Rombach back where it all started

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Lori Rombach (left), Calvert's volleyball coach, talks to her team before practice at the high school Monday afternoon.

Volleyball is just a sport — to some of us.

To Lori Rombach, it’s a passion and something she’s loved for many years dating back to her playing days at Calvert in the early 90s.

From then to now, one thing has been a constant for her — volleyball.

The first-year Calvert coach has led the Senecas to their first state appearance in program history. They will play Portsmouth Clay today at noon in a Division IV semifinal.

The love of volleyball has always been there for Rombach, who played at John Carroll. But it wasn’t really her best sport in high school.

“I feel blessed and it’s an honor to be able to lead this team,” she said. “This is the first year I’ve been doing varsity. All the years I was in middle school and lower, it was a good experience and it was important, but all the years I was at that level I aspired to be with a group that was older. Having played in college, I felt like it was a better fit for me with the older girls. When the opportunity came, I was excited to give it a try and it’s been fun. Having the type of athletes we have on this team has made the transition coming to varsity a lot easier because a lot of these girls play club and it’s those coaches who are the ones with the hard work tactically giving them their skills.

“I always wanted to play volleyball in college, but I was a better long jumper, being a state qualifier in the long jump. Some colleges wanted me to long jump. I remember meeting the coach at Brown University and I remember asking if I could talk to the volleyball coach there. They laughed at me. I wanted to do both. I played in a volleyball club a season and then the coach at John Caroll, Gretchen Weitbrecht, watched me play there and they had a business school so I could play both sports there. It was a great fit.”

Rombach said she still plays volleyball in a women’s league at St. Mary’s and has coached her daughter Kate since she was in fourth grade.

Kate is a key contributor on the team this season and has made some clutch kills and blocks in the tournament run for the Senecas.

When asked how she separates being a mother and a coach to Kate, she admitted it hasn’t been very difficult.

“I somehow have trained my mind to not look at her as my daughter. I really have,” she said. “Maybe one time on a game day, I always ask her if she has her uniform, her court shoes and her knee pads and I don’t ask any other player that, so that’s the one time I feel like a mom. I’ve really tried to train myself to look at her as just another player and I also have a niece on the team, Ashlyn Jones.”

Senior Lexie White said as soon as she knew Rombach was hired as the new coach, special things would happen to the program. Maybe not this quick, though.

“I’ve known Lori for quite a while. My sister Emma and Kate were on the same team, so I’ve kind of seen the outside side of Lori, her watching games and her intensity,” she said. “I knew once she got the job she would carry that over and she has. I love the intensity that she brings like that. She keeps us all excited and we get a lot done in practice.

“I had a coach in my club year, Dave Reinhart, he and Lori kind of bring the same intensity, him a little more, but I think they are about the same. I’d say her and Dave have definitely probably been the two best coaches I’ve had.”

Rombach knows how to get the most out of her players on the floor, especially in key situations when the Senecas have trailed or in a close set.

The common saying she deploys to her squad is “win this point.”

It’s simple, but effective.

“It definitely helps me. Just for example, if the score was 23-20 and we are down, volleyball is a game of mistakes,” White said. “We have to focus on every individual thing. When she says win this point, I more think just to focus on this rally and win this point and that’s all that matters. Take it one point at a time when we are down and go from there.”

Rombach added: “I feel like during the regular season, I didn’t have that mentality, but during the tournament run I’ve talked with many veteran coaches that I’ve reached out to and they kept telling me that every point matters at this point,” she said. “It’s really true. The team that makes the lowest amount of mistakes will win. I do say win this point a lot, and it sounds so simple. Win this point, and the girls have taught me a catch phrase as well, lets be the first team to five or first team to 10. If you look at it like that, it seems like it’s more achievable and not as much of a mountain to climb.

“Another thing I tell the girls is that especially with some of the very good hitters like Hayley Heitmeyer of Leipsic, they are going to get kills on you. A couple times the defensive players will look over at me and ask me ‘What am I supposed to do?’ I say, ‘Nothing, it was a great hit. We aren’t going to defend everyone of her hits. Just get back up and get the next one.’ These girls have responded very well to that and we have senior leaders on this team that pick each other up really well too.”

One of those senior leaders is Sophie Burtis, who said she loves how invested Rombach is during a match. She said Rombach is right there with them with energy and passion, which fuels the girls on the court.

“She is awesome. She does a great job of keeping us involved, while also having fun and she knows that we are high school girls, we want to have fun, but she also knows how to motivate us,” Burtis said.

“Her style, especially during matches, it feels like she’s just as invested in the game as we are, which is awesome because some coaches keep calm, but she is right there with us and helps us keep our energy. We can always look to her for support and we know she wants it just as much as we do.”

Fellow senior Shelby Hemminger added: “She has been so motivating this year. She does a really good job of getting us ready for games. She gets us in the right mindset, and she’s very motivating and pushes us to work really hard. She’s one of the main reasons we’ve made it this far.”

Rombach said she knows she’s doing the right thing by coaching volleyball and it’s safe to say the Senecas players and community agrees with the historic run this season.

“Somebody once told me if you do something and time flies by, you know you’re doing the right thing. Even back in June with two-and-a-half hour practices, it was the fastest time of my day. Obviously, it’s gotta be something I’m passionate about and love because it doesn’t feel like work. It just feels good. “As a sport, I love the team part of it and the dynamic of trying to get the girls to be selfless. Volleyball is quick and exciting. You don’t lose focus as you might do playing other sports.”

Needless to say, the focus and attention will be there today against the Panthers. But this will be one instance Rombach wishes time doesn’t go by fast.