This program continues in a strong direction.
That was the expectation for 2023 Cathedral High School boys volleyball – and Tyler McClure said that happened during an outstanding season that featured balance, talent and success.
“It was definitely our expectation to be one of the top teams,” said McClure, who finished his third season as the Irish’s boys volleyball coach in ’23. “We came in with expectations of improvement, expecting to contend, and we definitely held on to that throughout the year.”
The Irish, long one of Indiana’s top high school boys volleyball programs, finished the 2023 season 27-8. They advanced to the Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association Final Four before losing in a state semifinal to Fishers, 3-0.
“It was an interesting year throughout the state,” McClure said. “There were really five or six teams – us included in that – that could probably have ended up winning state. Usually, there are maybe one, two or three. It was pretty even this year.
“We beat the top teams and we lost to the top teams, so we were right there in the mix.”
The Irish in 2023 were led by a core of seniors focused on continuing to reestablish the program as an annual state-championship contender.
“The seniors definitely set that tone even back in the fall,” McClure said. “They were a smart group of seniors who understand the history of our program. They kind of set the goal of winning the title for the program. It's definitely something they talked about and embraced and everybody kind of followed along with that. It was something that they talked about, ‘Hey, we can go do this this year.’
“Obviously the overarching goal is to win a state title every year, which is incredibly hard. You can still have a good season without doing that, but I definitely challenge the seniors to make the program better this year than it was last year, better than when you started as a freshman.
“I think consistently we've been able to do that, and these seniors will leave the program in a good spot for the next guys to come in.”
The Irish in 2023 were led by:
*Senior captain/middle hitter Gavin Weed, a four-year varsity player who finished his career as the all-time kills leader in Cathedral history. “He’s not necessarily the most vocal guy,” McClure said. “He stepped into that vocal role this year, but he's definitely a lead by example. He's always focused, working hard. He played outside for us last year because that was kind of what was best for the team then came back to middle this year and really dominated. There were stretches of games where balls didn’t come back over the net because he just dominated blocking everything.”
*Senior captain Brayden Moyers, who finished second in digs and first in aces in program history and who committed to Lourdes (Ohio) University. “He’s just an incredibly smart player who sees the game very well,” McClure said. “It made everybody's job easier knowing he was in the back row, able to get ahold of the ball.”
*Senior defensive setter Jack Whitley. “He does a good job of keeping the guys loose but focused,” McClure said. “He's really grown into his role and into his leadership role this year.”
*Senior outside hitter Mitchell Coolbaugh. “His blocking ability was huge for us,” McClure said. “A lot of the top teams have big dominating outsides. He was able to slow that down sometimes and control that outside. He came on strong offensively in the second half of the year.”
McClure called the Irish overall in 2023 “a good mix of returning guys taking that next step and new guys coming in and filling the roles where we needed them.”
“It’s a really good group of guys,” he said. “The biggest thing is they're all strong academically, so you don't really have to worry about that. They’re an interesting group in that that they played better when they were pretty loose.”
He added, laughing, “Sometimes that got us in trouble, but they definitely liked to have their fun and they played at their best when they were having fun.”
The Irish also played efficiently as a team, with passing being a team strength.
“We were able to pass well and we kind of dominated at the net,” McClure said. “We definitely had the best one, two middles in the state. We could run the offense and system and get them going. We could really just kind of be aggressive and dominating upfront.”
And if the 2023 season was successful, McClure said that has a chance to be a trend with four starters returning and a strong junior varsity forming a young core moving forward.
“We've had some JV guys that have really stepped up and gotten better this year,” McClure said. “Then we have some talented freshmen that'll be coming in next year as well to help improve the depth of the program overall. The sport of volleyball in general is exploding across Indiana.
“Kids are coming in having played before and are ready to play. It's exciting.”