Through a season filled with injuries and sickness, the one constant in the Wesleyan volleyball team's lineup has been Caiti Troyer.
Which was fine by the top-ranked Wolves' coach, Ted Russell.
On a talent-laden team full of top college prospects, Troyer is the one player his team can't afford to lose. The junior makes the defending state champions' offense go, setting up a powerful group of hitters.
Over the weekend Troyer had 71 assists in three Wesleyan victories, the last two over second-ranked Landmark Christian. The wins sent the Wolves back into the Class AA/A Final Four, where they face Walker on Thursday. The winner plays for the state title on Saturday.
That Troyer was such a big factor in the day was no surprise. Already the school's career record-holder in assists, she has 1,079 assists this season alone - barely trailing the school season mark of 1,115 she set as a sophomore. She also has 275 digs this season.
"(Troyer's) very valuable," Russell said. "We can't run the kind of offense we try to run without her. We try to run a real fast-paced offense.
"She's a competitor and she's also brilliant. Her mind's constantly going. She's also one of the top minds in the school (academically)."
But since she doesn't do all the spiking, Troyer's role can sometimes get overshadowed.
"I think people do overlook (Troyer) sometimes," Russell said. "People look at kills, the glamour stats. But she's the one person we can afford to lose the least."
The good news for Russell's team is that her once-ailing teammates are healing up. So Wesleyan enters this weekend at full strength in search of a second consecutive state title.
Reigning Daily Post Player of the Year Nicole Fenner, after missing 16 games with an injury, is one of the players back into form. In limited time, she has 305 kills and 220 digs.
Big hitter Betsy Smith, with 410 kills, a .350 hitting percentage and 220 digs, also is a key player for the Wolves along with Paige Cain, who has 260 kills, 220 digs and 70 aces.
In short, the talent is there for another title run. Wesleyan hasn't played any of the three other semifinalists - Walker, Decatur and Savannah Christian - but Russell's squad has played a tough schedule against bigger foes to get ready for the playoffs. The Wolves enter Thursday as the clear favorite for the title, but they're guarded against being overconfident.
"After being in the sectional with Landmark, and them being the No. 2 ranked team, the conversations with fans were like, 'Hey we won the state title,'" Russell said. "I said, 'Whoa, we've got good teams left. It's not over yet.'"