April 18, 2014

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A big net gain: Team chemistry, local talent have LCCC volleyball team on a roll as regionals draw near

Lorain Community College sophomore Hannah Pinkie hits a ball to Cuyahoga Community College's Kanicha Dungy  during a match earlier this season. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Lorain Community College sophomore Hannah Pinkie hits a ball to Cuyahoga Community College’s Kanicha Dungy during a match earlier this season. KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

Feel that chill in the air? The Lorain County Community College volleyball players probably don’t. Not as hot as they’ve been lately.

After suffering through some early season adversity, the Commodores have won 13 of their last 15 matches and have a legitimate shot at grabbing the No. 1 seed at the National Junior College Athletic Association 12/20 District G Regional Tournament on November 1-3. The regional winner advances to nationals in Rochester, Minn., on Nov. 14-16.

LCCC is 25-12, has broken the school record for wins in the regular season and is within three of the school mark for overall wins set in 2011.

The Commodores are ranked 10th in the NJCAA Division III poll, but have been as high as ninth, their best rating ever. They conclude the regular season today at home against Cincinnati State.

LCCC is a team not unlike this season’s Cleveland Indians. The Commodores have no big superstar or standout, but their consistent, steady play has produced wins.

In bunches.

“We’re very diverse,” said sophomore Katarina Kovach, a North Ridgeville High graduate. “We can all do a lot. Our chemistry is very good.”

Sophomore Hannah Pinkie and freshman Rachael Bohlmeyer join Kovach as the team catalysts. They’re also team captains. Kovach and Pinkie are the only returnees from last year’s team that went 24-13 and finished second at regionals.

“I miss my teammates (from last year) but this year is just a completely different feeling,” said Kovach, a 5-foot-8 setter. “Everyone is so together and so in synch. It’s a lot different. I was very scared coming into the season that the chemistry was going to be a big thing, that we weren’t going to mesh. Now, that’s the least of our worries.

“Right off the bat we’re like, ‘let’s go.’”

Kovach is ranked No. 33 nationally in assists (326) and No. 54 in service points (192.5).

“We’ve bonded super quickly,” said Pinkie, a 5-8 outside hitter from Christian Community School. “The girls are like my sisters. We’re like a family. We were close last year and we had chemistry, but this year it seems like it’s reached a whole other level. We have great talent.”

Freshman Rachael Bohlmeyer, a Clearview graduate, bumps a ball in one of Lorain County Community College's matches earlier this season.

Freshman Rachael Bohlmeyer, a Clearview graduate, bumps a ball in one of Lorain County Community College’s matches earlier this season.

Ten of the 13 players on the roster have Lorain County ties.

In addition to Kovach, Pinkie and Bohlmeyer (Clearview), other players from Lorain County include outside hitter Gabby Woods (Brookside), defensive specialist Melissa Randolph (Midview), defensive specialist/outside hitter Katelynn Baker (Clearview), defensive specialist/libero Andria Velez (Amherst), setter/defensive specialist Stephanie Mims (Wellington), outside hitter Kaylynn Parker (Firelands) and middle blocker Kara Szabo (Elyria).

Other team members are defensive specialist/libero Paige Elias (Brunswick), middle blocker Brenna Villwock (Lutheran West) and setter Katie Green (New London).

“The turning point of the season was probably the second time we played Sinclair Community College at a tournament,” Pinkie said. “We decided we were going to play with much more energy than we ever have. I think that’s when we showed our true colors that we really don’t have a weak spot on our team. We’re all at a good level where everyone can work together.”

The loss to Sinclair was the final match of an eight-match, two-day tournament Sept. 13-14 at Lakeland Community College. Opening losses to St. Clair and Sinclair dropped LCCC’s to 6-8.

The Commodores bounced back to go 5-1 in its next six matches at the tournament, losing only to Sinclair at the end of the second day to finish third. LCCC defeated Schoolcraft CC in the round before the second match with Sinclair, the first time the Commodores had ever defeated the school.

The strong second day at the tournament set the template for the rest of the season.

“We didn’t want to mess around,” said Bohlmeyer, a 5-4 defensive specialist. “It was about getting down to business.”

The team has fans, especially elementary and middle school players from Lorain and Erie counties. More home matches (13) the last two years have helped build support. The team had only six home matches in 2010.

“We did stuff last year that got attention and we’re doing stuff this year that’s getting attention,” Kovach said. “We get so excited when the fans come to watch us. We appreciate it so much. There are a lot of little girls at our matches screaming and they know us by name. They are the best little things on the sidelines. I love that.

“But we need to show that there’s a reason to come. I think we keep giving them that reason.”

Pogachar, a North Olmsted native in his third year at LCCC, has coached volleyball for more than 10 years in high school and club gyms.

“We have several things we’re focused on for the stretch drive,” LCCC coach Marc Pogachar said. “We want to sharpen up our blocking and team defense. It’s not the individual so much but our team defense can get better. We’re going to try to cut our errors in half. One thing that holds us in is that we’re so good at digs. It keeps us in every match and every set, but we also make errors which make it tight sometimes. It’s not a bad thing if they’re aggressive errors, but playing smarter is going to reduce that.

“Overall, we also need to sharpen up what we do. We need to get a little bit better in everything.”

The Commodores, who won the regional in 2011 and went on to finish fourth at nationals, are ranked No. 1 nationally in block assists (275) and total blocks (316) through 31 matches, second in kills per set (12.31) and third in total kills (1,034). The Commodores are also No. 5 in assists (763).

Villwock is No. 1 nationally in total blocks (139) and blocks assists (78), plus sixth in solo blocks (61). Szabo is No. 2 in total blocks (120), fourth in both block assists (62), seventh in blocks per set (1.43) and ninth in solo blocks (58). Velez is No. 5 in total digs (355) and 26th in digs per set (4.23).

Pinkie is rated ninth nationally in total attacks (672), 10th in total kills (251) and 11th in kills per set (3.59).

“The biggest thing about this team this year is that we have depth,” Pogachar said. “We have 13 players, which is the most we’ve ever had. Last year we had 10. The reason that’s good is that at every position I have three different players that can play the position. That’s the kind of stuff that makes this team great. Then the other side of that is because we’re versatile we can move people around. That gives a nice higher level of team chemistry.”

Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.