One of six seniors on an Althoff volleyball team that placed third in the Class 2A state tournament just a year ago, Louise Comerford knew expectations would remain high.
But could she have expected an 18-0 start?
“I think this is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Comerford said. “We have so much talent on this team, and so obviously that helps out a lot, but the team chemistry is so good, and the fact that our coaching staff is always telling to believe in ourselves. Our mental game is off the charts.”
Competing as a Class 3A school for the first time, Althoff has come of the gate flying. A dramatic come-from-behind win over Edwardsville on Tuesday marked just the third time all season coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich’s squad has been pushed to a full three-set match.
Thomas-Dietrich is a former Althoff standout who played collegiately at Missouri State University.
The Crusaders won the Effingham Crossroads Tournament in early September, defeating Glenbard West and perennial state power St. Francis, of Wheaton, along the way. They also have wins over Edwardsville, Columbia, (Breese) Central and Mascoutah.
Comerford leads an offense that includes upperclassmen Addie Burris and Katelynn Peterson along with several sophomores.
“I thought coming in that we could be very good. I didn’t think we would be, or expect us to be, 18-0 at this point,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “Our schedule is very strong, and it keeps getting more difficult as we go on.”
Althoff still has matches ahead against Belleville West and East, plus Mater Dei and O’Fallon. The Crusaders have been tested by fire before, though.
Everybody is on the same page here. We all know what what we want to achieve, and that is attainable if we continue to work hard and stay on course of what we’ve done so far.
“My senior class reached the super sectional as sophomores, then got to the state tournament last year,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “I think with us being bumped up to Class 3A this year, they knew it was going to be much tougher, and that motivated them work really work hard in the offseason and in the preseason.
“This group of seniors wants to leave their legacy in the Althoff program.”
Comerford, who will play volleyball at Miami University (Ohio) next year, has 356 assists in 18 matches this season. The 5-foot-10 senior had 30 assists in Althoff’s 25-20, 12-25, 27-25 win over Edwardsville on Tuesday.
She also has 55 kills and is third on the team with aces at 23. Senior libero Annika Beal leads the team with 35 aces, and sophomore sensation Karinna Gall has 25.
“Louise really lifted her game to whole different level. She’s grown as a person and as a player, and her volleyball IQ is also very high,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “She’s become much more aggressive in getting the ball to her attackers and with her defense.
“I really think committing to Miami of Ohio early has helped her this year. It took a lot of weight off her shoulders and has given her the opportunity to get Division I ready. She’s doing everything we need her to do.”
Comerford has a lot of offensive weapons to get the ball to. Burris, a strong right-side hitter, has 111 kills in 263 attempts. Gall, a middle blocker, leads the team in kills with 133.
We have so much talent on this team ... Our mental game is off the charts.
Louise Comerford, Althoff senior
Other key offensive players for the Crusaders include senior Leighten Kaiser (23 kills) and sophomores Nicky Hampton, Grace Strieker, Katie Wemhoener (93 kills) and Mary Wessel (45 kills). Strieker and Wessel are also setters.
“Without question, this team has the best team chemistry of any team I’ve ever been on,” Burris said. “Everybody is on the same page here. We all know what what we want to achieve, and that is attainable if we continue to work hard and stay on course of what we’ve done so far.”
Beal is in her second full season as the Crusaders’ libero and leads the defense. Junior outside hitter Lauren Borik, sophomore defensive specialist Claire Franke, senior defensive specialist Erica Buckley and sophomore setter Abby Lanter add depth.
Beal expected the team to be one that could contend for a state tournament trophy for the second straight season.
“I think we all came in thinking that after last year, and with the players we had coming back, that we could be very good,” Beal said. “It’s put a target on our backs, but we know that if we stay together that we can accomplish our goals.”