Louise Comerford always liked volleyball, but the junior setter at Althoff High School wasn’t so sure the sport liked her.
Cut twice in two years from a club volleyball team during her grade-school days and struggling with confidence, she found some much needed support in her older sister, former Althoff volleyball player Eileen Comerford.
A few years later, area volleyball coaches have provided even more confidence and support by voting Comerford the Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-2A) Volleyball Player of the Year.
“I would try out for teams and I would get cut a lot, but I didn’t want to give up and I’m really happy I didn’t,” said Comerford, who soaked up everything her sister told her and stuck with the sport while she kept growing and improving. “There were other girls then who were just better than me. I was pretty small and I wasn’t very strong.
“My sister was a setter and she had a huge part in this whole thing.”
Comerford was genuinely surprised upon hearing the area coaches had chosen her as player of the year.
“It means a lot. It shows that hard work actually pays off,” she said. “I’m super-flattered and honored. I really appreciate it.”
Only a junior, the 5-foot-11 Comerford already has a scholarship to Division I Miami (Ohio). She played a big role in Althoff’s third-place finish at the Class 2A state tournament this year and run to the super-sectional in 2015.
Resourceful and talented
Despite being a setter she ranked fourth on the Crusader with 142 kills and led the team with 48 blocks and 53 service aces. The well-rounded performer piled up 709 assists, averaging 19.69 per match, along with 219 digs.
Her resourcefulness as a setter is limitless thanks to the variety of skills, fakes and footwork she has incorporated into her preparation.
Althoff coach Sara Dietrich, who received BND Small-School Volleyball Coach of the Year in voting by her peers, said Comerford’s size and being left-handed definitely helps.
“She’s very athletic and being almost 6-foot and a lefty setter is a huge advantage over everybody,” Dietrich said. “The biggest thing for her was her will to learn and to be coached and being such a good teammate. Those are all very important aspects to being a a setter and running the court.”
Comerford forced her way into the varsity lineup as a freshman and never left.
“When she came into the program, she was so tall and a lefty and that’s rare,” Dietrich said. “Once we started working with her she built her confidence and that gave her more motivation. She ended up setting all these goals that she wanted to achieve and she did it. By midseason (that year) she was running a 5-1 (formation).”
Comerford can’t imagine herself playing anywhere but setter. She likes all the touches and determining what happens next offensively.
“Setting is huge for me because I love getting the right set and the hitter coming to me and saying ‘Good set’ every time they get a kill,” she said. “I’ve been so blessed with such great teams.”
Like her teammates, Comerford was hoping for a state title rather than third place, but the Crusaders made it to state for the first time since 2007. The Crusaders lost to St. Joseph-Ogden in the state semifnals before beating Chicago Latin in the third place game for the school’s best finish since 2004.
“It was so fun and such a good experience. We were all so close and I wouldn’t want to experience it with any other people,” Comerford said.
Dietrich said Comerford has come a long way since her first high school volleyball match.
“It’s actually been cool seeing her come out of her shell,” Dietrich said. “She was a freshman on varsity running a 5-1 and a little nervous. Now she’s leading silly dances in the locker room, but at the same time holding other girls accountable for their play on the floor.
“A lot of teams don’t see players like Louise and it can throw blockers and defenders off. The thing she’s really good at is making those blockers guess and putting our attackers one-on-one. I’m just glad she’s just a junior, too.”
Comerford plans on continuing her fast-track improvement in the off-season with the new High Performance club volleyball team in the metro-east.
“Our seniors are going to be a big loss, but the talent that we have with the underclassmen is going to be unreal,” she said.
Coach of the Year
Dietrich was a former BND Player of the Year during her days as an all-state player at Althoff. After continuing her career at Missouri State, she returned to coach at Althoff and guided the Crusaders to the state tourney this season.
“It was quite different than being a player,” Dietrich said. “As a coach I really tried to take it and in and made sure the girls highly enjoyed it no matter what the outcome was. I want to go back, all those little things you’ve got to do to get there are totally worth it.”