SIDNEY — “It’s unbelievable.”
“Such a dream-come-true.”
“It doesn’t even seem real.”
Those were just some of the comments made by sisters Jessica and Andrea Thobe of Sidney this week, and they show just how the two feel about being national champions.
That’s right — national champions.
The two Lehman graduates and daughters of Dean and Becky Thobe both played volleyball this season for Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W. Va. They were both key players for the Lady Cardinals, and last week, their dream season ended with an NCAA Division II national championship.
The team’s final record was 39-4, and in the national championship tournament held in Tampa, Fla., Andrea was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, and both she and Jessica were named to the all-tournament team.
After winning the conference tournament, Wheeling Jesuit went on to win six straight postseason games. And as proof of how well they were playing at season’s end, five of those six wins were by 3-0 scores and the other was 3-1.
It was the university’s first-ever national championship, and the Thobe sisters are proud to be a part of it.
“We’re afraid we’re going to wake up and it’s not going to be real,” said Jessica, a senior who played her final game at Wheeling in the championship match. “We’re a close group and it was so much fun to be able to experience it with our friends.”
“You dream of things like this,” said Andrea, who was a junior setter for the Lady Cardinals. “It was amazing to win it and more amazing to be able to play with Jessica this year. It’s always in the back of your mind that the tournament is getting closer. And when we got there, it was amazing. Wheeling has had some great teams before us that started it all, so it was nice to bring the championship home.”
There has been quite a pipeline for volleyball players from Shelby County to Wheeling over the years, and that’s how Andrea wound up there after a great career at Lehman.
“I remember a bunch of girls from our area, and how much they loved going to Wheeling,” said Andrea, an accounting major. “I really wanted to play volleyball in college, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
And it’s paid off in a big way.
Jessica took a much different path to Wheeling. She thought she was done with volleyball after high school, but decided to play when she attended Sinclair Community College in Dayton. After an outstanding two years at Sinclair, she looked at Wheeling.
“Since Andrea was there, I went to some of their games,” she said. “And the opportunity presented itself.”
She was much-needed, too. Coach Christy Benner was in need of a libero, and Jessica fit the bill.
“To have her come in and play such an important role the last two years, it helped us so much,” said Benner. “She’s such an amazing young lady, and so smart. She didn’t go to Sinclair to play volleyball, but when Andrea came here her freshman year, I think Jessica realized she didn’t want to stop playing.”
In the national tournament, Andrea earned the Most Outstanding Player award by finishing with 139 assists and 41 digs in the three matches. That was another honor to join ones like the conference Female Athlete of the Year and Player of the Year in 2014, and All-America honors this season.
Jessica, meanwhile, earned all-tournament honors by finishing with 83 digs in the nationals. That is added to her being named Libero of the Year in the Mountain East Conference this season.
Always one of the big hitters in high school, it was quite a change for Jessica to move to libero.
“It was definitely different,” said the psychology major. “But it was a change for the best. I love playing libero and I can’t imagine not playing there. So I’m glad I made the change. I usually played all the way around, so I had back-row experience. But just playing the back row is different. You have to make the passes even more perfect.”
For Andrea, there is still next year, and she’s looking forward to it.
“I think we have a big challenge to top this,” she said, “but we had seven juniors on this year’s team and we have that taste of success.”
Jessica’s playing days are over, but she’s starting to think or another way of staying in the game.
“I never really thought about coaching, but honestly, after this, I think I might like to.”
Reach Ken Barhorst at 937-538-4818