CHAMPAIGN — There’s a familiar face at the helm of St. Thomas More volleyball.
Brad Dalton is months away from his second stint as the Sabers’ head coach, after serving in the same role from 2012 through 2014.
“It was a good opportunity,” Dalton said. “I checked out the roster and it seemed to have plenty of talent on it, to have some success and have some fun.”
Dalton was named the Sabers’ coach in January and swiftly set out to meet the players and get familiar with the program.
The latter didn’t take long. The Sabers finished 31-8 and won a Class 1A sectional championship in 2022, in coach Evan Hook’s lone season. That followed an 41-1 campaign and a Class 1A state title under coach Kelly McClure in 2021.
Dalton won a Class 2A state championship with Decatur’s St. Teresa volleyball program in 2019.
“Since I was named (STM’s) coach, I went through and watched a lot of their matches from last year, particularly the losses,” Dalton said. “I see things that we can correct from there. (We lost) I think three or four senior starters, so there is some turnover as far as the starting lineup.”
Athlete departures from last season’s Class 1A super-sectional qualifier at STM include Mallory Monahan, Claire Kennedy, Erin Henkel and Maddy Swisher — all of whom played meaningful minutes throughout the season.
Reigning News-Gazette All-Area first-teamers in senior setter/middle Julia Johnson and junior outside hitter Shannon Monahan lead the 2023 Sabers.
“For the most part, we still have the same leaders,” Dalton said, “and we’ve got two really good setters (Johnson and junior Addison Kerr) that are going to be able to do about anything that our hitters allow us to.”
It’s been a period of adjustment for the Sabers’ returning roster, as well.
“We have a lot of talented people, but (we’re) just figuring out how that all works together with the lineup we’re going to make this year, “ Johnson said. “We’re going to have a lot of games we can win and have a lot of fun games here at home, and I think we just have to find success in what we have.”
Several Sabers, including Johnson, also play for the Illini Elite club in Bloomington. Their focus early in the summer was on club tournaments before transitioning back to school ball in July.
“School ball is something special,” Johnson said. “You get to make good relationships here, and I’m really excited for all of us because we’re all close friends and it’ll be fun.”
Other likely standouts for STM this coming season include sophomores middle Cassidy Monahan and Sophia Hill.
Come July, the Sabers will play in a summer league hosted by Illini Elite and welcome other schools to northwest Champaign for scrimmages.
Those will help the Sabers bond before their first regular-season match in late August.
“(It’s) just a lot of dates to get acclimated to what I have,” Dalton said, “and just getting to know the kids personality-wise and letting them get to know me so we can be on the same page once we do get rolling for real.”
Those are the first steps toward STM trying to make another trip to the Class 1A state tournament.
“Once you win a state championship or go to state, you’re really disappointed when you don’t make it,” Dalton said. “It’s just different once you get there. You don’t want to have another season where you don’t get there.”