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Prep volleyball: Irish overcomes change

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Catholic High school volleyball team saw its six-year streak of state tournament appearances come to a screeching halt last fall, as the Irish failed to make the tournament for the first time since the 2005 season.

But that was just the beginning of the change surrounding the program that earned back-to-back Class A state titles in 2009 and 2010.

Since the conclusion of last season, the Irish program has had to work through the departure of three head coaches while turning over a roster that features a combined 11 freshmen and sophomores on its 13-member team.

Coach Lindsey Kuncher departed the program for personal reasons at the conclusion of last season, opening the door for Leisha Salyer.

Salyer coached the program through the annual summer workout period in June before leaving the position to coach at West Virginia State.

Last year's assistant coaches, Kristen Call and Angela Beblo, were named co-head coaches following Salyer's departure and seemed poised to lead the program through the current season, before the coaching carousel through the Irish yet another curve.

Call, who also served as the assistant general manager of marketing for the West Virginia Power, recently accepted a similar position with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and left the Irish program last Saturday, leaving Beblo as the only returning coach from last season.

"We thought we had a coach ready to go over the summer, but that fell through," Catholic senior Sierra Portillo said. "That wasn't that bad for the team because I was the only one that knew her (Salyer) or had played for her in the past.

"Losing Kristen was a little harder because she'd been here with us. It was hard for me to see her go, but even though I know everyone misses her, I'm proud of the way we've come together as a team. It's helped the team bond and band together because we're all going through this together."

Call was in her ninth season as an Irish assistant, while Beblo is finishing up her sixth season with the program.

After the initial shock caused by each of the departures, the Irish have come together nicely and relied on each other en route to a 27-15-1 record, including a 0-3 evening in a quad match with Riverside, Teays Valley Christian and Princeton Thursday at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility.

It was a tough evening for the Irish, who lost to Class AAA teams Riverside (20-25, 25-20, 21-25) and Princeton (17-25, 15-25) and Class A Teays Valley (23-25, 21-25).

Princeton finished the evening unscathed with 22-25, 25-23, 25-13 wins over Teays Valley and 25-19, 25-15 wins over Riverside.

Teays Valley topped Riverside 22-25, 25-18, 25-14 to finish 2-1 on the evening, while Riverside finished 1-2.

"It's been a little difficult this season," Irish senior Gina Marks said. "It's been something we had to get used to but I feel like we've come out of it pretty well. It's still different having someone different lead the team, but it's something that we've adapted pretty well to.  

"With the different coaches we've had the team has bonded and stuck together pretty well. We have a lot of freshmen this year and it's been difficult, but we're doing a lot better than most people's expectations by far. People were thinking this would be a rebuilding year because we're so young, but we've come together so far."

Despite the winless evening, Beblo is happy with the Irish's season as the regular season draws to a close.

"The girls have been great through all this," said Beblo, whose assistant is former UC player Tara Bird. "In fact, Kristen and I had to remind ourselves all the time how young this team is. We only have two seniors and we have two freshman starters and four sophomores on the court. You forget sometimes when you watch them play because they've really played older than they are.

"We have a great group of girls that get along with each other. Even though we've had a lot of coaching changes, there's been some consistency.  The girls have been really great about it."

Contact Michael Dailey at  Follow him on Twitter @MichaelDaileyWV.


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