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Returning starters on Notre Dame volleyball team preparing for run at another state championship

By Matthew Dietz
NKyTribune sports reporter

After 25 years of dominance by Louisville high schools, the volleyball state championship trophy made its way back to Northern Kentucky last November when Notre Dame defeated Louisville Mercy in a dramatic five-set state title match.

“The final point, we got the block, and I screamed and I was the first one on the huddle,” said Kamden Schrand, a junior libero on last year’s team. “I couldn’t believe it was real. Everyone was in shock, it was very surreal.”

Middle hitter Sydney Nolan, left, and setter Emily Bentley, No. 10, are two of the three returning starters for Notre Dame’s volleyball team. (File photo by Bob Jackson)

Schrand is one of three returning starters for Notre Dame this season, along with senior setter Emily Bentley and junior middle hitter Sydney Nolan. They are confident the Pandas have what it takes to make a run at another state title with team chemistry being paramount to their success.

“I think we all get along really well, and I think getting along with your teammates also helps chemistry on the court, so our chemistry on and off the court is really good this year,” Bentley said.

Notre Dame coach Molly McDermott will rebuild this year’s team around her three returning starters, who all put up good numbers last season.

Bentley was the team leader in assists with 969 while Nolan provided 212 kills and 81 blocks. Schrand was a steady back row player with 181 digs.

“One of them (Schrand) will most likely be the foundation of the defense,” McDermott said. “And then with Emily running the offense for her second year as our starting setter and then with a terminator like we expect Sydney to be, we kind of spread the wealth out there with having one from each facet of the game.”

As the Pandas conduct tryouts this week, McDermott said the rest of the varsity team’s rotation is currently a “talented mystery.”

Notre Dame coach Molly McDermott

One of the team’s new additions is freshman Riley McCloskey, who was an eighth-grade starter at Newport Central Catholic last year. This summer, she was selected to attend training sessions with the National Team Development Program.

“It will be interesting to see who steps up and fills big shoes to fill from our graduating seven seniors, but there’s lots of talent in the pipeline,” McDermott said. “We’re excited about the future of the program.”

The Pandas have won nine state championships in volleyball. They rank second in the state record books behind Louisville Assumption with 22 state titles.

McDermott was co-captain on the 1989 Notre Dame volleyball team that won a state championship. Last year, she became the first person in Kentucky to claim state titles as both a coach and player in that sport.

“It was extremely special, not only for the program last year, but for the 26 years of coaches and players that worked toward getting us back there,” she said. “I’ve said that I feel like this championship belongs to all of us because we never stopped doing the work.”

McDermott said the Notre Dame volleyball program’s sustained success and winning tradition do add more pressure to succeed each year.

“Just getting that monkey off our back of bringing that state championship home has been huge, and it’s a lot of fun,” McDermott said. “It’s a lot of fun to coach these girls and the variety of things that we can throw at them and that they soak in and implement, it’s a lot of fun. And obviously winning is fun.”

Due to circumstances surrounding the pandemic last season, several elements that make high school athletics special were not present. This season, the Pandas are ready for that sense of normalcy to return to the game-day atmosphere.

“Having the stands packed again will be really nice, especially for Senior Night and Playing for a Purpose that we’re really excited for,” Nolan said.

Playing for A Purpose is an annual match between Notre Dame and St. Henry that donates proceeds to breast cancer research and awareness. It has become a highly popular game for fans and each school’s student body to attend.

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