In August of 2015, Avon volleyball coach Julie Bendzuck met with four freshmen players — Sydney Stone, Maddy Jerdonek, Gillian Romanchok and Katie Sopko — by the trophy case in the high school lobby and set them on the path that would lead to the most successful run in the program’s history.
“We all started in fourth grade together,” said Romanchok, an outside hitter.
“We called ourselves ‘The Fab Four,’ so when we were pulled out of the locker room, by the trophy case freshman year, and (coach) told us we all made varsity, it was a moment we had always hoped for.
“Here we are, still playing together. The long journey has been amazing.”
Heading into their senior season, the four four-year varsity players have put together a 60-11 record overall and a 50-7 record in the Southwestern Conference.
Jerdonek and Stone will play Division I college volleyball next year at Fairfield University in Connecticut and LaSalle in Philadelphia, respectively, while Romanchok will play Division II at Clarion in Pennsylvania.
Another senior, Katie Koziarz, will play collegiately at Division I Seton Hill while Stone and a sixth senior, Meghan Waters, have decided not to play at the next level.
With so much talent and experience, Bendzuk is looking forward to seeing what her defending SWC champion Eagles can do this season.
“I’m very excited and I don’t know if this group has ever played to its full potential, not in a negative way at all but I feel they’ve trained so much this winter and have worked really hard to get to the point that they’re at,” she said. “We remind them every single day that they cannot settle with where they are. If they think they’re good now they have to work even harder to get better. If they can do that, I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people with how well they’re able to accomplish their goals.”
Jerdonek, a setter, is closing in on 1,500 career assists, entering this season with 1,425. She thinks she knows why this senior class has been so successful.
“I think we all constantly push ourselves and each other because we want to get better,” she said. “We want to be the best team we have the ability to be. You always have more to learn and more to do so we all just want to keep getting better and, hopefully, do something special this year.”
Stone, who plays on the right side in the Eagles’ rotation, thinks this season’s squad will find motivation in the disappointment of last season’s 3-1 loss to St. Joseph’s Academy in the Division I district final.
“We came in with the mindset that we fell short last year and we have to work harder this year to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” she said. “This is our last chance together and we want to make sure we give it everything we’ve got if we want to accomplish our goals for this season and this program.”
Bendzuck changed the offseason program and asked this year’s team to push itself like never before.
“I think they know that everyone is going to count them out,” she said. “Everyone will look at Joe’s and Mags and Padua, even Elyria. Our goals stay in our gym, and we talk about what it will take to get there. We are not guaranteed to be in a district championship this year. We’re not guaranteed to win our conference this year.
“I think in the back of their minds they know what they have fallen short of every year. That, for me, has been enough motivation to go harder, coach harder, watch more film and go to more clinics, so I know it’s enough motivation for them to do some things we’ve never done before.
“We’ve added lifting into our practice week. We’ve individualized practices a little more. We’ve done things that are going to help them get to that next level, hopefully. At the end of the day you have to play the games.”
Physically the Eagles will be ready, but it takes more than just physical ability to succeed on the volleyball court. Sopko, an outside hitter, thinks the group that has grown up together playing volleyball can use their familiarity as an advantage.
“Volleyball is a sport where you have to have good connections with everyone around you,” she said. “The longer you play together the better that becomes. All of us, playing at the same time, from setting to hitting and passing, we have a lot better connections.
“You know what everyone else is going to do because you’ve seen them do it so may times.”
Those connections, on and off the court, are what Romanchok cherishes.
“I’m going to miss the whole experience of it, of having another family to come to,” she said. “We lean on each other. After a long day of school we come to the gym and work everything out. We know each one of us has each other’s back, and that really helps us off the court as well.”