So it begins...
For the past two seasons, third-year coach Jill Mitchell was dealt a team that featured a handful of seniors in their quest to try and crack the top half of the Firelands Conference.
With mostly juniors and those handful of seniors, that finally happened in Year 3.
Just Tuesday night, New London picked up its first tournament win in seven seasons...that's right, it's been one-and-done in New London since the 2001 season. But that's just the beginning.
The team finished in a third place tie in the Firelands Conference and finished the regular season at 12-9. The last time they placed in the top half or had a winning record? You guessed it, 2001.
Is 13-9 overly impressive heading into a sectional title match with state-ranked Edison this Saturday? Perhaps not. But take a look at a bigger picture here says Mitchell.
"I've had no team except this current group of girls," the NL graduate said. "I had no seniors to start here and had to bring up all underclassmen to try and compete with St. Paul, Western Reserve, Monroeville...it was tough. But they've stuck with it by working hard in the season and the off-season. They are real competitors and want to be at that level with the best teams in the conference."
But the road to this point certainly hasn't been an easy one. Heck, there was even a JJhuddle thread not long ago questioning why New London hasn't been any better than they currently are and taking shots at Mitchell, but I think that's a bit unfair. Actually, it's not a bit unfair...it's plain stupid.
At this point, St. Paul and Monroeville are just on a different level than the other five teams in the conference right now. That being said, you can make the argument that New London only lost one FC match all season that 'maybe' it shouldn't have, which was against Western Reserve to force a two-way tie for third between the two neighboring schools.
I've always felt New London is a sleeping giant in the Firelands Conference in all sports. They are one of the largest schools, but have had trouble maintaining consistency in several sports, including volleyball. The team went to the regionals in 1994 and had a strong stretch, but as you can see by the above numbers its been a tough stretch this decade.
They've improved by three games from last season to this season, and yes they are probably significant underdogs against Edison later this week, but ending a seven-year stretch is ending a seven-year stretch. Good strides have been made here, and those people close to the situation need to embrace that better.
When South Central had a similar season a year ago that New London is having this year, there were several people I spoke with (yes, including those from powerhouse St. Paul) who felt that a lot of that was because of what Mitchell had started to build there before she went back home to New London.
In three short years, New London has put itself back in the top half mix...everyone knows what the next step is. Can they take it next year or the year after that? I have no idea, but I do know this...they very well may be closer than we think to getting there.