The 2019 Cathedral High School boys volleyball season wasn’t easy.
The Irish were young and inexperienced, and it took the leadership of a few key upperclassmen to provide the foundation for a successful season.
With former role players assuming key positions, the Irish – long one of the top high school boys volleyball programs in Indiana – again spent the season as one of the state’s top-ranked teams. They also again won the regional tournament and advanced to the Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association state tournament.
“We were young,” longtime Irish coach Rhonda Low said of 2019 team. “We had returning players, but they were role players. All of our leaders graduated last year and the year before. This year, it was more impactful than prior years.”
The Irish, after entering the postseason ranked No. 4 in the IBVCA state rankings, won their regional with a 3-0 victory over Perry Meridian (25-15, 25-11, 25-13) in the semifinal and a 3-1 victory over Chesterton (25-20, 14-25, 25-15, 25-14) in the final.
The Irish lost to Carmel, 3-1, in the state quarterfinal on May 17.
“We had sophomores who had key roles in the starting lineup,” Low said. “They came along and the season was too short to get them ready for the pressure [of the postseason]. It’s amazing: the pressure compared to the girls tournament isn’t the same, but that pressure really shakes you. It’s like it’s your first time here. Even though it’s not huge like the girls, it’s still a lot of pressure.”
The Irish long have set the standard for Indiana boys high school volleyball, pushing that standard to a higher level. That high level now makes it more difficult for a young team such as the Irish were in 2019 to compete.
“Our depth in the state goes about eight teams now where it used to be one or two,” Low said. “We’re seeing growth in our talent and I’m so excited to have that. Many people ask me, ‘Doesn’t that bother you?’ I say, ‘No, I want us all to be really good. I want this to be comparable to our girls, where they’re in the top four states with recruiting opportunities for Division I.’
“I would like our guys to have that same opportunity: just across the board, everybody be good. The better we get, the more excitement.”
The Irish in 2019 were keyed by the leadership of a pair of two-sport athletes – senior middle blocker Blake Kaufman and junior defensive setter Sam McEntire. Both returned after playing varsity in a secondary role in 2018.
Other seniors were defensive setter Evan Davis, libero Blake Bridges, defensive setter J.P. Burger, outside hitter Allen Langdon, setter Jack Connaughton, setter Magnas Mahurin and outside hitter Harry Clevenger.
Langdon and Kaufman were both named IBVCA All-Stars, with Bridges, Burger, Davis and Langdon named Academic All-State.
“We’re going to miss these seniors,” Low said. “They did a lot for the program. They were very positive role models for the underclassmen. Academically the leadership was phenomenal.”
Kaufman led the Irish with 287 kills, Langdon had 258 and sophomore Aidain Broderick added 137. Kaufman also led the Irish with 66 blocks, and Langdon led the Irish with 34 aces.
Langdon led the Irish with 204 digs followed by sophomore Isaac Behringer with 188 and senior Evan Davis with 183. McEntire led the Irish with 451 assists.
“We’ve got in every category somebody returning,” Low said. “We’ve got a leader in each category to point to and encourage and teach the others to come along quicker.”
McEntire, Behringer and Broderick figure to be key for the Irish moving forward, with Low also promoting two members of a promising freshman team to the varsity late in the season.
“They responded well,” she said, adding of the Irish in 2020: “They will be young. They’re focused and ready to go.”
Low, long one of the leaders and most-respected coaches in the Indiana high school boys volleyball community, during the 2019 IBVCA state tournament was presented the first IBVCA Lifetime Achievement Award. Low called the award “a total surprise.”
“It was just very special to be recognized by your peers,” Low said. “It just says a whole lot about the growth of the sport, I think.”