High School Sports

Can family ties help lead Althoff to first state volleyball title?

Althoff’s Leighten Kaiser (10) and Emily Myatt (13) reach high to try to block a Belleville West player earlier this season. This weekend, the Crusaders are reaching for the school’s first state volleyball championship.
Althoff’s Leighten Kaiser (10) and Emily Myatt (13) reach high to try to block a Belleville West player earlier this season. This weekend, the Crusaders are reaching for the school’s first state volleyball championship.

While the Althoff Crusaders are making their first state volleyball tournament trip since 2007, there is plenty of state tournament experience on the bench.

Coach Sara Thomas Dietrich made two trips to state as a player at Althoff (2001 and 2003) before going on to star at Missouri State University. Dietrich’s assistant coach Kathy Wuller, also her aunt, guided Althoff to state six times from 1999 to 2007, including a second-place finish in 1999.

“That means to the world to me and I know to her, too,” said Dietrich, whose 23-11 squad is facing St. Joseph-Ogden (30-3) in the Class 2A state semifinals at noon Friday in Normal. “Getting to go to state side by side with her as a coach is indescribable. I feel very blessed because she helped me get to where I was as a player and then transferring from a player to a coach is not always easy.

“She’s really been a mentor helping to guide me and without her and the rest of my staff, we wouldn’t be where we are. I remember how it was as a player, but it’s quite different as a coach.”

The Crusaders will be making their 10th state appearance the 1999 second-place finish is the school’s high water mark in volleyball.

Scouting Althoff: Althoff is hoping to rely on a mostly 3A-4A schedule and its balanced squad led by senior Emily Myatt (205 kills, 221 digs, 39 blocks), junior setter, Miami (Ohio) recruit Louise Comerford (131 kills, 207 digs, 663 assists, team-high 45 blocks and 51 aces) and senior libero Katie Allard (418 digs, 22 aces).

“Just being able to play those bigger teams and those great teams, to see them during the regular season absolutely prepares us,” Allard said. “We have to run a faster offense and play a little smarter to help us against teams like that.”

That means to the world to me and I know to her, too. Getting to go to state side by side with her as a coach is indescribable.

Althoff coach Sara Dietrich on coaching with her aunt, former Althoff coach Kathy Wuller

Among the other top players are junior right side hitter Addie Burris (165 kills), freshman middle hitter Karinna Gall (142 kills, 44 blocks), freshman outside hitter Katie Wemhoener (105 kills) and junior middle blocker Leighten Kaiser (78 kills, 20 aces).

Althoff has won seven straight and hasn’t lost a set in five postseason matches. Nothing is guaranteed at state except a minimum fourth-place finish.

“It’s honestly a dream come true,” Allard said. “With my teammate and my fellow seniors we’ve been working for this all season and for us seniors, all four years. To be able to make it there is amazing.”

Dietrich has seen her team’s determination throughout the playoffs.

“It’s their dedication and their drive to reach that goal, getting to state,” she said. “They stuck to it and they never forgot that feeling. I’m so impressed with them. They just kept pushing and reminding everybody of the ultimate goal.”

Scouting St. Joseph-Ogden: The Spartans will carry an 18-match win streak into the state semifinals and haven’t lost since a Sept. 27 defeat against St. Thomas More. St. Joe-Odgen has beated St. Thomas More twice since then, including in the sectional semifinals.

The top player is 5-11 senior outside hitter Kylie Michael, an Eastern Illinois recruit and the daughter of former Carlyle High all-state and University of Illinois basketball standout Tom Michael. Tom Michael is the athletic director at Eastern Illinois University.

Kylie’s older brother, Nate Michael, is a sophomore basketball guard at McKendree University.

Kylie Michael has 367 kills and pounded out 20 of them while also collecting 16 digs in the super-sectional win over Deer Creek-Mackinaw. She also has a team-leading 309 digs, 31 blocks and 47 aces.

Other top players include senior outside hitter Parker Francisco (202 kills, 253 digs), senior setter Andrea Coursey (745 assists, 200 digs), 6-foot junior outside hitter Abbi Burnett (183 kills) and sophomore defensive specialist Bree Trimble (176 digs).

Trimble is the younger sister of Brandon Trimble, who scored 44 points against Central in the Class 2A state basketball semifinals last season as a junior before helping the Spartans win the state title.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

Class 2A State Volleyball Tournament

at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena, Normal

Friday, Nov. 11

Match 1: St. Joseph-Ogden (30-3) vs. Althoff (23-11), noon

Match 2: Eureka (33-4) vs. Chicago Latin (29-9-2), 1:30 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 12

Third Place

Loser Match 1 vs. Loser Match 2, 12:25 p.m.

Championship

Winner Match 1 vs. Winner Match 2, 1:55 p.m.

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