Lauber leading Waynedale to another banner season

Lauber leading Waynedale to another banner season
Aaron Dorksen

The Waynedale volleyball team consists of Addesa Miller, front left, Audrey Rowe, Kylie Geiser, Callie Wolfe; back row, Meghan Miller, Brianna Hewitt, Jewel Persinger, Faith Brown, Alyssa Geiser and Hope Salisbury.

                        

Waynedale’s Jen Lauber is in her 31st year as a volleyball coach.

It’s teams like the 2022 Golden Bears that keep her just as energized as her rookie year at Smithville in 1987.

“I think it's a challenge,” Lauber said when asked why she continues to coach after all these years. “Like this year, it presented a big challenge because of all the different ages and putting them together, which is always fun. There's always some type of challenge that makes you want to come back and try to do your best and see what you can do with a group of girls.”

And what Lauber has done is take a roster that includes just two seniors and four freshmen and lead them on a path for a possible repeat title in the Wayne County Athletic League.

Waynedale (12-1, 7-1) took over sole possession of first in the league with a win over Northwestern on Sept. 27, coupled with Norwayne’s upset win over Chippewa.

Lauber ranks in the top-10 all-time for wins in Ohio volleyball history with more than 600. Her teams have advanced to the state Final Four eight times.

Capt. Alyssa Geiser (153 kills), a junior, and senior Capt. Faith Brown (123 kills) are the leading hitters.

Other standouts include senior Jewel Persinger (25 solo blocks) and juniors Meghan Miller (195 digs), Addessa Miller (145 digs, 96% serving percentage) and Audrey Rowe (95% serving). Freshman Brianna Hewitt has stepped in as the setter and performed well.

“We had a lot of changes preseason,” said Brown, a 5-foot-9 senior. “We had a lot of players go out and come in. We had a whole new team. We have actually four to five freshmen pulled up on varsity, so we're a very young team.”

Brown said having undergone so many changes has made them a closer team.

“It’s our last chance to get those numbers back up on the banner,” Brown said. “We’ve learned to trust the freshmen as they get better in their positions. That has kind of swung things around to where I think we're more bonded, mostly because of how much we've had to go through this summer.”

After tying with Smithville for the WCAL title last year, the Bears advanced to the district semifinals, where they lost to Orrville.

“That was a hard loss, but we're hoping to get past that point this year,” said the 5-7 Geiser, who’s helped the Waynedale girls basketball team reach the state tournament each of the last two years.

Meghan Miller, the junior libero, showed her team-first mentality by being willing to switch from playing setter last year.

“When I dig, I'm just trying to keep the ball off the floor,” Miller said. “I put it in play for the rest of the team and have my setters set the hitters. We want to be the hardest working team, and another big thing is trust. Us upperclassmen have to lead the way, and it’s just a whole team effort.”

Lauber really appreciates the big-hitting ability of Geiser and Brown.

“Alyssa is a three-year varsity starter, and she's a really crafty, talented hitter,” Lauber said. “Faith Brown is also an outstanding hitter and just does everything she can for the team. She's very unselfish.”

Lauber said Persinger has embraced blocking and the defensive end of things while Hewitt has taken on the challenge of being the setter, and her work ethic has really helped.

While some individuals have stood out, Lauber is quick to point out it’s been a total team effort.

“I think we're successful because the kids really have bought into working and playing for each other,” she said. “They don't hesitate to set each other up. It doesn't matter who gets set; they don't care. We don't discuss that at all. This is a very giving team, and the girls just play for each other. This is the best group. They're just really nice kids.”

Lauber began her career at Smithville, where she actually coached the late Jodi Shilling.

Shilling passed away at age 41 in 2018 after battling breast cancer, and Lauber took over the program built by her former player.

“I coached Jody my last year at Smithville,” said Lauber, who also coached at Tusky Valley, Mansfield Madison and Ontario. “She was with one of the best groups I’ve ever had. I love to see girls learn the sport of volleyball, go on to college and then coach other places. I think right now I have 27 former players who are coaches.”

The Bears will need all of Lauber’s experience as they compete down the home stretch, which will include big upcoming matches.

“Our Pink Game in honor of Jodi was a big night against Northwestern (Sept. 27),” Lauber said. “We have some really big matches coming up when we go to Smithville (Oct. 6) and then host Chippewa (Oct. 11).”

Geiser said the team prays before each match and stays relaxed by playing the same music all the time. The play list includes “Low” by Flo Rida, “Cotton Eyed Joe” by Rednex and Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”

“Jewel Persinger sings ('Low'). She knows the whole song by heart,” Geiser said. “Some of the girls have a whole dance routine for 'Cotton Eyed Joe.'”

Waynedale hopes to keep dancing to a winning tune far into the postseason tournament.


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