Forest Park volleyball headed in new direction

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Ali Welp, right, returns as one of the Forest Park veterans, and Coach Tara LaGrange is expecting her to provide not only experience, but leadership. “She has been a dominant force since she’s been there, and she’s doing really well.”


FERDINAND — Tara LaGrange is new, but familiar all at the same time.

The 2000 Heritage Hills graduate is taking over for Alexa Rasche as Forest Park’s volleyball coach, but LaGrange knows her players, and her players know her, primarily because she spent three years coaching junior high volleyball at Forest Park before her ascension to varsity coach in 2020.

“[The transition] has been fun,” LaGrange said with a laugh. “It’s been interesting. I always thought that the fundamentals, of course, are the basis of any good volleyball program. So, we’re hitting the fundamentals right now with the high schoolers — making sure we kind of get those under our belt first. But I’m excited to move and transition a little bit more to the advancement of the game, being able to do more plays and things that junior high isn’t quite able to do yet.”

LaGrange has enjoyed working with the high schoolers up to this point. Forest Park’s freshmen, sophomores and juniors all previously had her at the eighth grade level, and appreciate that she knows so many of her players, and her players know her personality.

Which begs the question: What is LaGrange’s personality, exactly?

“I am a very animated coach,” she said. “I’m not one of those quiet coaches who just coaches them and lets them play. I’m talking all the time, I love the sport. I grew up playing it, and I just love being able to work with the next generation, help the next generation to hopefully enjoy the sport and to love the sport like I did.”

The 2019 Rangers graduated some seniors in Emma Hassfurther, Kennedy Sermersheim, Bralyn Boehm, Macie Zink, Faith Zazzetti and Kylie Giesler — the latter three making last year’s all-Pocket Athletic Conference squad. Forest Park made it to the sectional semifinals, finishing with an 11-15 record.

Despite losing some quality and quantity, and having a losing record last year, LaGrange is optimistic about what her Rangers can do in her first year.

“The girls that we have coming up that are stepping up to the plate in doing varsity, their personalities, just from what I’ve gained over these past couple weeks here, they all just have a determination and they are really excited to play and really are putting forth a lot of fantastic effort to improve their skills,” LaGrange said.

LaGrange herself is excited about her team’s determination and how much they want to win in 2020. She thinks the program has done a good job of building the underclassmen, and doesn’t see any lull in performance to not have a good program after graduating so many players.

Junior Ali Welp is back for 2020, and she plays the middle position, a position Zazzetti also played last year. LaGrange told the Herald Monday that fellow junior Philicity Collignon will complement Welp at the middle position, and she likes what Welp brings to the Rangers.

“She has been a dominant force since she’s been there, and she’s doing really well. I’m looking forward to seeing what else we can do with her,” she said of Welp.

Giesler played setter and signed to continue her volleyball career at Vincennes University. She has the most assists in Forest Park history with 1,647, but the first-year coach knows her roster this year has capable passers.

“As of right now, Ali Brandes is the one who has stepped up to take that,” LaGrange said. “She was the JV setter last year. So, she should be the one that’s going to lead the team this year as far as the setting position goes. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do.”

Zink played the outside position last year, and LaGrange praised the arm swing that junior Avari Burger possesses. She likes how much of a competitor Burger is, and while others are vying for that spot, LaGrange sees Burger as being in the lead for that.

Last year’s Rangers had an abundance of 2020 graduates, but this year’s Forest Park team has four seniors in its own right in Larisa Brandes, Molly Lusk, Mallory Lehmkuhler and returning defensive specialist Tori Fetter.

“They’re really excited about the season, and hopefully going to lead us,” LaGrange said of her seniors. “Tori seems to be taking a leadership position of just talking a lot during practice and guiding the girls. We’re looking forward to see what she can do, too.”

LaGrange is hoping to implement a faster offense, taking advantage of the quickness some of her players have. She doesn’t know what kind of defense she wants to run just yet, but is emphasizing quickness with feet and is hoping to be a good defensive team.

Defense is always something she thinks a team needs to work on, not just her group this year. She knows most volleyball players love the offensive aspect and are excited about that, but added the defense has to be there, too.

The Rangers will have an expanded PAC to deal with this year, and LaGrange is looking to see the programs of the new teams in the conference.

Forest Park hasn’t won a volleyball sectional since 2009, but LaGrange has every reason to believe the Rangers can be competitive come sectional time if they continue to work as hard as they have this summer and progress throughout the season.

“The sectional that we have is a little bit of a tougher one that we are in, but I really feel like if these girls will continue to work hard and push themselves, that we will be just as strong of a competitor as we were last year.”

More on