LAKE CITY — Martha Mericle stepped into a tradition-rich volleyball program at South Central Calhoun this season as head coach and delivered a perfect run through the Twin Lakes Conference.
Now, the Titans are hoping to secure their first state tournament appearance since 2014 under Mericle.
South Central Calhoun started the year just 3-5, but finished the regular season 23-4 down the stretch, highlighted by an 11-0 TLC record.
“It was a fairly smooth transition that did take some time because everyone was starting over,” said Mericle, a Fort Dodge Senior High graduate. “It took time to get to know each other and trust each other. I came in and completely changed their game of volleyball. I run a different defense, so that took time for the girls to understand how to play compared to what they’ve normally played.
“But we’ve found a comfort at the perfect time in the season.”
As part of that defense, six different South Central Calhoun players recorded double-digits in blocks, led by Laci Riesdesl and Heidi Hammen. The Titans finished the regular season with 169 solo blocks as a team and 217 total.
Junior Emma McKinney has posted over 435 assists and senior Maddie Jones leads the team in digs. Stauter, McKinney, Jones and Hammen all have at least 129 kills, providing balance to the rotations put on the court by Mericle.
“I have a team full of leaders and it starts with my seven seniors,” Mericle said. “Maddie and Heidi are two of the captains who are leaders on and off the court. Emma is another captain and all three come to me with ideas, suggestions, questions, comments, concerns and we work together to do what’s best for the whole team.
“All of these girls have been around the sport of volleyball for a number of years and play in the offseason, so they’re great girls to look up to by the younger players.”
Mericle previously coached at Fort Dodge Senior High, West Sioux, Okoboji and Iowa Central after her playing career at Iowa Lakes. She was a state placewinner for the Dodgers in tennis.
“I took my job at SCC because I was offered an eighth-grade ELA/Reading teaching position,” Mericle said. “It was such a happy, heart-warming feeling to have a school district want me and was excited for me to be part of their district. I voiced interest in the volleyball coaching position and was given that after sharing all of my qualifications for the position. I have a lot to offer and my administrative staff/athletic directors believed in me, encouraged me and have supported me every step of the way.
“This is a great fit for me and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I’m excited about the growth and potential, and I believe this team can go places. I hold high expectations and I’ve shared that from day one with these girls and they’re right where they need to be at the right time in the season.”
Athletics have experienced a high-level of success at South Central Calhoun since the merger between Rockwell City-Lytton and Southern Cal, including on the girls side in volleyball and basketball. Mericle noticed an excellent relationship between the two sports right off the bat.
“It amazed me how these girls are dedicated to their athletics by the amount of time they put in during the offseason,” she said. “Every girl was at every open gym all summer long unless they were on vacation, at the fair or school related trips, and girls who were out for softball were still at open gym even on game days. We have a great system set up where it’s volleyball open gym and then basketball or vice versa so the girls are putting in the extra time in all of their athletics, and that’s what makes them successful.”
One team goal set by the Titans was to claim the league title, which Mericle admits put pressure on her to dive head-first into studying a conference she knew little about coming in.
“Coming from 5A volleyball where there isn’t much focus on conference play it was something I needed to understand in 2A volleyball,” she said. “I knew (SCC) has had strong teams in the past and either won or shared the conference title, so it was important to me as a coach to carry on that tradition. I did my research in getting familiar with the other teams so I knew how to prepare us for success and winning.
“Winning the conference was one of our team goals and I’m so proud of all of our accomplishments this season, but we’re not finished yet.”
South Central Calhoun will begin Class 2A, Region 2 play on Monday, Oct. 22 here against either St. Edmond or Belmond-Klemme.
SCC VOLLEYBALL LEADERS
(Through regular season)
Kills Haley Stauter, jr. 172
Aces Emma McKinney, jr. 48
Assists Emma McKinney, jr. 437
Digs Maddie Jones, sr. 384
Blocks Laci Riedesel, soph. 58