By Chris Parker
Springfield Catholic volleyball has been one of the top programs in the area over the past three years. The Lady Irish have won 92 matches with two district titles and a third place finish at state in 2020 in that span. Last year, Catholic finished one match short of back-to-back final fours with a quarterfinal loss to Strafford.
Sydney Wheeler takes over as head coach from Catholic Athletic Director Dan Evans this year. She is a 2011 graduate of Ozark who played collegiately at Missouri S&T and Missouri Southern. She spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Catholic.
The Irish will have a new look in Wheeler’s first season after graduating a group of seniors that included all-state selections Cherie Sabini and Hallie Cook along with second-team all-conference selection Ashlyn Witthar.
“We definitely graduated a special group of seniors last year,” Wheeler said. “That group set a new standard for our program. Not only did they bring physical talent that was impressive but their court presence was what was unmatched. They could swing the momentum of a game just by how they hyped up their team and took control of situations.”
All-state senior Grace O’Reilly returns to lead the Lady Irish. The Long Beach State commit put down a team-high 363 kills last year. O’Reilly, also a state champion in the high jump, led the team in serve receptions with 314 in 2021.
“Grace will undoubtedly see more attempts this year as our most experienced player on the court. The key will be finding a balance between moving the ball around and feeding her when she’s on. It will be fun to play around with the offense and utilize her speed and agility in different sets,” Wheeler said. “Grace has always been a confident kid, but it has been really special to see how she has grown as a leader this summer. She encourages every kid during our summer workouts and makes an effort to include everyone in drills and team bonding activities. The best compliment a coach can receive is of a players attitude, and we have already received compliments on how she carries herself on the court and how she uplifts her teammates.”
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Honorable mention all-conference junior Ava Walters also returns after handing out 1,007 assists last year as a setter.
“Ava has improved the speed and consistency of her sets. She has worked hard this summer and gone to several camps to prepare for the fall,” Wheeler said. “Having her as an experienced player on the court will be crucial as we work to develop players in our offense.”
Junior Kennedy Roubal and sophomore Kennedy Hartman both return after playing in all 98 sets last year.
Roubal is a defensive specialist who had 156 digs last year.
“Kennedi Roubal will bring leadership in the back row as a returning defensive specialist,” Wheeler said. “She will see some time in the front row as we will utilize her athleticism. She is a steady player who doesn’t back down from a challenge.”
Hartman will transition to a six-rotation role this year after posting 219 digs and 280 server receptions last year.
“Kennedy Hartman will return as the heart of our back row,” Wheeler said. “She saw split time last year as a libero and we plan to use her for six rotations this year giving consistency and grit to our defense and serve receive. She plays what I like to describe as ‘Dog Bone’ defense, she will go after a ball no matter what and she is tough to beat. She’s super fast and reads well. It’s a dynamic combo for a defensive player.”
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Sophomore Tori Majorahn and freshman Millie Bauer will be two players expected to step up and contribute on varsity.
“Tori Majorahn was a huge part of our JV team last year as a libero. She will bring consistency and solid serve receive skills to our varsity team this year. She will also see some time on the front row as we aim to have a consistent hitter on the pin,” Wheeler said. “Millie Bauer is an exciting addition to our front row lineup. She brings height and athleticism to the net. She is connecting well with Ava this summer and I’m excited to see how their setter-hitter relationship grows.”
Catholic will travel to Willard for a jamboree on Aug. 23 to face the host Tigers, Reeds Spring and El Dorado Springs. The Lady Irish open the regular season on Sept. 1 at Parkview.