By Garth Shanklin
The Clermont Northeastern Lady Rockets volleyball team posted impressive numbers in the 2015 regular season, but once the final set ended the team was left wanting more.
Twice in 2015 the Lady Rockets found themselves leading a match 2-0 only to lose it 3-2. The first instance came against a tough Williamsburg team in a match that cost the Lady Rockets a conference title. The second time was even more costly, with the team jumping ahead of Badin 2-0 in the sectional final only to see their season come to an end. Head coach Emma Keough called both losses “heartbreaking.”
“Last season was very successful as far as wins and losses, but I’d also describe it as a bit of a heartbreaking season,” Keough said. “We had two specific matches, one that would’ve helped with the league title against Williamsburg where we were up two sets and lost three straight. In the sectional final against Badin, we did the same thing, and that’s kind of where the heartbreak set in.”
Keough said a lack of focus is what she believed caused her squad to lose both games, as both matches were physical and wore down the Lady Rockets.
“It’s my job to reflect on the season and see what I could’ve done better as far as coaching and preparation go, and the conclusion I came to is that we lost mental focus,” Keough said. “Those matches were physically draining and perhaps we weren’t in the best physical shape that we could’ve been in. When you get tired, you mentally break down. I attribute the losses a lot to that.”
The team has taken steps to fix that this summer, according to their coach.
“This summer, the focus has been on getting into good physical shape so we don’t have those mental breakdowns,” Keough said.
The Lady Rockets will be without a pair of seniors from last year’s team. Jenna Mummert and Lindsay Wright both graduated earlier this year, with Mummert preparing for her freshman season at Limestone College. Keough acknowledged how important the pair were to the team in 2015, but noted the chance for new players to step up this season.
“Both of those girls were extremely talented players,” Keough said. “It’s been an opportunity for girls this year to step up and fill those roles from a volleyball perspective and to take ownership of the team and make it what they want it to be this year. We felt that loss, but I felt like girls have already stepped in and are taking control of those positions.”
Senior Katherine Kelly is one of those players. Kelly was one of two Lady Rockets named to the second-team all-conference squad last year and according to Keough she is looking to take the next step forward in 2016.
“She played front row for us last year and contributed a lot,” Keough said. “She was on varsity as a sophomore and as a junior, but this year she played a club season, she got to play in a national tournament for her club team and she’s just been dynamite for us so far, but not only from a volleyball standpoint. She’s already embraced the new girls on the team, she’s taking them on as a challenge this year and she wants her senior year to be memorable. Not from a selfish perspective, but instead from a team perspective, and that’s what is going to help us this year.”
Three Lady Rockets find themselves under Kelly’s wing, so to speak. Senior Hannah Hoerth, junior Erika Smith and freshman Carson Fishback are the newcomers to this year’s team, and Keough said the trio will serve important roles on the squad.
“We only have three new players on our team, but all three of those girls are going to be playing for us this year,” Keough said. “All three of them are going to fill huge roles for us this year.”
As for the goals for the team, Keough said that in addition to the Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference title, the team is looking to advance out of the sectional tournament for the first time in school history.
“As a coach, you have goals for the team and things you want to see them do, but sometimes those don’t align with what the girls want,” Keough said. “We sat down with the girls and asked them about their individual goals. There are two major goals this year: they want to win the league, which will be a challenge but they’re up for it, and they want to make it out of the sectional tournament, which hasn’t been done in CNE history.”
The Lady Rockets will begin their quest toward history with a road contest against Reading High School on Aug. 22 at 6:30 p.m. to open the season. Fans can see the team at home on Aug. 18 at 5:30 in a scrimmage against Madeira. The team’s home opener in the regular season is Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. against Williamsburg.