Having won four straight state championships, the Assumption High School volleyball team not surprisingly is No. 1 in the coaches’ preseason Top 25.
But Rockets coach Ron Kordes believes Mercy is more deserving of that spot, given the difference in experience on the teams’ rosters.
“If you do the math, we were 2-1 against Mercy last year and won a five-setter in the state semifinals by three points,” Kordes said. “We graduated eight, and they graduated one. Mercy is tough. … I was a little surprised by that poll. I voted them No. 1.”
Assumption and Mercy once again figure to be among the top programs in the nation. In the PrepVolleyball.com preseason rankings, Mercy is No. 6 and Assumption No. 9.
Despite its graduation losses, Assumption has plenty of talent, especially on defense. Kordes has six defensive specialists who already have committed to NCAA Division I schools in seniors Molly Sauer (Louisville), Kenzie Maloney (Nebraska) and McKenzie Watson (Kentucky), juniors Allie Gregory (Florida) and Lee Ann Cunningham (Rice) and sophomore Alexis Hamilton (Louisville).
Senior Jordyn Kuchenbrod, who has not yet picked a college, gives the Rockets a seventh strong defensive specialist.
“Most people would be happy to have two or three at that level, and we have seven,” Kordes said. “It presents challenges in terms of getting them on the court … but we will utilize their talents, no question. If we were in a 5-foot-7-and-under league, we would dominate it.”
Indeed, the Rockets’ big question mark is at the net, where senior outside hitter Miranda Elpers (Chattanooga commitment) and senior opposite hitter Bailey Wheatley (Wright State) are the only players with experience. Assumption also is breaking in a new setter in junior Shelby Olsen.
“We don’t possess quite the size we’ve had in the past, particularly in the middle,” Kordes said. “We’ll just have to see what challenges that presents for us.”
Here’s a look at other Louisville-area teams (note: several schools did not respond to requests for information):
• No. 2 Mercy lost 2013 Miss Volleyball Courtney Crable to graduation and outside hitter Hailee Strong, who followed her father, football coach Charlie Strong, to Texas.
Still, the Jaguars are loaded with talent that includes five players who have committed to D-I schools: seniors Devon Rachel (Charleston), Merideth Jewell (Morehead State), Lexie Hamrick (North Carolina) and Nikki Koval (South Florida) and junior Morgan Elmore (Lipscomb).
“For the first time in several years we have experience and upperclassmen on the roster,” coach Todd Garvey said. “We have lots of offensive weapons.”
• No. 16 Holy Cross was the regional runner-up last year and features eight seniors, led by Emmalee Fleener (St. Catharine), Monica Loftus, Maddi Jacobi, Hannah Pierce and Summer Starks.
• Beth Haven has a new coach in Phil Ellis, who will rely on seniors Kara Sullivan, Abby Thornhill and Anna Brown and sophomore Allie Cahill.
• Bullitt East has a four-year starter in Jennifer Cischke and another senior in Johna Fackler who will join three sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.
• Butler coach Kirsten Snyder likes her team’s outside hitters and setters. Senior Shania Dages and juniors Alyssa Cosgrove, Natalie Keene and Sarah Poore are top players.
• Doss hopes to improve on last year’s 21-18 record behind seniors Alexis Dobbins and Kateri Powell and junior Azaria Battle.
• Fern Creek has three returning seniors in Lindsey Goodman, Merideth Booth and Aneissa Coulter.
• Iroquois will be paced by senior Oo Meh and junior Hanna Nguyen.
• Jeffersontown has just one senior on the roster in fourth-year starting setter Ashley Sherrard. Juniors Taylor Sparks and Kaitlin Rohmann are other top players.
• North Bullitt has a new coach in Cecilia Boston and just one returning senior in Celesta Spratt.
• Southern returns seven seniors, including five who have played together since their freshman year.
• No. 3 Sacred Heart has lost to Assumption in the regional final the past four years but should be strong again behind seniors Sydney Shearn (Navy), Julia Boswell (Air Force) and Christina Gregory and junior Anna Zwiebel (LSU).
• No. 11 Male lost several seniors from last year’s 25-10 team and will be led by seniors Katie Adams and Jaela Packer.
• No. 14 Christian Academy has just two seniors on its roster, including defensive specialist Juliann Parrish, but has several talented underclassmen. Outside hitters Caroline Rassenfoss (Wake Forest) and Jill VonHoven and setter Kate Amin lead a strong group of juniors.
• No. 15 Eastern returns eight seniors, led by Amanda Frank (Southern Illinois-Edwardsville), Megan Willoughby and Madalyn Wead.
• No. 20 Manual has a new coach in former Mercy and University of Louisville player Caitlin Welch. Senior outside hitters Mackenzie Ferriell and Aurryella Mason will be the Lady Crimsons’ top players.
• No. 24 Presentation returns just five players with varsity experience and will be paced by juniors Savannah Moss and Sam Kolb.
• Atherton lost a quartet of three-year starters from a 21-11 squad. Sophomore Moia Miller leads the Rebels.
• Seneca will rely on talented juniors Elly Crittenden and Bailey Boswell.
• Waggener has a new coach in Catherine Hughes, who has four starters back from a 17-15 team: seniors Kristen Fraley, Hannah Payne, Sy’rihah Jenkins and Madison Gragson.
• No. 10 Oldham County lost just two graduates from last year’s regional championship team. Seniors Myah Underwood and Danielle McCarson and juniors Kelsey Miller (Virginia) and Leah Hollander are top players.
• No. 13 North Oldham was the regional runner-up last year and has a new coach in Brett Versen. Senior libero Mikaela Beyea, junior middle blocker Sarah Snyder and junior outside hitter Casey Foote are top returnees.
• Shelby County has a new coach in Kristen Worthington, who will lean on senior Rachel Timperman, junior Abby Wills and sophomore Kelsey Billingsley.
• South Oldham should contend for the 29th District title behind seniors Logan Stuart and Becca Cloutier (St. Catharine) and juniors Abbey Hall, Addy Tonn and Sloane Schauer.
• Spencer County will rely on four seniors in outside hitters Demi Brooks and Amber Bow, defensive specialist Briana Spears and libero Lauren Stevens.
Jason Frakes can be reached at (502) 582-4046 and followed on Twitter @kyhighs.
HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL
• Defending state champion: Assumption.
• State tournament dates/site: Nov. 7-9, Valley High School.
• Preseason Top 25 (from Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association): 1. Assumption, 2. Mercy, 3. Sacred Heart, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Ryle, 6. Henry Clay, 7. Paul Dunbar, 8. Tates Creek, 9. McCracken County, 10. Oldham County, 11. Male, 12. St. Henry, 13. North Oldham, 14. Christian Academy, 15. Eastern, 16. Louisville Holy Cross, 17. Central Hardin, 18. Cooper, 19. Apollo, 20. Manual, 21. Lafayette, 22. Newport Central Catholic, 23. Simon Kenton, 24. Presentation, 25. Green County.