To the outsider looking in, Althoff Catholic High School volleyball players Katie Wemhoener and Karinna Gall have different but effective ways of playing the sport that has been their passion for as long as they can remember.
A 6-foot-1 middle blocker who was a finalist for PrepVolleyball.com National High School Sophomore of the Year last season, Gall has a huge wingspan at the net and the power to hit through any opposing defense. Wemhoener, 5-9, is a player who can “jump out of the gym” and with that has the ability and quickness to go over the opposition.
As a combination, they are a major reason why Althoff should contend to defend its Class 3A state championship in November.
“When they are on the floor, those are two girls you are going to get everything they have to give every single game and every single practice. Those are easy girls to coach,” Althoff coach Tony Miner said after a recent practice. “When you get their mechanics right and you get them moving in the right spot on defense to go with that effort and that determination to succeed, then you have two very good volleyball players.”
Few who have played against Gall and Wemhoener during the past two seasons will dispute that they are two exceptional talents.
Key members as freshmen two years ago when Althoff placed third in the Class 2A state tournament, Gall and Wemhoener were a huge part of a talented Crusaders squad that finished 41-1 and won the Class 3A state championship in 2017.
Gall led Althoff with 313 kills, while Wemhoener, an outside hitter/defensive specialist, was third on the squad with 222 kills. This season, armed with a new setter in Mary Wessel, the junior-dominated Crusaders have their sights set on another state tournament trophy.
“That’s what we’re all hoping to do,” Wemhoener said. “But we can’t afford to get ahead of ourselves. It has to be one set, one match at a time. We have a huge target on our backs. Every team we play is going to want to beat us even more than every this year.”
Gall has been among the best in the state the past two years. Recently committed to attend Indiana State University in 2020, the Crusaders’ two-sport athlete played club volleyball with the Rockwood Thunder this summer and is more focused than ever heading into her junior season at Althoff.
In the Crusaders’ season-opening win over Columbia last week, Gall hammered down eight kills, while Wemhoener added six in the 25-14, 25-8 victory over the Eagles.
“What did I do this summer? A lot of volleyball. We went to nationals in club volleyball in mid-July. Then we started open gym for high school volleyball when I got back,” Gall said. “My family went to Disney World for vacation, so I got away from it for a little while.
“But now we’re back at it. We’ve got a lot of juniors on this team. We lost (setter) Louise Comerford and five other seniors, but Mary (Wessel) has stepped in and done a great job. She had some big shoes to fill, but she’s learned and picked it up quickly. I think this team is very comparable to what we had last year.”
While Gall, at 6-1, has the reach and the overhead arm swing to power the ball by opposing players, Wemhoener relies more on her jumping ability and quickness.
Miner said Wemhoener increased her vertical jumping ability this summer after working with Jacob Tucker, who won the college slam dunk competition a few years ago while attending Illinois College in Jacksonville.
“Katie just put in a tremendous amount of work over the summer working on her vertical. The first day of practice I was amazed because I’m sure she has increased her ability by at least four or five inches,” Miner said “She is so much more explosive, and her first step is so much quicker.
“They both have tremendous power. There are days when I think Katie is going to put a hole in the gym floor, and there other days when I feel the same way about Karinna. They both compliment each other so well because they have played together for so long. They both have a knack of knowing where to be on the court.
But both Wemhoener and Gall know that if Althoff is going to make a run at a second straight state title, it has to be a team effort.
“We’ve got a lot of juniors on this team, and we’re all really close. That helps,” Wemhoener said. “Like we’ve said, Mary (Wessel) has done a great job at setter. Like (Louise) Comerford she knows where to put the ball so that her hitters have the best chances to be successful.”
And after bringing home state tournament trophies the last two years, a “successful” 2018 season means another trip to Redbird Arena in November.
“That’s the goal,” Gall said.