By Chris Parker
Catholic volleyball had the area’s biggest turnaround last year going from six total wins in 2018 to 27 wins last year.
Stability has been a problem for the Lady Irish. Dan Evans will take over as head coach this year giving the Catholic volleyball program its sixth head coach in five years. He hopes to bring stability to the program.
“In the 6 previous years I have been at SCHS we have not had a head volleyball coach in the building. This is very difficult on the players and the coach. Many things come up during the day that a player and coach need to have interaction. I think players need to know and believe you have an interest in their well-being at practice but also throughout the day,” Evans said. “This is our second senior class in a row that has had a different coach every year of their high school career. We have had six coaches in five years. I have seen almost every SCHS volleyball match the past four years. I wanted to bring some stability to the program. I have a very positive rapport with this group of players and parents and just felt the time was right.”
Evans has been in education for 43 years. He has been a head coach in four sports and an assistant in four sports serving as an athletic director, assistant principal, high school principal and a district level administrator. This will be his first time as a head volleyball coach.
“This is my first head volleyball coaching position. I have coached volleyball in the past as an assistant in a school setting, and coached in non-school settings. Over the last 20 years volleyball has become my favorite sport. I had three girls that played volleyball and traveled all over the country with them,” Evans said.
He will look to keep up the success of last year this season with a wealth of talent returning.
“SCHS (volleyball) had a fantastic season last year. To maintain that we have to realize we will sneak up on nobody this year. Everyone will be prepared for us,” Evans said. “We graduated Lauren Zolfaghari last year. She had 510 digs, which was eighth in the state in all classes, so that will be a huge loss and certainly something we will have to focus on to continue our success. Probably the biggest thing we have to do to maintain success is to trust each other, support each other, and just worry about things we can control. Those are old clichés I know but are still very true.”
Catholic’s offensive attack returns mostly intact with four players coming back after accounting for more than 100 kills each last year. That group includes: Sophomore Grace O’Reilly (212 kills), juniors Cherie Sabini (193 kills) and Hallie Cook (154 kills) along with senior Caitlyn Peters (118 kills). Sabini (second-team all-conference) and Cook (honorable mention all-conference) were Catholic’s all-conference selections from last year.
“We are fortunate to have many hitting options,” Evans said. “The biggest advantage is teams will not be able to focus on stopping just one player. Another advantage is most of our hitters have varsity experience so there will not be a learning curve for them starting the season.”
Evans will also look for his girls to generate more offense from the back row.
“Another facet this year we will expand on is our back row attacks. Hopefully this puts even more pressure on the defense. All of these hitters have the ability to put the team on their shoulders and carry them in a match,” Evans said.
The attack will also have consistency at setter with both senior setters in Emme Ast and Rylie Jeffers returning. Ast had 368 assists while Jeffers contributed 231 last year.
Senior Kaitlyn Witthar returns as a liber/defensive specialist. Junior Ashlyn Witthar saw action in 15 matches last year and will be a key varsity player this year. Sophomore Leah Zolfaghari played 16 varsity sets last season and will also have an expanded role in 2020.
Catholic will not only have a new coach, but a new match format to get used to. Missouri volleyball is going from a best-of-three to best-of-five format for matches this year.
“I am excited about going to the best three out of five sets this year,” Evans said. “I think it will give kids more playing time and puts Missouri in line with the rest of the country. I think it will take a little getting used to and will change the approach to the game a little bit from a coaching stand point and probably brings conditioning into play a little more.”
Catholic will play a tough schedule this year that features many perennial final four contenders. The season will open with Catholic traveling to Ava on Sept. 1.
“We have high expectations for our season. We play a very good schedule that includes the east side of the Big 8 Conference with teams like Rogersville, Reeds Spring, Mt. Vernon, and Marshfield to name a few,” Evans said. “We have added a very talented Strafford team to our schedule. So our plan is to play good teams and get prepared to be competitive when we get to district tournament time.”