Catholic Central volleyball coach Stacey Webster doesn’t have to drill into her team the importance of offseason dedication. The players are already doing that with each other.
About 20 of them showed up regularly for voluntary workouts at 7 a.m. four days a week. They also drove an hour each way to Ben Logan for games on Tuesdays and Thursdays and competed in several high-level weekend tournaments.
That kind of commitment isn’t the norm among area programs. But starting to gear up for each season in May has helped turn the Irish into an Ohio Heritage Conference power with five titles in the last six years.
“We’ve got a lot of kids who decided to put in the work all summer,” Webster said. “We jumped into a lot of traveling tournaments when I could use my coaching days. I think that’s made a difference.
“They want to win more tournaments and have their numbers on the wall for the years they played. They just have a fierce rivalry with some of the OHC schools and like to be the people on top.”
Senior Lizzy Lohnes may have been tempted to hit the snooze button when her alarm went off at the crack of dawn, but she knew those workouts would pay off.
“It’s sometimes hard to get up, but you have to think of the long run and what it’s going to do,” she said.
Webster, in her 19th season, struggled to build a winning culture early in her career, and she remembers the period when the program began to flip.
In 2003, the Irish captured their first OHC crown behind first-team all-state pick Molly Spencer, whose leadership skills were as important as her talent.
“She was just a phenomenal player, and we had kids who worked really hard around her but weren’t really true athletes,” Webster said. “She really kept on them, and that’s where the turnaround came — where kids said, ‘We want to be put on the map as a volleyball program.’ ”
While the Irish have to replace two key players from last year’s 19-6 team, they look like they have the pieces to contend for another league crown.
Lohnes was named the 2016 OHC North Division player of the year after registering 383 kills. Senior Mia Galluch, a second-team all-league pick, and senior Kacie O’Connor, an honorable mention selection, also will play the front row.
Galluch led the Irish with 78 blocks, while O’Connor connected on a team-high 97 percent of her serves.
“Lizzy is a force. She and Kacie play all the way around. We depend on them a ton in our back row for defense and front row for offense,” Webster said. “That’s a lot to put on them, but they’ve been doing it really well since they were freshmen.”
Junior Audrey DeWitt, another returnee, has moved to setter, while senior CiCi Chu also started last year.
“There’s a lot of loyalty with my older kids,” Webster said. “They could say, ‘Hey, I’ve been doing this three years and I want to take a break,’ and they haven’t. They’re setting a good example.”
Webster works full-time in the billing office at Oesterlen Services for Youth, and she leans heavily in the offseason on her assistants: Central grads Suzanne Metzger and Maggie Maloney Sarensen and Chaminade Julienne product Marlena Hoendorf.
“What I like is I have coaches who are really dedicated, who want these kids to win,” Webster said. “They have that Irish fierceness behind them that they really had when they played. They have that pride. It’s really nice to step back and watch former players catch on.”
Lohnes hasn’t needed much outside direction since three older sisters — Stephanie, Allison and Christina — all played volleyball for Central.
She was on the 2014 regional final team with Stephanie and doesn’t see why the current squad can’t make a deep tourney run.
“We have a lot of work to do, but it’s looking pretty good,” she said. “I think people are doubting us, but they don’t know what’s coming.”