When you lose a player like Katie Kampen, it’s logical to think your volleyball program could be in a rebuilding mode.
After all, it’s not often teams can claim a state player of the year — an athlete who garnered national attention.
But Mount Carmel Academy doesn’t have a “typical” program. The Cubs are familiar with success, and they are expected to be among the top teams in the state again in 2015.
Returning to the squad are four of the eight players who competed in last year’s Class 5A championship, a match the Cubs won in straight sets against perennial foe St. Joseph’s of Baton Rouge. The addition of several role players in 2014, as well as at least one standout freshman, likely means Mount Carmel will be very good again in 2015.
“The school is good in all sports, but I think we’re definitely a volleyball school,” senior outside hitter Kristen Nuss said. “It’s awesome to be a part of it. Having Katie, Megan (Davenport) and all of them the past few years, they helped me out. I’m trying to do the same with the younger players now. I had some great leaders. I hope I can do that too, and lead the team.”
Coach April Hagadone said her team is finding its own rhythm and chemistry during the preseason. The Cubs open against Northshore on Sept. 1.
“We’ve talked about letting this group put its own thumbprint on the team,” Hagadone said. “We are not last year’s team. Do we get the bull’s-eye on our back? Of course. They’re always pressure with being Mount Carmel volleyball. But we have some big kids who I think can do it.”
Among that group are three other players who played on last year’s championship team: middle blocker Marissa Lagasse, and hitters Brianna Witchen and Kellie Kampen, Katie’s younger sister.
“We’re excited about the year and the possibilities,” Lagasse said. “We want another state championship. We have a lot of new people, but we’re working hard to be a team. There’s a lot of potential.”
No one knows that more, perhaps, than Kellie Kampen. A junior, she’ll be without her sister on the court (and at home) for the first time in years.
“She taught me to be leader and to set a good example,” Kellie said. “You never let anything get the best of you. You keep working hard. There’s no other way to do it to get as much success as she did.”
“I think we can bring home another state title,” the senior said. “But it won’t be easy. The road to state is filled with people who want to beat us. We have to work for it.”
Hagadone said settling on a libero and a setter are her primary goals as the season nears. She said running a 6-2 set could help the Cubs find the hitters that are sure to pace the team in early matches.
Kiersten Perry, a senior, has the inside track at setter, with juniors Sarah Nieland and Katie Prange also providing capable help.
“There are some questions,” Hagadone said. “But we are one team, and at the end of the day, the good thing is that I have depth. I can always send someone else in. Finding chemistry is what this year is going to be all about. Once we find it, we’ll be a force.”
Of course, adding the likes of 6-foot freshman Ellie Holzman to the mix is a start. Some area coaches are saying the youngster may be the next Katie Kampen.
Kellie Kampen said whatever happens, her team will be ready.
“It’s the same thing we always have to do,” she said. “We have to work harder than last year. Anyone would think that. But if we stick together and do what we do best, I think we’re going to be fine.”