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    Lake Catholic eyes return to Final Four

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    After reaching the Division II state Final Four last fall, Lake Catholic has some unfinished business in 2022.

    The Cougars finished the 2021 campaign 22-6 overall and 9-1 in the Crown Conference. They cruised to the Final Four with big wins over league rivals NDCL and Beaumont before falling to eventual state champion Gilmour Academy in the state semifinals, 3-1.

    Not only does Lake Catholic return most of its roster from 2021, but the Cougars also dropped to Division III and immediately become one of the favorites to win the state title later this year.

    “We expect to win a D3 state championship,” said Lake Catholic coach Kara Oster. “We also expect to win our league, and despite our tough schedule, we will aim for a record with less than five losses.”

    Oster enters her second season as Lake Catholic’s head coach with very little roster turnover, a new division, and a new outlook.

    “In just one year, we have gone from being a young team with ‘underdog’ expectations to being an experienced team with a goal of nothing less than winning a state championship,” Oster said. “With more of a spotlight on the Cougars this year, we are excited to show what we are made of, and, as our 2022 team motto says, to leave no doubt that we are the best team on the court.”

    While Lake Catholic did graduate two key players from their roster—Eastern Michigan signee Jessica Wilson and Caitlin McCrone–and have another key player out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Cougars have plenty of returning talent to fill those holes.

    “We lost two seniors last year, and although that is a small number, they played a big part,” Oster said. “Our starting outside Jessica Wilson was our main attacker and a leader on the court. Caitlin McCrone provided stability and composure with her serving runs and energy on the middle and right side. We also have a to-be junior, Mia Schaefer, out with an ACL/meniscus injury. We plan to fill these holes with the strength of pin hitters Katie Sowko and Natalya Bergant, and the leadership of our returning upperclassmen.”

    Sowko, a junior outside hitter, was named second-team All-Crown Conference, second-team all-district, and was a News-Herald honorable mention selection. She recorded 161 kills and 176 digs as a sophomore. Bergant, a sophomore opposite side hitter, recorded 190 kills and 61 blocks on her way to earning first-team all-conference, second-team all-district, and News-Herald honorable mention honors.

    “(Sowko has) eloquence and grace on the court unlike any player I’ve seen,” Oster said. “(Bergant is) our not-so-secret weapon on the right side; every coach’s dream.”

    Lake Catholic has plenty of weapons that aren’t a secret including junior setter Hannah Pattie, who earned honorable mention All-Ohio honors last season. She also was named the Crown Conference’s Setter of the Year and first-team all-district and News-Herald honors.

    “(She is) the backbone of our team,” Oster said.

    Seniors Kyra Walnsch, Emma Briganti, and Mia Slogar, junior Claire Duricky, and sophomores Julia Oster and Ava Budrys Rini also return to the starting rotation.

    Walnsch, a middle blocker, recorded 91 kills and 75 blocks on her way to earning honorable mention News-Herald honors. Briganti, a libero, notched 366 digs and 34 aces. She was named honorable mention All-Ohio, first-team all-conference, and first-team all-district. Slogar, a defensive specialist, posted 166 digs and 27 aces.

    “(Walnsch is) our dark horse who does her job and remains composed always,” Oster said. “(Briganti is) the spitfire every back row wishes they had and a leader by word and example. (Slogar is) the ultimate teammate who can play under pressure and get any job done that is asked of her.”

    Duricky, an outside hitter/middle, posted just five digs and four kills as a sophomore but she brings a boatload of athleticism to the court.

    “(She is) one of the most athletic girls I have ever seen step on a volleyball court and the jack of all trades,” Oster said.

    Julia Oster earned honorable mention All-News-Herald honors after recording 226 digs and 44 aces as a freshman. Budrys Rini hammered home 96 kills and 63 blocks last fall.

    “(Oster’s) defense has the power to keep us in a game, while her serve has the power to completely take the game over,” Coach Oster said. “(Budrys Rini) has the speed and agility you do not see often in a middle and it is electric”

    Seniors Kaylee Vanjo and Olivia Gerred, juniors Kate Powaski, Maddie Spies, Gabby Schroeder, and Mia Schaefer, and sophomore Avery Budrys Rini also are expected to contribute this season.

    Vanjo recorded 14 kills and 13 blocks last season. She will line up outside, opposite, or in the middle. Gerred will play on the outside or opposite side.

    “(Vanjo is) a strong athlete who plays with no fear,” Oster said. “(Gerred) can throw down the hammer with ease from either pin.”

    Powaski is an outside/opposite side hitter, Spies is a defensive specialist, Schroeder is a setter/DS, and Schaefer is an outside hitter. She recorded 148 kills and 173 digs as a sophomore but will miss part of the season as she recovers from a knee injury.

    “(Powaski is) the spark of energy every team needs, playing with the fearlessness of a champion,” Oster said. “(Spies is) the most positive ray of sunshine on our team with a killer serve and instinct to the ball. (Schroeder is) always willing to do her job and go all out when the game is on the line. (Schaefer is) one of the most strategic and coachable players I’ve had the pleasure to work with, capable of executing instruction midair.”

    Avery Budrys Rini is a middle blocker and outside hitter. She recorded seven kills as a freshman.

    “(She) can slice the ball with power every which way and always plays with a sense of calmness,” Oster said.

    Lake Catholic is deep and talented but to achieve their goals, the Cougars must stay true to their system and play confidently throughout the run to Dayton.

    “Our bread and butter is serving tough and passing well,” Oster said. “We also need to spread our offense out in order to have contributions from all hitters.”

     

    Steve Harehttps://www.ohiovarsity.com
    The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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