Onaway hosts JoBurg tonight in Ski Valley matchup of unbeatens

The Onaway volleyball team has already gotten the better of Johannesburg-Lewiston twice this season.

But as the two teams square off tonight in Onaway at 7:30 p.m., the stakes are much higher: Whichever team wins will likely have an inside track to winning the Sk Valley Conference title this season.

There haven’t been too many teams that have been able to go toe-to-toe with No. 4 Onaway (36-6-3, 5-0 SV) this season, but that hasn’t stopped the Cardinals from trying to improve every day.

“We play good defensively, but there’s always room for improvement,” Onaway coach Steve Watson said. “You have to go 100 percent on every play (defensively), because the one time you don’t may be the one time the ball hits the floor.”

JoBurg (5-0 SV) avoided a trap against Central Lake last week and swept the Trojans in straight sets to set up tonight’s match. Onaway knocked off Pellston in four sets last Tuesday.

Onaway defeated JoBurg 25-15 and 25-12 in the Rogers City Tournament and scored another victory over the Cardinals in the St. Ignace Tournament, 25-22 and 25-10.

Despite these two wins, Watson is wary of a JoBurg team that has bigger, taller girls and one of the best setters he’s ever seen in senior Julia Nieman.

“She’s had some of the most dynamic sets this year. They’re much more diverse when she’s setting,” Watson said.

Brittany Cherwinski, Madison Showerman and Ashley May have been leading the way for JoBurg offensively, but the Cardinals will also have a tough defensive test as they try to stop Onaway’s Mariah Ehrke.

Ehrke emerged as Onaway’s go-to offensive player last season, but she’s playing at another level this season. With a month to go in the regular season, Ehrke already has 440 kills, well ahead of the record she set last season and she’s averaging four and a half kills per set.

Ehrke does all this despite standing just 5-foot-9.

“Her level of play is ridiculous,” Watson said. “She’s got a lot of confidence.”

While Ehrke has been stellar, Sara Fullerton, Lexi Szymoniak and Taylor Ehrke are among those who have stepped up for Onaway offensively.

Taylor, who is a freshman, might be the biggest surprise. She entered the season replacing all-stater Megan Estep at setter and has risen to the challenge. So far this season she has more than 800 assists.

“It’s a nice problem to have, trying to feed the ball to so many players and not just having a No. 1, but also a Nos. 2-4,” Watson said.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.