Since the early 1980’s, Roncalli has been known for great volleyball. Longtime coach Kathy Nalley Schembra led the Rebels to three state championships over the course of her storied career. Current coach Missy Marsh has followed in her mentor’s footsteps, consistently producing County and Conference Championship teams who make deep runs into the playoffs. However, there is far more to Roncalli volleyball than just what happens in the fall; the Boys Volleyball program has created a dynasty of its own. This weekend, they aim to take the next step and earn their own state championship banner for the gym.
Head Coach John Kesterson has his squad ready as they head into the finals this weekend at Southport High School. They will enter Friday’s match against Fishers with a record of 26-3, coming off of last weekend’s dominant 3-0 Regional victory over Franklin. In the previous weekends, they won the Hamilton Southeastern Invite and Metro championships. It is worth noting they took four of four sets from Fishers during these matches.
Friday marks the tenth consecutive time Roncalli has reached the state finals weekend. A victory over Fishers would mean advancing to their fifth consecutive Final Four. After finishing as the runners-up four times in the last eight years, Coach Kesterson hopes this will be the year they are finally able to break through and bring home the hardware.
“Our expectation is to win State. This group of players is a transcendent group; they are very special,” Kesterson proclaimed. “They play as a cohesive unit. Even though there are incredible individual talents on the team, the single focus of the entire group is a state championship.”
Kesterson knows talent when he sees it. He started coaching 31 years ago, taking time off to serve in the Navy, earn a Master’s degree, and raise a family. He has bared witness to some great teams and dominant players. This group is just different – unified and driven.
Senior Blake Powell stated, “We have great energy on the court, but more than anything, this team is successful because losing is simply not an option for us. We have something to prove every time we step on the court.”
“This team has been playing together as a unit and making a statement with our play,” quoted junior Sam Eiland. “The seniors and I have been working for this season for the past couple of years, and I knew it was going to be special. I just hope we can finish this year on top.”
Eiland, Powell, and senior Nick Williams are some of the incredible individual talents to which Kesterson referred. Williams and Powell each have a dominating presence at the Middle Hitter position. Athletic and powerful, both are hitting at over 65% (which is well above All American pace). Eiland is an elite setter, leading the state in assists with 10.4 per set.
Producing top level players is nothing new for Roncalli, who has been consistently producing collegiate-level talent for a long time. There have been over 47 All-State players since Jill Maude started the program in 2001. Currently, Jacob Allard is playing at Carthage, Keegan Cougill at Campbellsville, Conor Cunningham and Jack Glander at Dayton, Brendan Massing at Indiana, and Nicholas Pittman at Notre Dame.
Like most programs at Roncalli, it is about more than just the on-court success. As a group, the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams have put in over 1,500 combined service hours for this school year alone. Many of those came while helping Beggars for the Poor and volunteering to coach at south deanery schools.
“We give a Service Award at the end of each year. It’s actually our nicest award,” explained Kesterson. “We have a team mission statement that focuses on faith, family, community, academics, and service. Staying true to this, we hold team service projects throughout the year, not just in-season. This award is a means of validating what we hold most important.”
Unsurprisingly, the players are no slouches in the classroom, either. This year’s team boasts seven Academic All-State members, bringing the total to 21 over the past three seasons. They have also won the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Excellence Award for three straight years. For perspective, last year they were one of two teams in the state and fifteen nationally to receive this honor.
As the 2018 season comes to a close, Williams is feeling good about where they are.
“I like our chances this weekend. Our team is motivated more than ever this year, and if we take it game by game and play with positivity, we will like the outcome,” Williams offered. ‘Earlier in the season, we lost hard to Carmel. After that loss, I think our team clicked and realized we needed to play to our potential every time we step on the court.”
They recently defeated Carmel (25-20, 25-19) and will likely have to do it again to accomplish their goal. This team is up to the challenge.
The Rebels will face Fishers on Friday at 8:00 pm. If victorious, they will play the winner of Carmel and Noblesville at 11:00 am on Saturday. The state championship will be played at 3:30 on Saturday. All games will be played at Southport High School.
UPDATE – The Rebels swept Fishers on Friday night and Carmel on Saturday morning. They went on to beat Cathedral in 4 sets in the afternoon and brought home the school’s first title!