For more than 20 years, Assumption High School has produced one outstanding volleyball team after another. Annual crops of talent have become the norm on Tyler Lane, and â€“ unfortunately for local opponents â€“ this year is no different.
The 2012 season got underway this week and the reloaded Rockets are once again the standard-bearer for the state, if not the nation.
â€œWeâ€™ve got quite a few kids returning, which is good,â€ said coach Ron Kordes, who is entering his 25th season. â€œI think weâ€™ve got all the bases covered.â€
Assumption went 43-1 last season and won the elite Durango Invitational (Las Vegas) and Asics Challenge (Chicago) on the way to its second straight state title and 16th in 20 years. Filling the leadership vacuum left by graduated National Player of the Year Katie George will be difficult, but Kordes is â€œvery confidentâ€ this team can pull off a three-peat.
â€œThey donâ€™t want to be the ones to stumble,â€ he said.
Five of six starters have committed to D-I colleges, including 6-foot-3 senior middle Taylor Paulson (Saint Louis), and senior defensive specialists London Ackermann (Georgia Tech) and Kaelin Grimes (Western Kentucky).
Junior Alexa Philley, an Auburn commit, split setting duties with George last season in a modified 6-2 offense, but this year she will be the sole assist dealer in a 5-1.
Next month Assumption will be treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to the three-team Clash at Creighton tournament in Omaha, Neb., where they will tangle with fellow powerhouses Torrey Pines (Calif.) and Papillion-La Vista South (Neb.).
â€œItâ€™s likely that Torrey Pines is going to be the No. 1 team in the country preseason so there will be an opportunity for Assumption to take over the No. 1 spot,â€ said John Tawa, owner and CEO of PrepVolleyball.com, which is organizing the Sept. 26 event. â€œI expect the Torrey Pines-Assumption match will be incredible.â€
Tawa added that Assumption will be No. 2 or No. 3 when his first national rankings are released.
Closer to home, Sacred Heart is looking to challenge Assumption in the Seventh Region.
The Valkyriesâ€™ roster features nine seniors and a potent outside hitter in junior Ashley Askin (6â€™1, Georgia Tech commit).
Additionally, Sacred Heart Coach Eric Garvey has been pleasantly surprised by the play of setter Amy Evans, who opted not to play club ball before her senior year. â€œShe was my biggest question mark coming into this season, but I was honestly shocked the last three weeks at how well sheâ€™s playing. Sheâ€™s clicking with our hitters and looking great,â€ Garvey said.
Katie Bradley, a Lipscomb commit and two-year starter at middle for Sacred Heart, tore her ACL while training over spring break and will miss her final season.
Manual returns four starters, including Gabbi Greenwald (6â€™2, M) and Kentucky Miss Volleyball contender Maya McClendon. An outside hitter, McClendon is a mere 5-foot-10, but boasts a 10-foot reach. â€œHer athleticism is scary,â€ said Kordes.
McClendon is committed to the University of Louisville and will travel to Nicaragua with the U.S.A. Volleyball Junior National Team later this month for the NORCECA Continental Championships.
In the Sixth Region, junior Courtney Crable (6â€™1, OH) will provide firepower for a young Mercy team, which graduated six seniors. Senior defensive specialist Leah Edgerton figures to be an important cog in the back row and sophomore Lexie Hamrick (6â€™2) is a promising young middle.
One factor that could determine the Jaguarsâ€™ fate is how quickly freshman setter Morgan Elmore gets acclimated to the high school game.
â€œIâ€™ve coached a lot of good setters here and I donâ€™t think any of them have been up to it as a freshman, but I think that sheâ€™s going to be,â€ said Jaguars coach Todd Garvey (Ericâ€™s brother).
Beginning this year, most regular-season and all postseason matches will be decided in a best-of-five format, instead of best-of-three.
â€œThe three out of five we love because I think we take pride in trying to get in real good shape and hopefully that can favor us a little bit,â€ Todd Garvey said.
Here are the details on Louisvilleâ€™s best:
Coach â€“ Ron Kordes (25th Season)
Last season â€“ 43-1, State champion; Beat Greenwood 2-0 in final
Players to watch (not mentioned above) â€“ Lauren Tutwiler, 6â€™3, Jr., M; Alyssa Cavanaugh, 5â€™9, Jr., OPP (Western Kentucky), Hannah Moore, 5â€™10, Jr., OH
Early test â€“ Home vs. Cathedral (Ind.), Aug. 18, 7 p.m.
Kordesâ€™s take â€“ â€œIâ€™m very confident we can (three-peat), but you have to prove it on the court. â€¦I think weâ€™re going to have a good season.â€
Coach â€“ Eric Garvey (sixth season)
Last season â€“ 30-10; Lost to Assumption 2-0 in regional final
Players to watch â€“ Amy Evans, Sr., S; Ashley Askin, Jr.,Â OH; Allie Kellerman, Sr., DS (Marshall); Kristen Brashear, Sr., DS (Ole Miss)
Early test â€“ Home vs. St. Henry, Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Garveyâ€™s take â€“ â€œWe return a senior-laden, very experienced bunch. â€¦If everyone can stay healthy and click at the same time, thereâ€™s some big potential with this team.â€
Coach â€“ Chris Gould (second season)
Last season â€“ 30-6; Lost to Assumption 2-0 in regional semifinal
Players to watch â€“ Maya McClendon, 5â€™10, Sr., OH; Gabbi Greenwald, 6â€™2, Sr., M (Samford)
Early test â€“ At Floyd Central, Aug. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Gouldâ€™s take â€“ â€œWe have nine returning seniors, one junior and two sophomores who all had extensive playing time last season. We will be very cohesive and look forward to playing the tough competition in the Seventh Region.â€
Coach â€“ Bill Payne (fifth season)
Last season â€“ 25-7; Lost to Holy Cross 2-1 in regional semifinal
Players to watch â€“ Kacy Clinkenbeard, Sr., OH (Jacksonville State); Georgia Oâ€™Connell, Sr., DS (Western Kentucky); Taylor Pelton, Jr., OH; Katie Adams, So., M
Early test â€“ At Assumption, Aug. 21, 7 p.m.
Payneâ€™s take â€“ â€œWe have a strong, talented group of returning players and, with the senior leadership, we should perform very well.â€
Coach – Todd Garvey (sixth season)
Last season â€“ 29-12, Sixth Region champion; Lost to Henry Clay 2-0 in first round of state tournament
Players to watch â€“ Courtney Crable, Jr., OH (Auburn); Lexie Hamrick, So., M; Leah Edgerton, Sr., DS (So. Illinois)
Early test â€“Â At Newport Central Catholic, Aug. 11, 7 p.m.
Garveyâ€™s take â€“ â€œWeâ€™re extremely young. Weâ€™ve got a lot of talent and good chemistry and Iâ€™m really looking forward to them progressing as the year goes along. We hope to keep improving and see what we can do come seasonâ€™s end.â€
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at email@example.com.