Ron Kordes knows a little something about high school state championships.
When Assumption squad defeated cross-town rival Louisville Mercy for the KHSAA (Kentucky) state title, it marked the 21st time a Kordes-coached squad won the richest prize.
But just how special was the 2018 Assumption version?
“Oh my!” said Kordes, who has more than 1,100 wins in his career. “They were phenomenal. We had a great blend of skill, experience, leadership and chemistry. This is the kind of thing a coach puts on his or her wish list and then it happens every now and then.”
Assumption is the 2018 VolleyballMag.com girls high school team of the year.
To put it into numbers, here’s how impressive Assumption was this season: The Rockets went 43-0 and did so playing only eight official home matches. Assumption, whose entire senior class and several underclassmen are either headed to play or will play college volleyball on scholarship, won eight away matches and racked up a 27-0 mark in neutral-site matches.
What’s more, Assumption was 107-8 in sets.
“We did so well this season because at the beginning we all bought into the idea of this being a special season,” said senior setter Camille Nazor, one of the team captains. “I think that the seniors wanted to make our last season at Assumption memorable and we wanted everyone on board with us. We worked very hard and I’m so glad it paid off.”
The real proof comes from that 27-0 neutral-site record. Assumption was lights out in tournaments across the country. It went 4-0 in winning the Avon tournament in Indiana. A week later it went 5-0 to win the LIVT event in Louisville, downing Mercy for the title there.
The next week it was off to Las Vegas for the Durango Fall Classic where it went 7-0, scoring wins against Mater Dei of Santa Ana, California, and Redondo Union of Redondo Beach, California, in the final.
Two weeks later it was another tournament title in Chicago, at the ASICS Challenge, where it beat Chicago Marist in the final.
The only team to get within a sniff of victory against Assumption was Mercy, which took Assumption to five on two occasions. The two teams played four times this season.
On its victories hit list, Assumption defeated four of the top 12 teams in the country according to rankings by our friends over at PrepVolleyball.com, Mater Dei at No. 2, Marymount (Los Angeles) at No. 6, Redondo Union at No. 8 and Mercy at No. 12. It also defeated Chicago Marist No. 17), Avon (Indiana, No. 30), New Castle (Indiana, No. 32) and Chicago Heights Marian Catholic (No. 36).
Now that’s strength of schedule.
“In terms of the travel and everything, it was about as tough as you can get,” said Kordes, whose program also won the state title in 2017. “We played in some very good tournaments against some very good teams.”
Kordes, who just completed his 30th season at the helm, said while his team certainly had the talent (more on that in a second), it was the chemistry that tipped the scales.
“I don’t think you go anywhere without chemistry,” said Kordes, whose daughter, Anne (former head coach at Louisville) was an assistant coach for the Rockets this season. “You are dealing with teenage girls. You know there is going to be a little bit of drama out there once in a while. With this group, it never entered the gym and it never affected the team or our matches.”
Senior right-side hitter Callie Martin agreed with the chemistry assessment.
“Our chemistry was so good,” she said. “We had all played with each other for a while so we were comfortable playing beside each other and knew how to communicate well. We also did well because we had one goal in mind, which was to win. Everybody on the team was going to do whatever it took to accomplish that.”
And then there is the talent part of this juggernaut. Kordes had five regular starters back and eight seniors on the team.
“And they all contributed at some point in time,” he said. “We had size. We went 6-2 and 6-3 in the middle. We had a great blend of what you need to put together a good team. We were blessed with size and ball control and had a six-rotation outside and a six-rotation left side, some good defensive specialists-liberos and we had a setter who was setting her third year on varsity.”
Junior Rylee Rader, who won the 2017 Gatorade Kentucky player of the year award, won the Kentucky Miss Volleyball honor this season and led the team with 415 kills. Junior Anna DeBeer is the six-rotation outside Kordes referred to and is headed to Louisville. She finished with 320 kills and 217 digs. Martin, headed to Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, had 299 digs, 166 kills and hit .354 as a six-rotation right side.
Senior 6-3 middle Emma Monks, a Michigan State signee, had 198 kills, hit .461 and led the team with 83 total blocks. Senior 6-1 outside hitter Mary Ann O’Toole (Xavier University in Cincinnati commit) added 168 kills, while senior outside Lauren Myrick (Lipscomb University in Nashville commit) had 91 kills. Senior outside Maggie Burns (Urbana University in Ohio) had 49 kills.
Seniors Karly Basham (Texas A&M signee) and Alexa Hendricks (Louisville commit) manned the back row for Kordes. Basham had 332 digs, while Hendricks had 190. The two combined to rack up 99 service aces.
“I liked how competitive everyone was on the team. That probably was my favorite part,” said Basham. “With it being so competitive all the time, it made playing with all the girls on the team and being coached that much more fun and memorable. Having everyone be competitive made traveling for tournaments, going to practices and playing our rivalry games truly special. It added an extra spark to everyone on the team that really had a huge impact in making this year and this team one to remember.”
Martin also was a fan of the competitive-fun balance on the team.
“What I liked about this team is how driven every player was but also how we were able to bring a lot of fun onto the court, but still be able to get the job done,” she said. “This was the most competitive team I have been a part of. I love being in that type of environment on a volleyball team.”
Nazor, who was a team captain along with Martin and Basham, made it all happen out of the setter position. The Duke recruit set Assumption to a .377 hitting percentage and her hitters averaged 13.2 kills per set.
“A lot of it was experience,” said Kordes. “We had a setter who was on the court for her third varsity year. When you play good teams such as we did it speaks volumes to have kids who have been there and done it before and played in these tough atmospheres. It was a fun year.”
Nazor added, “I liked how our team played on the court. Whatever was going on during a match, we knew that we played our best when we were loose and having fun and that’s something as captains we tried to enforce. We also had key pieces all over the court. It never was the same person carrying us the whole season. Everyone stepped up.”
Now Kordes turns his attention to next year. Assumption brings a 59-match winning streak into 2019. “We lose those eight seniors. We will have to fill some spots,” he said. “But with girls like Rylee (Rader) and Anna (DeBeer) back we have a good nucleus to build on.”
As Assumption sets its sights on state title No. 22.
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