Young Irish chasing fifth straight OHC title

Those was among the topics Irish coach Stacey Derr-Webster discussed with her players during a break at Saturday’s tri-match with London and Kenton Ridge.

“We’re having a little issue with leadership right now and that’s what we just had a long talk about,” Derr-Webster said after Catholic Central’s 25-21, 25-22 loss to London on the Irish home court.

Message received.

Central responded with an impressive 25-17, 25-14 victory over county rival Kenton Ridge with especially strong play at the net. It’s another step in the right direction to winning a fifth straight Ohio Heritage Conference championship and lengthy tournament run.

“That’s the hardest part, knowing that we can,” said senior setter and outside hitter Lauren Hoendorf. “All the games we’ve played I think we could have won them. We’re not quite where we need to be yet. I think it’s mostly talking. That’s one of our biggest things. We just have to be louder and get more exciting.”

Central graduated five seniors — including its powerful front line — off last season’s team that reached the Division IV regional final.

Now it’s up to players like Hoendorf, senior outside hitter Madeline Stewart, junior setter/defensive specialist Annie Burns, junior defensive specialist Erin Yancey, sophomore middle hitters Lizzy Lohnes and Kacie O’Connor and sophomore outside hitter Mia Galluch to fill their leadership void.

“It’s really difficult because all of our seniors were big hitters. We’re not really big so we have to play smart,” Lohnes said. “They were really loud too, so, we have to be loud. … We want to keep the tradition going.”

Central shared the OHC title in 2011 and have won the last three outright. This year’s title quest gets a tough challenge at West Liberty-Salem on Tuesday.

“We have all the talent here,” Burns said. “We just need to be smarter players. We have great hitters, we just need to learn how to place the ball and play together.”

Derr-Webster is confident the Irish will get there, even if it takes a few more pep talks.

“It’s always like a bulls-eye on their back. Everyone is out to get them,” Derr-Webster said. “I told them they have to have pride in order to come back. Everyone is expecting them to lose because of the players we lost. I have all the confidence in them.”

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