on the base he built in his first season as the Marauders’ head man.

“This year, when we came in, we had a head start,” Bulmahn said. “I could use that as a base and take it to the next level. They just had to learn how to win.”

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

And what better way to prepare yourself for the best than to play the best. The Class 4A No. 16 Marauders, who are searching for the first sectional championship since repeating during the 2009-10 seasons, played the 26th-toughest schedule in the state this season — all thanks to Bulmahn.

But that didn’t scare Mt. Vernon. The team actually finished with a better regular season record (27-4) than in 2014 (22-8).

“That’s one thing I think that’s going to help us at the sectional,” Bulmahn explained. “I did it that way so when we got to the sectional, it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen.”

Bulmahn and the Marauders, who ride a nine-game win streak, hope that trends continues after receiving a favorable tournament draw. Mt. Vernon will open sectional play on Saturday against Connersville (9-22) at 12:30 p.m. at New Castle in the second semifinal match of the afternoon.

On Thursday in the quarterfinals, Greenfield-Central plays Pendleton Heights at 6 p.m., followed by Richmond and New Castle. The winners will play at 11 a.m. Saturday in the first semifinal, with the championship match scheduled for 7 that night.

“I’m not sure how to feel about this year’s draw, because we’ve gone a week and a half without playing a match,” Bulmahn said. “I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.”

The Marauders last contest was on Oct. 14, a 3-0 win against Beech Grove.

“It looks like they’ve struggled a little bit,” Bulmahn said of Connersville. “But as you know when tournament time comes around, you can throw all the ratings out the window.”

Luckily for Mt. Vernon, Yorktown (30-1), which is ranked No. 11 in the nation, moved down to Class 3A this season, leaving the sectional wide open.

In order to capitalize, the Marauders will lean heavily on a talented trio and an experienced junior class.

Senior Mary Grace Ertel (323 kills) and juniors Jaclyn Bulmahn (433 kills) and Julia Wayer (485 digs) will be instrumental in the team’s postseason success. All three made multiple all-tournament teams this season.

“It’s pretty clear we’re going to roll how they roll,” Bulmahn said of the trio. “Luckily, last year they (the team) were all tournament tested. Everybody was on the team and everyone played (during the sectional).”

Sophomore Meridan Eads and junior Ashton Barr also have been key contributors. Eads has 560 assists, 179 digs and 34 aces, while Barr has 313 assists, 165 digs and 42 aces, giving the Marauders a reliable offensive and defensive attack.

“The key all year has really been our ball handling,” Bulmahn said. “Passing the ball well and our defense has provided our offense all the extra swings we’ve been able to have.

“Volleyball always comes down to who’s passing and serving the best. If we can pass the ball, I think we’ll be fine.”

Greenfield-Central (4A)

The Cougars (19-11) also received a favorable draw and will play a mediocre Pendleton Heights (8-17) squad to open New Castle Sectional 9 play.

Whom to watch: Senior Rachel Irbe (363 kills, 62 aces, 137 digs), junior Courtney Marchello (166 digs, 57 aces), freshman Molly Broome (575 assists, 22 aces).

If they win: Greenfield-Central will move on to the semifinals to face either Richmond (20-11) or New Castle (19-15) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The championship match is at 7 p.m. Saturday.

New Palestine (3A)

The Dragons (23-9) will play in the opening match of the Indianapolis Crispus Attucks Sectional 27 against the host Tigers (7-10) at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Whom to watch: Sophomore Allison Dennemann (423 kills, 279 digs), sophomore Mia Long (249 kills, 229 digs, 64 aces), Kara Morris (757 assists, 160 digs).

If they win: New Palestine will move on to the semifinals to face either Indianapolis Marshall or Herron at 11 a.m. Saturday. The championship match is at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Eastern Hancock (2A)

The Royals (8-23) head to Knightstown on Thursday for Sectional 42 and will open against Indianapolis Howe in the second quarterfinal beginning about 8 p.m.

Whom to watch: Junior Leah Ferguson (158 kills, 12 blocks), junior Kaysi Gilbert (98 kills, 79 aces, 16 blocks), Laurie Eels (279 assists, 38 aces), freshman Haley Best (241 digs, 36 aces).

If they win: Eastern Hancock will advance to play either rival Knightstown (11-19) or Irvington Preparatory Academy in the second semifinal about 12:30 p.m. Saturday.