BRADLEY — It’s been 15 years since Darla Moldenhauer retired from coaching volleyball at Bradley-Bourbonnais, but her presence has continued long after her coaching days.
That was evident on Saturday, when five area teams participated in the 34th annual Moldenhauer Classic at Adventure Commons in Bradley, a jam-packed day of volleyball played in the Boiler legend’s name.
Moldenhauer was the first coach in program history when she took the reigns in 1973. A little over a decade into her tenure, the school began holding a big tournament that was held at multiple spots across town. When Moldenhauer retired in 2004, the tournament was given a formal name, the Darla Moldenhauer Classic.
“The year I retired, they put my name on it and I jokingly said they’d do anything to get me to come back and help. The athletic director at the time was Mark Sutton and he said, ‘Yes, we will,’” Moldenhauer said. “I’ve come back to help each year and I’m proud that my name is on it.”
First-year Boilers coach Leigh Reiniche played for Moldenhauer herself, as did four other coaches on her staff, which made Saturday all the more special for her.
“It’s awesome,” Reiniche said of having her own mentor around. “She’s here on site, so she was able to shake hands and introduce herself to the players as they came in, as well as hand out the all-tournament teams at the end of the evening.”
Kankakee coach Dennis Pommier, whose Kays were also in the 12-team field, coached with and against Moldenhauer for most of her tenure, including coaching the Prairie State games together decades ago.
“Darla was my very first coach that I worked with that taught me the ropes,” Pommier said. “I learned a lot about dealing with different kids, putting kids in a position to be successful.
“She was a great person to work under and learn from.”
After all these years, what is it that keeps Moldenhauer coming back? According to her, it’s love of volleyball and the chance to see her former players now roaming the same sidelines she roamed for over three decades.
“I love the sport, I love the competition,” Moldenhauer said. “I’m very proud of my former athletes who are now the coaches leading this.
“I’m always a Boilermaker, I’ll always be a Boilermaker and I’ll always follow our teams.”
Manteno takes home the hardware
Aside from the host Boilers and Pommier’s Kays, three other local teams took place in the 2019 version of the tournament, as Bishop McNamara, Manteno and Wilmington were also part of the field.
After a morning of pool play — three pools of four teams — crossover games were played between all the schools that had the same finish in their respective pools.
Manteno was the lone local team to win its pool, and the Panthers won their two crossover matches in the afternoon to earn a first-place finish.
“We ended up winning the whole tournament and I feel that the girls truly earned it with the effort and talent they put forth today,” Panthers coach Jocelyn Ferris said. “It was a full team effort and were excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.”
Ferris said that defeating a strong field Saturday not only helped to continue to improve her team’s confidence, but also showed some areas that will need work as postseason play approaches soon.
“I think it just continues to build their confidence as we continue to be successful this season,” Ferris said. “However, as we get the opportunity to play great teams, we find areas that we can improve on. It’s a great time getting to play at a high level while also learning more about our team.
“The girls have all gained personal confidence in the game this season, which is really great to see and one of my main goals as a coach.”
Ferris, a 2014 graduate of Manteno, played in the Moldenhauer Classic herself. A first-year head coach, Ferris spent the past few seasons as an assistant for coach Cheryl Davis, who retired after last season. She said that events like the Moldenhauer Classic bring her back to her own days on the court.
“It’s been fun to live it all again through the coaching side,” Ferris said. “It’s also been a cool experience talking to coaches who would have seen me play. I wish I could go out on the court and play with the girls.”
Boilers top Kays in All-City matchup
Washington played spoiler to a pair of local schools, snapping Kankakee’s 19-match winning streak and Bradley-Bourbonnais’ five-match streak.
In between those matches, the Boilers handed the Kays a 25-11, 25-13 loss in All-City action.
“We had the energy — we knew it was our All-City match even though it wasn’t during the regular season,” Reiniche said. “We played really well, moved the ball offensively and hit our spots defensively. It was a great win.”
After dropping their first two matches of the day, the Kays responded in their last pool play match with a two-set win over Hope Academy.
“The winning streak, we lost it to two very good teams,” Pommier said. “The good thing was halfway through our set against Bradley, I could feel the momentum and passion coming back.
“Hope wasn’t the strongest team in the tournament, but we played the system, played as a team and do what we needed to do to win.”
The Boilers finished second in their pool, while the Kays finished third in the same pool.
Gearing up for the postseason
With the postseason fast approaching — regional play begins next Monday — Saturday was the last day for most teams in the state to play in their last major tournaments.
As one of the smaller schools in the field, Wilmington coach Laura Wakefield said the tournament gave the Wildcats a chance to see where they stand against schools that are bigger — both in terms of school size and actual height on the court.
“I think it’s huge to play against schools that are bigger and taller,” Wakefield said. “It’s nice because it’s towards the end of the season, moving into regionals. It’s nice to iron out the last few little kinks.”
The Wildcats finished fourth int heir pool, one spot behind Bishop McNamara. Irish coach George Hagemaster said that his team has been playing better volleyball as of late, which will hopefully transition into a lengthy postseason run.
“They’re playing well,” Hagemaster said of his girls. “The consistency is stepping up a bit and hopefully we’ll do well going into regionals.”