ELYRIA — Cinderella wants to go back to the ball.
Lorain County Community College’s women’s volleyball team had a fairy tale season a year ago, going 28-13, finishing No. 4 in the country and making their first trip to the national tournament.
But this year, with all new faces on the roster except one, expectations remain high and the Commodores have performed well heading into Saturday’s NJCAA 12/20 Regional at Butler County Community College in Pennsylvania.
LCCC is 21-12 overall and ranked 10th in the country.
The winner Saturday advances to the NJCAA Nationals, set for Nov. 9 in Rochester, Minn.
There are eight regional tournaments feeding into the national tournament.
Eight of the 10 players on this year’s roster have ties to Lorain County, led by 5-foot-10 freshman setter Katarina Kovach, a North Ridgeville graduate, and 5-8 freshman outside hitter Hannah Pinkie, a graduate of Christian Community School.
“The team chemistry is the best I’ve experienced,” Kovach said. “It’s the best I’ve ever played with.
“Personally, I was nervous coming in. We needed a setter so I switched to setter. I didn’t know what to expect. The girls worked very well with me and were very patient when I was learning.”
Kovach and Pinkie aren’t strangers. They were Junior Olympics teammates for Advance Volleyball, coached by Clearview’s Dave Dorinski.
“She’s tall and she’s a good athlete,” Commodores coach Marc Pogachar said of Kovach. “When you put all that together, I thought give it a try. She made herself into a setter. Kat sets the ball about 400 times a night.”
Kovach and Pinkie also had ties with freshman Jessica Gonzalez of Elyria from Junior Olympics volleyball, as well as sophomores Shannon Digney of North Ridgeville and Katelyn Kluever from Wellington. Digney amd Kluever both attended Hearts for Jesus in high school.
“The team was able to click right away,” Pinkie said. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure what to expect coming in, but I saw myself improving a lot.”
Pogachar is in his second year at LCCC, taking over for Jen Lee, who directed the Commodores from 2008-10 before leaving to coach Elyria Catholic. The North Olmsted native has coached volleyball for more than 10 years in high school and club gyms.
The Commodores had two matches this week as a tuneup for Saturday’s regional in Pennsylvania.
“This week is like a clean-up week,” Kovach said. “We need to clean up every play and everything, keep the energy high and focus on our energy.”
Sophomore outside hitter Jasmine Baxter of Oberlin, a 2011 Firelands graduate, is the lone returnee from last year’s squad. Other Lorain County athletes on the team are sophomore libero Aftin Torrero of Sheffield Lake and freshman outside hitter Kara Barr of Elyria, who went to First Baptist.
“I had some other schools looking at me, but LCCC was always a better choice for me,” said Kovach, a special education major. “I could go free and still play. It still gives me time to figure out if I’m going to continue to play and where I’m going to continue to play.
“That’s part of my reason for coming here. I’m still getting a good education and I’m still playing volleyball while I’m undecided.”
Kovach is ranked 10th nationally in assists and assists per set. Pinkie is No. 22 in kills per set, No. 23 in points and No. 39 in hitting percentage.
“Marc is a great coach,” Pinkie said. “He always wants to see our effort. That’s the main idea is to give as much effort as you can.”
“Focus is key (for regionals),” Kovach said. “When we were up, it’s important not to let up and lose any type effort or focus.”
Sophomore outside hitter Teresa Tucco of Columbus is ranked No. 7 nationally in kills, No. 8 in kills per set, No. 9 in points and No. 20 in hitting percentage. Digney is No. 17 in solo blocks, No. 15 in total blocks, No. 23 in blocks per set, No. 30 in blocks assists and No. 45 in hitting percentage. Barr is No. 27 in block assists and No. 30 in total blocks.
“We got a little bit more notoriety last year and more kids know that we have a team,” Pogachar said. “By going to nationals, it helped kids realize that we have a serious program.
“We’re seeing better and better attendance for our matches. I’m trying to make it more attractive for our fans and admission is very inexpensive. It’s free for kids 10 and younger.”
Pogachar wants to make sure the program continues to improve.
“There are a lot of little things to make it more attractive,” he said. “We got new bleachers. We have 13 home matches this year, which is about double from what we had last year. Again, the best way to build a program is have home matches. We’re having more attractions for people to know that we’re there and I think it’s starting to pay off.
“I’m getting a lot more kids asking me about how to get on the team and what do they need to know about it. The recruiting is going very well this year. We’re going to see some nice players showing up next year.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.