The Highland High School volleyball team has a new face leading the program.
Katelyn (Kombrink) Hagarty, a former O’Fallon High School volleyball star, takes over the reins of the Lady Bulldogs, who lost seven seniors from a team that won the most games (30-5) in the history of the program.
“I am excited to take over the program,” Hagarty said. “I know they lost a lot of seniors last year and are coming off the best season they’ve had. So,we know we’ve got work to do and I am just excited to get started. They are a good group of girls. They’re working hard and doing everything I ask of them; they are very coachable.”
Hagarty graduated from O’Fallon in 2005 and went on to play four years at McKendree University before going on to coach for two years at Mount Vernon. She then returned to O’Fallon where she coached the boys program for six years and the JV girls for three years.
New assistant coach is familiar face
While Karen Twyford returns as the freshman coach, Kristen Torre is a familiar face to the program as is the new assistant/junior varsity coach at her alma mater. Torre was a 6-foot-2 middle hitter who graduated from HHS in 2012 after helping the volleyball team post a then-school record number of wins at 28-5, which included winning its most recent regional title and first one in 12 years. Torre went on to star at SIUE for four years before playing a year of professional volleyball in Germany.
“I am really enjoying working with both Kristen and Karen,” Hagarty said. “Kristen brings a lot of volleyball knowledge to the program and she is easy to work with. The kids are responding well to her and she knows what it takes to get to that next level, which is great. It is good for the girls to see that. Karen is like a mom. The girls love her and look up to her, and it’s nice to see that relationship. I am enjoying working with both of them and I’m having fun so I am excited to see what happens.”
Summer, goals, strengths
Hagarty said the girls got in some good work this summer, competing in tournaments at O’Fallon, Belleville East and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
“I was happy with our performances because I thought from our very first tournament through our last we were playing more as a team, we improved, and everything just looked a little more fluent out there,” she said. “So, I am excited to see what they can do practicing everyday and building off that as we head into the season.”
The new coach said a good goal would be to finish at least in the upper half of the top of the Mississippi Valley Conference standings. But she stressed that the main goal would be to see the team progress from the start of the season to the end and be playing its best volleyball when the playoffs begin.
“I just hope that by the end of the season we are able to make somewhat of a postseason run because that’s what you work for all season,” Hagarty said. “When you lose some games throughout the season, you just want to learn from that and build on that. But the end of the season is where it really counts.”
While height may be a bit of an obstacle for Highland this season, Hagarty said her squad’s defense and chemistry should be real strengths.
“We’re not really tall but I feel like our defense is there,” she said. “It can be really frustrating to hitters on the other side when you’re picking their balls up. I think I have some really smart players who see the court really well and read it well. And I feel like they work really well together on the court. They all get along and they have good team chemistry, and I enjoy watching them.”
Juniors Claire Diercks and Emmy Nyquist are two key cogs who got plenty of experience as sophomores on last year’s record-breaking team.
Diercks is a middle hitter while Nyquist is a libero or defensive specialist.
Diercks finished second on the Bulldogs in kills (172) and third in total blocks (34). She also contributed 10 service aces.
“(Diercks) is going to be our go-to hitter and I think our offense is going to be focused around her,” Hagarty said. “She does a great job on the court and I want her to be a leader for me this year.”
Nyquist wound up fourth in both digs (250) and serves received (272). She also served up 15 aces.
“Emmy is a phenomenal passer and she is a really hard worker,” Hagarty said. “She gets upset if she doesn’t have a good pass. She is the type of player who is always pushing herself to get better and those are the types of players you really enjoy having and watching.”
Rest of the starting squad
Sophomore Megan Vidmar will be vital in running the offense as the setter after both starting setters graduated last year.
“(Vidmar) progressed a lot this summer and she is starting to be more confident in her role,” Hagarty said. “I think the hitters are responding and I feel like she is getting her timing down with her hitters. So, I am excited to see what her future holds.”
Junior Jennessa Kimmle is an outside hitter who will show off her versatility by rotating to six positions on the court.
“She is a solid player who is very smart and has a great attitude,” Hagarty said of Kimmle. “You look out there and she is having fun and she is a competitor. I really like having her out there because she knows what she is doing and she is on it and wants it.”
Senior Megan Sands will be the right-side hitter and will join Kimmle in playing six positions.
“She has a competitor’s attitude, I mean she wants that ball and she’s aggressive,” Hagarty said. “I enjoy having her and her personality and leadership on the team.”
Hagarty said sophomore Megan Ramsey can be a powerful outside hitter and she working on becoming a six-position player.
“She is determined to work hard and get that done so I am excited to see what she can bring to the team this year,” the coach said.
Senior Morgan Mesle will be the second middle hitter.
“She works her tail off out there and she is always smiling,” Hagarty said of Mesle. “She has a heart of gold and is a good kid. She wants to do anything she can for her team and that’s great to see.”