By Dennis Glade
The volleyball program at Loogootee is one of the best in southwestern Indiana, steeped in tradition, but this year it will attempt to reach a new milestone — the Class A State Championship.
Class A No. 4 Loogootee (28-5) closed out its regular season with a victory on Senior Night at Jack Butcher Arena against Trinity Lutheran and said goodbye to a truly special class of Demi Richardson, Kelsy Seals, Taylor Hayes, Michala Beasley, Christina Ziegler and Abby Ackerman. The class has dominated opponents while setting records across the board.
In the past four years, Loogootee has compiled a record of 120-21 with a Final Four appearance two years ago as sophomores and a state runner-up finish a year ago to Cowan. Loogootee saw former player Lacey Wade take the program to the cusp of a state championship in the past two years, but her father, Doug Denson, took over coaching duties this season — a position he previously held from 1995-2000.
"You have two six-footers (Ziegler and Beasley) who play volleyball and that's big advantage on any team especially if they play as much volleyball as our two do," Denson said. "I have a four-year starter (Richardson) as a setter. My three best hitters (Beasley, Ziegler and Ackerman) have all played varsity since their freshman year. It's just a dedication to the sport, I'd say."
If the Lions are to win the school's first Class A state championship, Denson would surely be the coach to lead them there. In six seasons under Denson, the Lions went 103-54 with five sectional championships and the program's first regional championship in 1997. Loogootee won its first sectional championship in 1982 and its second in 1991, but the program really got going when Denson came aboard. Since 1995, the Lions have captured 11 sectional titles.
"We decided we wanted to do something different with the girls and we had played a lot of volleyball and understood the sport," Denson said. "It was just a matter of getting the girls to buy into the system and sometimes winning breeds success. I think once we got a little bit of a run going, more girls wanted to play volleyball."
Starting with the 27-5 mark during the current senior class' freshman year the win total has gone up each season as the girls have continued to grown and hone their individual skills. Along the way records started to fall. Richardson is first all-time in serving points and she has over 4,000 assists. Beasley (2nd), Ziegler (3rd) and Ackerman (5th) all find themselves in the top five for most kills for a career.
"Demi (Richardson) works hard every day," Denson said. "She's the hardest working girl in practice — I asked her one day where she finds the energy to go as hard as she does and one day she said she finally figured it out was from God. She's a real religious girl and that's her inspiration. She is one hard working kid, I always said she's had some great hitters around her, but she is definitely the hardest working kid on this team.
Beasley and Ziegler — it's obvious — they're six feet tall. Beasley started when she was so young and was very competitive while playing a lot of club ball since she's been a little girl. Ziegler is more just raw talent. Her and Ackerman are just good athletes, who became great volleyball players.
"I always say Beasley wants to know all the technical things, but Ziegler and Ackerman just fly by the seat of their pants. Taylor Seals brings energy and speed than we have in other places. She is one of the kids that tries hard every day and works at it. Last year when Kelsy Seals blew out her knee — she has never really recovered from that injury. She comes to practice every day with a great attitude, but that knee doesn't allow her to move left to right as well as she would like to. We still use her because she blocks well and has good hands."
Loogootee has a chance to win its third consecutive regional championship for the first time since 2005-2007, but when asked where this current group ranks he wasn't sure if he could quantify that just yet. The postseason begins next week with the sectional at Jack Butcher Arena.
"Depending of the outcome of the next two or three weeks, I guess that will tell more of the story," Denson said. "It has already been successful — we knocked off the No. 1 team twice in sectional — one time undefeated. You're going to think that's a big success for you."