It’s kind of hard to hide a dominant 6-foot-2 middle blocker that already has a full scholarship to the University of Alabama.
And while most Althoff opponents are well aware of senior Alanna Bramwell, a four-year starter and one of the top blockers in the state, the Crusaders hope to take advantage of her skills as well as the rest of those from what figures to be an improved roster from an 11-17 squad in 2014.
“Alanna is such a great overall athlete with the drive to continue to improve,” Althoff coach Sara Thomas Dietrich said, noting Bramwell’s 140 kills and high block total from a year ago. “Everyone’s going to be focusing on her and we’re going to have to keep mixing it up and working with the other hitters. But she’s improved in all aspects of her game with maturity and playing at a high level.”
One early area of concern is outside hitter. Senior Rachel Mertens, a three-year starter, will miss the season after suffering a knee injury in a summer basketball game. Outside hitters Briana Nowak and Megan Seibel were lost to graduation, so Dietrich is using the preseason as an open audition to find effective players at the positions.
“It stinks whenever you lose a player to injury regardless, especially a senior,” Dietrich said of Mertens, who will help out on the sidelines this season. “It just broke my heart for her because she’s so passionate about volleyball. We’re glad she’s going to be around because we want her around.”
Emily Myatt, a 5-10 junior who started at middle blocker last season, could be moved to the outside hitter spot. Others being looked at for outside, middle hitter or right-side hitter spots include junior Ellie Martz and sophomores Lindsay See, Addie Burris, Emma Murphy, Katelynn Peterson and Leighten Kaiser.
“My junior and senior class complement each other so well and we’re very excited about that,” Dietrich said. “They’re all competing very hard and that sophomore class has such drive because they see the potential for them to play and they want it.”
Louise Comerford, a 5-10 sophomore who averaged just over six assists last season, returns at setter after handling the position as a freshman on the varsity. Comerford also had a team-high 32 service aces.
“She had big shoes she had to fill coming in a a freshman and she did great,” Dietrich said. “She’s going to be really good.”
Senior Aliyah Gillespie adds more depth and experience at the setter spot.
Junior Katie Allard and sophomores Annika Beal and Rachel Monken are working at libero.
One big change for the Crusaders is dropping down to Class 2A for the playoffs this season. Althoff’s last regional championship came in 2011, but its last four regional championships — and a fourth-place finish at state in 2007 — all came in 3A.
In recent years, Nashville and Gibault have been among the area’s top Class 2A volleyball programs since three-time state champion Central moved from 2A to 3A two years ago.
“We’ll take it the same way we did in 3A, one match at a time,” Dietrich said. “Our tough schedule, which has not changed, is going to really help prepare us for the postseason.”