WINNETKA — The Loyola girls volleyball team came one win away from capturing the first sectional championship in program history.
Even though the Ramblers will lose several integral parts of that squad to graduation — including 6-foot-2 Pittsburgh recruit Kelsey O’Neill — coach Mark Chang and sophomore outside hitter Christina Reed both said they feel like the Ramblers’ program is growing stronger and stronger.
“I think there’s so much to come,” said Reed, a Glenview resident. “I think the [sophomore] group coming up is such a talented year, I think we’re going to improve. … I think that the hard work, desire and drive is all there.”
The 6-1 Reed started for Loyola in its 25-17, 25-18 loss to New Trier in the Class 4A sectional final on Nov. 7. Sophomore Katie Randolph also started and the 5-7 setter ran the Ramblers’ offense.
Reed and Randolph both play club volleyball at a high level. Reed plays for Wildcat Juniors, a club based in Evanston that has helped O’Neill and several other players earn Division I scholarships. Randolph, who lives in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, plays for Powerhouse Volleyball, a program that features many of Chicago’s best prep volleyball players.
Reed and Randolph headline a talented sophomore class that also features defensive specialist Lauren Stadler and setter Miranda Rockhold. Stadler and Rockhold were both on varsity this year, and Randolph said that they, like the other members of Loyola’s Class of 2016, play volleyball year round with their respective clubs.
“At the level our high school plays at, and the level we want to play at, you need to be playing year round if you want to compete at that [level],” Randolph said.
Randolph went on to talk about O’Neill’s affect on her, specifically citing how her on-court leadership helped her improve as a setter this year. Randolph said that O’Neill helped her stay focused and encouraged her if she made a mistake.
Chang said this year’s senior class helped provide the program’s younger players with inspiration to continue improving as players and to earn Loyola’s first sectional championship.
“This particular team, they planted the seed in all of our younger players,” Chang said. “They paved the way, showed what’s possible for Loyola volleyball. I think they energized some of the younger girls that are up-and-coming. What I’m excited about is we had a lot of sophomores on our team this year that contributed to our success. That bodes well for our future. I expect nothing less — in fact, I expect more next season — with these up-and-coming rising stars.”