New year, new coach, and a lot of new players.
Those are parts of the 2017 Cathedral High School girls volleyball story, but the biggest part is that the expectations and goals are very much the same. And they’re still lofty.
Still, while Irish volleyball coach Dee Dee Galligher said big postseason aspirations always will be part of the Cathedral program, they’re not the main focus. At least not yet.
“We put the state on our practice T-Shirt, so we have that in the long-tem,” Galligher said, “but right now our biggest goal is to make sure we’re 14 strong and not seven or eight strong, that every person is part of this program.
“We’re going to be a team and not individuals. Right now, we’re taking it one game at a time.”
Another part of the ’17 Irish volleyball story: Galligher, a familiar face in a new place on the sideline, now is coaching the program.
A Cathedral assistant the past two years, Galligher early in 2017 replaced longtime head coach Jean Kesterson, whose name long has been synonymous with the Irish volleyball program she built into one of the state of Indiana’s top high school athletic programs.
Kesterson, who coached Cathedral to the 2015 national title, retired early in 2017. The Irish won eight state titles under Kesterson, including the last two in succession.
“I like that I was in the program because the girls know me,” Galligher said. “If I were new to the program, I don’t even know how you would approach that. There are so many wonderful traditions that she [Kesterson] created, and the girls that have come to games since they were in first grade want to see those traditions continue.
“We’ve changed a couple of traditions, we’ve kept a couple and we’ve modified a couple. So far, so good. Everybody’s smiles. It’s early in the season and we hope to continue those smiles.”
The Irish went 5-3 early in 2017, with losses to strong Center Grove, Brownsburg and Louisville St. Xavier teams. Galligher said with the loss of several Division I-bound athletes from last season, the early season was expected to be difficult.
“I think we’re going to be all right this year,” she said. “We’re going to have to fight and try to find a way to win and really believe this group can do it.”
Key to that effort will be a core of players returning from last season, players who were critical during the run to a second consecutive state title: senior middle blocker Rachel McDonald, senior outside hitter Joey Landeros, senior middle hitter Emily Kleck and senior outside/middle hitter Mattie Norris.
“They all really stepped up their game, especially when we go to regionals and semistates,” Galligher said. “I think that was our path to victory last year when they kept rising to occasion.”
Galligher said Norris and Clack “have really taken the team on their shoulders and said, ‘We’re going to do this.’ They’re the captains and their leadership is amazing.”
Also key: senior defensive setter Emily Lansing, as well as two players competing for the Libero positon: sophomore Jami Hansen and junior Mary Grace Stenson.
“They’re something back there,” she said.
Galliger said also important to the Irish’s hopes this season are freshman setter Allie Morton and junior outside hitter Rose Meyer.
“Everybody might not know her name, but by the end of the season everyone will know who Rose Myer is,’’ Galligher said of Meyer, who led the team early in the season in hitting efficiency. “She’s a little undersized, but she has about every shot in the book. I look for great things out of her.”
Galligher said the team as a whole seeks great things. That’s the only mindset the girls in the program know, and it’s an approach Galligher said will serve them well in a season of transition.
“They have giant expectations for themselves – not only on the volleyball court, but in the class room, in life and in their faith,” she said. “They want to get everything out of life they can possibly get. The young ladies are always up for that challenge, and they do not back down to anything.
“We’re not talking about it right now. We’re just talking about the next game, but I think they think, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this.’ It’s an everyday thing; they want to leave their mark. Most of our key players went to state.
“They know what it’s like to get there and they know how hard they’re going to have to work to get there.”