Cover photo credit: Whitney Crush
Paul Najjar, Louisville Catholic Sports Network
Five of the top 30 teams in the nation participated in the Ultra Ankle Louisville Invitational Volleyball Tournament and for the second consecutive year the Sacred Heart Valkyries took home the title with a 25-17, 25-27, 25-20 win over the Assumption Rockets.
St. Joseph Academy from St. Louis defeated Walton (Ga.) 2-0 in the third place match. Walton came into the tournament ranked No. 2 in the nation in prepvolleyball.com’s preseason poll, only to drop its semifinal match to preseason No. 5 Assumption. St. Joseph Academy was ranked No. 16 in the preseason poll and they were defeated by the preseason No. 3 Sacred Heart team.
Sacred Heart over Assumption – title match
The Sacred Heart win over its arch rival mitigated a bit of the warmth that came with Assumption head coach Ron Kordes’ 1,000th career victory—notched in the semifinals over Walton–but the Valkyries were determined to avenge a straight-set blowout loss to the Rockets just nine days ago. The difference?
“We’ve worked so hard on our blocking assignments and picked up our intensity level at practice,” SHA senior outside hitter and All-American Paige Hammons said. “We did not have good practices leading up to the first Assumption game and since then we have worked so hard at practice on every part of the game: blocking, hitting, defense. It took some of the pressure off of me and my teammates played really well.”
Hammons led all hitters with 18 kills and one block in that championship match, but she was supported this time by opposite Lauryn Bennett’s 11 kills, one block and junior outside hitter/setter Abigail Westenhoffer’s eight kills and two blocks. Bennett and Westenhoffer combined for six kills in the loss to the Rockets.
“Every time we match up with Assumption it can go either way,” Sacred Heart head coach Brett Versen said. “Whoever gets hot, whoever is feeling it that night that’s the way it’s going to go. A win like this will keep us motivated and working hard because we’re going to see them a couple times or more during the rest of the season.”
Westenhoffer played a superb all-around match adding several assists to her stats to go with her solid hitting and blocking effort.
“We realized we had nothing to lose and had to give it our all,” Westenhoffer said. “I felt a lot more comfortable with our offense and with our surroundings. It was a tough environment to play at Assumption with the big crowd and the noise had an effect on our communication. We definitely learned a lot from that loss to them and we had a lot better connection tonight. Our passes were on point today.”
Assumption’s big hitters came up a little short compared to what they accomplished in its earlier victory over SHA. Seniors Brooke Moore, Anna Palmer, Jacqueline Askin and junior middle Kayla Kaiser combined for 37 kills, three aces and three blocks in the win over SHA, but today they were able to contribute just 30 kills, two aces and two blocks. Not a big drop-off, but a noticeable one.
The other difference came in the unforced (scoring) errors stat. For this title match Sacred Heart (10-1) gave away 11 points and Assumption (14-2) gave up 20 unforced errors.
“They served us much tougher today than they did a couple of weeks ago,” Kordes said. “We didn’t receive well and we were only able to get the ball to our middles twice in that first set. We picked it up in the second set and passed it better. Had a nice comeback in that set and had a lead early in the third set before a couple of attack errors bit us. I think those disturbed us a bit and I really don’t know why.”
Assumption coach Ron Kordes gets win No. 1,000
Kordes earned his 1,000 career win in his 28th season as Assumption head coach by defeating St. Joseph Academy 25-15, 25-17 in the semifinals. Quite a remarkable feat in any sport, especially considering the powerful schedule Assumption faces every year.
“I don’t remember the first win,” Kordes said, “but I do remember my first game. We played Woodford County and my main job at the time kept me from attending that game. We lost. I’ll have to do some research for that first win.”
The man has touched thousands of lives in the volleyball community locally, state-wide and across the country.
“Ron’s great and he IS Louisville volleyball; he’s defined it for years,” Walton head coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “We love coming to this tournament because it provides great competition for us and for all the teams. It’s a special event.”
St. Joseph Academy head coach Katie Richardson has played and coached against Kordes and had little qualms about being the footnote in his history.
“We wanted to win, of course, but he’s a great coach and has established a great program,” Richardson said. “We were playing from behind against them, tried to come back but they were too good today. We’ve definitely contributed to his win total, but it’s a great honor to have played and coached against him. It’s an amazing accomplishment. He’s a volleyballlegend.”
Sacred Heart and Assumption will head to Las Vegas next weekend to play in the Durango Fall Classic. Assumption is the two-time defending champion of that tournament.