by Martin McConnell
Following a season that saw them go a stellar 14-0 in the Suburban League, Highland High School’s volleyball team captured its first district title since 1990.
Although Highland would go on to fall to Perrysburg in the regional final, 2022 marks the team’s best campaign in years.
Head coach Laura Merk has now overseen two straight seasons with her Hornets going undefeated in conference play. The team saw quite a bit of roster turnover this season with only four players having any prior varsity experience, making for a unique squad this year.
“Last year, we graduated nine seniors. … Probably about six of them got consistent playing time, every game, every match,” Merk said. “We knew we had a ton of shoes to fill for this season. They have really put in a lot of work.”
Highland’s work ethic is part of what made the 2022 team so special. Merk also wanted the new-look Hornets to be able to come into their own in terms of player leadership.
“We had very strong leadership in that graduating class last year,” Merk explained. “I kind of let them lead a little bit. I think that’s something we worked really hard on in our program. Our players have a lot of say.”
Merk noted the team had big shoes to fill and filled them excellently, hitting the ground running on the young season. After their season-opening loss to Medina, the Hornets went on a 10-match winning streak, going exactly one month before their next loss.
Highland would then race into the OHSAA playoffs on an eight-match winning streak, finishing the season with a 19-3 record. On Oct. 27, the Hornets defeated the Olmsted Falls Bulldogs 3-1 and captured their first district championship in 32 years.
“I am so proud of all the work these girls have put in throughout the season,” Merk said after the Oct. 27 match. “Our coaching staff and the players themselves knew from the beginning they had the ability. It would just take hard work and a lot of heart, and those are things that our team is nothing short of.”
The Hornets would go on to take down Steele High School on Nov. 3 before being eliminated from the playoffs against Perrysburg. Merk expressed that above all else, she is proud of her team and the culture of winning that they have instilled at Highland.
“Each of them is so eager to learn things that are going to make them better,” Merk said. “I think that’s something really, really special, and they are an extremely hard-working group of girls. They’re just girls, players and kids that you want to surround yourself with.” ∞
Featured Photo: The HHS volleyball team may have fallen out of postseason play in the regional finals, but the team had its most successful season in more than three decades. Photo submitted.