Louise Comerford entered her senior season with the Althoff volleyball team with her future secure and some lofty goals in mind.
The 2016 Belleville News-Democrat Small School (Class 1A-2A) Player of the Year, Comerford had a scholarship to play NCAA Division I volleyball at Miami, (Ohio) University. The athletic 5-foot-11 setter had been a mainstay in the Crusaders starting lineup since her freshman season and had been a big part of Althoff teams that reached the super-sectional in 2015 and placed third in the Class 2A state tournament in 2016.
Returning several players from a year ago, the Crusaders entered 2017 with the hopes of making history by becoming the first team in school history to win a state championship. But being a 3A school this year made the road to Redbird Arena in Normal a little more difficult.
“The goal was to win the state championship. We didn’t talk about it. But I think we all knew that if we worked hard, that the opportunity to get back to the state tournament was realistic,” Comerford said. “We knew we would be very strong. I don’t think any of us came into the season thinking we would finish 41-1.”
But the Crusaders did. And with Comerford leading the way with 26 assists and four kills in a 25-16, 25-23 win over Chicago Resurrection in the Class 3A state championship match, Althoff put the finishing touch on its dream season with another dominating performance.
“It was almost surreal. To realize that we are the first volleyball team in Althoff history to win a state championship ... that’s an amazing accomplishment. We were all so close as well. That made it even better,” Comerford said. “We didn’t really celebrate that much that night. It wast the next day at the (school) celebration where I think we realized what we had done.”
Voted as the Belleville News-Democrat Large School (3A-4A) Player of the Year, Comerford was the catalyst on a high-powered Althoff team that featured many offensive weapons. Finishing her senior season with 834 assists, Comerford averaged 9.7 assists per game. She also added 133 kills, 44 service aces, 41 blocks and 219 digs.
Comerford’s 219 digs was third on the Althoff roster behind Annika Beal (509) and Katie Wemhoener (398).
We knew we would be very strong. I don’t think any of us came into the season thinking we would finish 41-1.
But directing the Crusaders 5-1 offense for the last four years, Comerford ends her career with more than 2,100 assists, an Althoff school record. This past season, she distributed the volleyball to a group of hitters that included Wemhoener, Karinna Gall and Addie Burris, all of whom finished with more than 220 kills for the season.
Althoff coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich, who was chosen as the Large School Coach of the Year, said having Comerford in the lineup the last four years has been one of the big keys to the success of the Crusaders program. Althoff won 65 of 78 matches the past two seasons.
“Louise has been a 5-1 varsity setter since she was a freshman. To see how she has grown into the player she is now is truly rewarding as a coach. Her hard work, dedication and desire to be better not only for herself but for her team is the ultimate definition of what a teammate is all about,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “But now all of that hard work, dedication, and desire is paying off for her individually too. Being player of the year last year for small school and now player of the year for big school is a huge honor in itself.
“Talking to Louise, she is humble and wouldn’t expect to receive anything. She is completely grateful for her teammates, coaches and all those who have helped her get to where she is today.”
Comerford said she and her teammates began the season with the goal of reaching the state tournament. Althoff won its first 19 matches of the season before falling to city rival Belleville West in three games.
Comerford said the turning point, or at least the time when she began to realize that the Crusaders could have a ‘special’ season, came during the Effingham Crossroads Tournament. The Crusaders rolled in their first two matches, then knocked off Wheaton St. Francis, a school with 12 state titles, in the semifinal.
Althoff then defeated Glenbard West in a tough three game title match.
“We had never played or done as well as we wanted at the Crossroads. It seems like every year we would watch the final and there were all these top teams from the Chicago area playing. It was great this year because it was us that all of the other schools were watching,” Comerford said.
The loss to Belleville West came 12 days later, but aside from a dramatic three game win over Edwardsville and three matches against rival Mater Dei, all of which went three games, the Crusaders were pushed to three games only seven times in 42 matches.
After defeating Mount Zion to win the Salem super-sectional, Althoff rolled into the Class 3A state tournament at Redbird Arena full of confidence and ready for its semifinal with Normal University High School, where the Crusaders defeated the Pioneers 25-13, 25-21 to reach the state championship game.
“We were confident but not over confident going into the state finals. We were here last year and none of the other three teams had been here before. That was an advantage for us in that we knew what to expect and didn’t get caught up in ‘being’ at the state tournament,” Comerford said. “The big match for us was the semi-final.
“There were a few nerves but that’s normal. Once we settled in, we just played the way had all year.”
And 24 hours later. Althoff made history with its sweep over Chicago Resurrection.
“It was really hard to describe the feeling after we won it that night. To be part of this team which worked so hard towards this goal and then to achieve it,” Comerford said. “To be able to say we were the first team to win a state volleyball championship at Althoff. That’s what I’ll remember the most.”
2017 Belleville News-Democrat Girls All-Area Volleyball Team
Player of the Year
- Louise Comerford, Althoff, sr.
Coach of the Year
- Sara Thomas-Dietrich, Althoff
- Elise Smith, O’Fallon, sr.
- Rachel Pranger, Edwardsville, sr.
- Kaylee Hanger, Belleville West, sr.
- Karinna Gall, Althoff, soph.
- Rachel Verdun, Edwardsville, sr.
- Mikaela Kues, Mater Dei, sr.
- Libero: (Tie) : Megan Woll, Edwardsville, sr. and Annika Beal, Althoff, sr.
- Lauren Lepere, O’Fallon, jr.
- Kate Martin, Edwardsville, sr.
- Tieghan Morio, Mascoutah, sr.
- Katherine Koch, Belleville West, jr.
- Addie Burris, Althoff, sr.
- Claire Diercks, Highland, jr.
- Libero: AJ Hallemann, Mater Dei, sr.
- Myah Beckmann, Mater Dei; Abby Braswell, O’Fallon; Hannah Cope, Waterloo; Kelli Determan, Belleville East; Allyson Fehrmann, Central; Claire Franke, Althoff; Caroline Gagen, Freeburg; Donyai Garrett, Granite City; Skylar Geske, Waterloo; Alyssa Grimm, Collinsville; Kim Hall, Central; Janney Hays, Triad; Chasity Hill, Freeburg; Abbie Horstmann, Central; Maddie Hurd, Freeburg; Leighten Kaiser, Althoff; Sam Kampwerth, Mater Dei; Jennessa Kimmle, Highland; Rachel Mitts, Belleville East; Kaity Mueller, O’Fallon; Emmy Nyquist, Highland; Tori Oldham, Belleville West; Avery Patton, Bellevlle East; Taylor Pavich, Central; Nisha Quarles, Belleville West; Morgan Revermann, Mater Dei; Kameryn Sillmon, Belleville East; Kenzee Simmers, O’Fallon; Lexie Smith, Freeburg; Maria Smith, Edwardsville; Emily Stahl, Alton; Sydney Steed, Triad; Ellie Stone, Columbia; Morgan Tanksley, Granite City; Sydney Thomas, Triad; Kate Trickey, Belleville East; Megan Vidmar, Highland; Katie Wemhoener, Althoff; Carlee Wise, Mater Dei