The Catholic girls’ volleyball team was up to the task this fall in its move from Division I Class AA and into Division II-AA.
Fifth-year coach Brent Carter credits his players – starting with the eight seniors – for a fifth consecutive run to a TSSAA state championship match.
The Lady Irish (27-8) lost to only two in-state teams during the season – to Brentwood in the Showdown at the Sunsphere tournament and to Briarcrest Christian (twice) in the Division II-AA state tournament.
Catholic went 6-0 in the Division II-AA East Region with victories against Chattanooga Baylor (twice), Chattanooga’s Girls Preparatory School (twice) and Chattanooga Christian School (twice).
“It was challenging in the best of ways,” said Carter, the 2019 5Star Preps Coach of the Year. “The new district that we’re in is very, very competitive, and it changed the mindset of our girls for the district matches because we don’t have an end-of-season tournament, so regular-season matches took on a new importance.”
The Lady Irish also posted non-region victories against Farragut (twice), Webb School of Knoxville (twice), Heritage (twice), Hardin Valley Academy (twice), Oak Ridge, and Concord Christian School, the Division II-A state runner-up.
Their eight seniors include standouts in outside hitter Maya Alves and right-side hitter Carlee Hart, although Carter said all his seniors contributed equally. Alves and Hart were team captains.
“(The seniors) were the most important thing, period, because they created a culture that made these kids want to compete with and for each other,” Carter said. “It was about them and by them, I don’t just mean the eight seniors, it was about those girls and it was all created by eight seniors, and a bunch of those seniors hardly ever played.
“They epitomized what sports used to be like, and hopefully we can continue to find more kids like that that understand their role and know that even though they may not have a role on the floor, they’re very, very important to the success or failure of the team because of what they bring to practice every day, what they bring attitude-wise to every game, to every practice, and everything that we do.”
Junior libero Cassie Kuerschen, a Tennessee commitment, is one of the nation’s top players in the 2021 class, and the Lady Irish had depth behind the seniors.
Two freshmen played six rotations – setter Devyn Dunn and outside hitter Isabella Amet – and several sophomores played significant roles led by middle blockers Grainne McGrath and Ella Renfree.
“It definitely is one of the better teams that we’ve had at Catholic, and quite frankly, as far as volleyball goes and quality volleyball, probably the best team we’ve had,” Carter said. “We didn’t have any one kid that stood out way above the rest where you would say, ‘That’s their go-to kid,’ but this group was just really, really good at volleyball.”
Carter, who’s from Paducah, Ky., could play some serious volleyball back in the day.
He started playing sand volleyball as a youngster, got serious about the sport as a teenager, and played a role in starting the men’s club program at Murray State University while he was there (he graduated in 1993).
“It’s important for me to say it was actually some of my friends that were more integral than me in starting that,” he said of Murray’s club program. “I’m still very proud that it still exists today.”
Carter played semi-professional sand volleyball for about five years after college. Before taking over as Catholic’s volleyball coach, he was head coach at Episcopal School of Knoxville.
Carter also coaches at K2 Volleyball and has a full-time job as a consultant for a software company, but still finds time for long-distance trail running.
His assistants at Catholic are Andre Alves (Maya’s father), Michelle Dougherty, and Jaymee Hannan.
“We have quite the incredible coaching staff, and they all bring something truly fantastic to the table as we go through the season,” Carter said.
They’ll have to coach up the 2020 team in order to fill the void left by this year’s seniors.
“It’s impossible, and we won’t be looking to replace them,” Carter said. “We’ll be looking to see what this next group brings culture-wise, but we have Cassie Kuerschen and a couple of other juniors coming up who have fantastic attitudes, so it’ll be fun to play around with that and see what they bring going into next season.”