Bigger goals

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FORTVILLE — The way her freshman season ended on the court did not sit well with her.

Claire Ertel wanted to win a sectional in her first year as a Mt. Vernon Marauder. The 26-24, 25-19, 25-17 loss to county rival New Palestine in the semifinals was a disappointing end to a relatively successful first season for the then-freshman.

Ertel, now readying to start her sophomore year, has been spending her summer the same way she has ever since she was 12 years old. She’s working hard to improve, now with bigger high school goals in mind.

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For the past few years, Ertel has played on Team Indiana Elite in the AAU National Championships in Orlando, Florida during the summer. While she’s seen success with that team, including a ninth-place finish in last year’s event, this year was different.

Team Indiana Elite finished fifth in their division. For her contributions to the team, Ertel was named a 2018 AAU All-American in the 15 Open division.

“It was cool because we have improved together,” Ertel said of the team’s strong national finish. “Winning and doing well together was super fun. Not many teams are able to say that they’ve been with the same group of girls, and we’ve just improved and almost got to the goal that we wanted.”

Many of Ertel’s Mt. Vernon teammates were in Orlando competing in the National Championships, but none were on her club team. And Ertel stood alone as an AAU All-American, though it wasn’t her favorite part of the experience.

“My team doing so well really got me to that position,” Ertel said. “If it weren’t for the girls around me I wouldn’t have had that success and neither would the team. Getting the honor is nice, but it was more important to share the success with how the team did.”

She spent last week in Colorado Springs, training with the 2018 USA Girls Youth National A2 Training Team. It’s another opportunity for Ertel to grow and improve, and, hopefully, bring more to her high school team next year.

“Her passion and work ethic make her stand out,” Team Indiana Elite club director Brian Murray said. “She was one of the leaders on the team both in stats and in competitiveness. She will give you 100 percent of what she has to give and expects the same from her coaches and teammates.”

As a freshman, Ertel topped the Marauders in aces and was second in digs and third in kills.

She’s hoping that she can bring what she’s learned this summer to her younger Marauders teammates, helping them in the same way she was during her first varsity season. She said she’s grateful for how her older Marauders teammates helped her acclimate last year.

She wants to return the favor this year. She is hopeful the experiences she has had with the national team coaches can help with that.

Team Indiana’s coaches have experience at the national and international level. Ertel said she considers herself fortunate to be coached by them since she was 12. She said that their experience, their coaching and their different perspectives have been invaluable to her as she looks to grow as a player.

Earning the All-American distinction as a 15-year-old isn’t something Ertel plans to take for granted — she knows there’s room to grow, and competing against high schoolers is different than competing against 15-year-olds in Orlando.

She is ultra-competitive and has the drive to keep winning, no matter the level.

“She’s always going to continue trying to get better,” Mt. Vernon coach Eric Bulmahn said. “Last year not winning sectional did not sit well, so the girls are going to be hungrier for it next year, and Claire is one of those tremendous competitors that absolutely hates to lose.”

The experiences this summer are helping Ertel stay confident and motivated moving forward. Wanting to advance past the sectional round is a driving force.

Having most of her teammates there in Florida with her, competing for different clubs, is something Ertel thinks will benefit the Marauders this season.

“It makes us better personally, and coming together and having that experience playing with people from across the nation, it’ll be good to come together and at small Mt. Vernon in Indiana and use that experience to get better,” Ertel said.