n a real sense, Mary Hemer couldn’t have been happier.
Cathedral High School volleyball accomplished much in her first season as the program’s head coach, and Hemer said she likes where the program is headed. The reason?
A strong group of senior leaders who set the tone for the program’s future.
“I could not have dreamt up a better group of girls, especially for my first season,” Hemer said.
The Irish, eight-time Indiana state champions, won the Section 10, Class 4A title in 2019 and finished the season with a 16-13 record. They lost in a regional semifinal to New Castle, who entered that match ranked No. 1 in the state of Indiana in Class 4A and No. 1 nationally.
Hemer, a 2009 Cathedral graduate, began the season wanting to begin reestablishing the program’s proud tradition.
Mission accomplished in a memorable way.
“I think the most important thing – that maybe I didn’t know was one of my top goals at the beginning of the season – was the girls were family,” Hemer said. “They loved each other. I’m not saying they were perfect, there are always small bumps in the road in a team sports. But the girls really embraced, ‘This is a sisterhood. This is a team. This is what we do.’ That, I think, was the most special aspect. [Longtime Irish] Coach [Jean] Kesterson had that year to year, and you can’t put a price on it. To have that established in one season is a true testament to what the seniors have done and how much they bought in to the program.”
The Irish, after beating Lawrence North 3-2 – 25-15, 20-25, 19-25, 25-18, 15-7 – for the sectional title, lost to New Castle the following weekend by a score of 25-21, 25-14 25-17. The sectional title was an important accomplishment for a team wanting to reestablish a winning tradition.
“There was never a doubt in my mind this team would improve,” Hemer said. “It just was a matter of whether the girls would have the affirmation that we had improved that much. The sectionals was not the cleanest day of volleyball, but the fact that the girls pulled it out was a tip of the cap to them, that they did it.
“Sectionals' Saturday wasn’t the cleanest day. We weren’t at our best, but we were still able to beat some very strong teams.”
The 2019 Irish were keyed by a six-member senior class who led a team also loaded with underclassmen. The seniors:
*Mia Dittoe, an outside hitter whose big-game experience from softball Hemer said brought a “unique & needed perspective” to the program on how to handle pressure. “Mia was really unshakable for the most part,” Hemer said. Dittoe led the senior class with 293 kills this season (ending with 427 total kills in her irish career).
*Jami Hansen, a defensive specialist who Hemer said showed maturity and leadership despite playing a different role as a senior. “That never stopped her from giving 100 percent all the time,” Hemer said. “She wasn’t necessarily playing the role she wanted to, but it never stopped her from being a leader. It was incredibly mature, despite her frustration at times. I think the world of her.” She finished the season with a team-high 46 aces and also had 172 digs. Jami finished her irish volleyball career with 118 total aces and 821 total digs.
*Mae Hedrick, a setter who Hemer said showed the team they could be competitive and “have fun and smile while doing it.” She finished the season with 655 assists & 152 digs. Mae is graduating from the Irish volleyball program with 1,235 total career assists & 274 total career digs.
*Anna Neale, a right side hitter/middle hitter who Hemer called “super selfless” and a leader who was “willing to play any role and always embrace it” without negativity. She finished with 79 kills, 33 blocks and 48 digs.
*Joanna Suppiger, a middle hitter who Hemer lauded for her humility and team focus and for being the “best silent leader we had this season.” She finished the season with 116 kills (185 career total kills) and a team-high 62 blocks (97 career blocks).
“The younger girls learned a ton from this group of seniors,” Hemer said. “This group of seniors taught them what hard work, improvement and sisterhood looks like. I won’t have to revisit these lessons or invent the wheel next year. This senior group has laid that incredibly important groundwork.”
Hemer said the 2019 Irish embraced the idea of improving every day, and did that through the course of the season.
“My assistants and I will miss these seniors every day, I’m sure,” Hemer said. “But when I say they left a legacy to be proud of, they have. They’ve taught the underclassmen what they need to do to be successful, and I have no doubt the girls coming back will know what we expect and need from them and that we’ll be able to hold them accountable for these intangible things they’ve learned this season. I’m going to miss this group and I wish the season wasn’t done, but we definitely have a great group coming back as well.
“One of the team's goal at the beginning of the year was to win the state championship, so we fell short of our goals there, but we could not have not picked a better group of girls or parents. They completely embraced what we were doing- our vision and our expectations." This season was definitely steps in the right direction for the program. "The groundwork has been laid and these six seniors' legacy will continue on for years to come & I could not be prouder of my seniors or my team."