For the Althoff Crusaders, a near-perfect season on the volleyball court already had a perfect ending.
But the honors just keep rolling in.
Three members of the the Illinois Class 3A State champions are getting national recognition for their contributions to a magical 41-1 season that was interrupted only by a single loss to Belleville West.
Head coach Sara Thomas-Dietrich was a finalist for National Coach of the Year, as awarded by recruitment site prepvolleyball.com.
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“Here we are in February and we’re still getting all this hype,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “We’re just really proud and appreciative of all the support we’ve gotten locally and, now, nationally.”
Prepvolleyball.com named three coaches of the year. They included Paula Kirkland of Dorman High School in South Carolina, Karin Keeney of Hebron High School in Texas, and Suzanne Fitzgerald of Walton High School in Georgia.
Thomas-Dietrich said she was honored to be considered.
“I don’t feel worthy,” said Thomas-Dietrich. “I’m not personal friends with the other coaches but they’re part of the volleyball community so I certainly recognize their names. It’s a prestigious list because those coaches have done so much over their careers.”
The seventh-year coach was an all-state pick as a player in 1999, when the Crusaders finished as state runners-up. She shared this season’s championship spotlight with her aunt, Kathy Wuller, who was the coach of that second-place team 18 years ago.
“Every coach says their success was a team effort and I really, truly mean that,” Thomas-Dietrich said. “From the coaches to the players, everyone had a hand in what we accomplished.”
Louise Comerford, two-time Belleville News-Democrat Large School Player of the Year, also was a finalist for National Senior of the Year. She capped her prep career with an Althoff-record 2,100 assists. The 5-foot-11 setter will continue playing at Miami University in Ohio.
Prepvolleyball.com named Thayer Hall of Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina, its Senior Ace honoree. Hall will begin her college career with the Florida Gators this fall.
Karina Gall was a finalist for National Sophomore of the Year. The 6-1 outside hitter finished the season with 313 kills in 87 games, an average of 3.8 kills per game. Melanie Sheffmaster of New Castle High School in Indiana earned the honor, however.
“We have Gall coming back, Katie Wiemhoener ... Claire Franke, Mary Wessel, some others that weren’t starters but will transition nicely. Nicole Sampson. Abby Lancer,” Thomas-Dietrich said.