Tonawanda News — Cardinal O'Hara girls volleyball always seems to be the underdog. With between 80 and 90 girls in the whole school, the talent pool hasn't always allowed for competitive teams.
But five years ago when Brad Lorich took over as coach, he set out to change the culture and breathe new life into the program.
It hasn't been easy.
The Hawks are playing schools that have, on average, roughly 400 girls, and the first season he got there his team won only one match — the last one of the season. The program needed to find somebody to set the tone out on the floor — a player that led by example and did all the hard things to help her team win.
Lorich found that player in Mary McDermott. Funny thing is, she didn't even make the team the first year she tried out.
"In seventh grade I tried out and I didn't make the team," McDermott said. "I really wanted to be on the team because all my friends played, so I had my brother help me that entire summer. He helped me start digging balls, setting them, doing everything I could just so I could stay with my friends. Then I started getting better at it and I started to like the sport."
McDermott is one of the Hawks' captains and Lorich called her "the unsung hero" of the team. She has set a tone for the Hawks by doing all the little things and working to become a better player every day she steps into the gym. O'Hara finished its season on Monday in disappointing fashion — a 3-0 shutout loss against Immaculata in the first round of the Monsignor Martin playoffs. But the team accomplished almost all its goals, and McDermott and a senior class that's transformed the volleyball landscape at O'Hara were able to hold their heads high after the game.
Growing up as the youngest of six children, McDermott learned early on how to float under the radar. Matt McDermott, Mary's brother, said he and the older siblings would make her life difficult, teasing her about everything under the sun and forcing her to grow up faster than most children.
"She's not someone that likes to stand out or that makes any attempt to stand out, but she's a person that would do anything for anyone," Matt McDermott said.
On the court, McDermott mirrors her off-court persona: she's quiet and works very well with others. She played her first three seasons at setter but Lorich needed her to move to outside hitter this season to help the team, and she did it with a smile on her face.
McDermott has excelled at her new position and created an on-court confidence for her entire team with the way she sets up the defense or make the perfect pass. She takes on the opposing team's biggest hitters and usually finds a way to make even the most difficult digs.
"What we do is position everybody around her when the other team is serving," Lorich said. "The serve return is probably the most difficult part of the game and we want her to touch the ball every time it's served if possible. She makes a perfect pass every single time and that type of thing — there's no stat that shows that part of the game. There should be because it's the most important part. You can't do anything without a great passer."
Looking ahead, McDermott and company have helped lay a foundation for the future of O'Hara volleyball. Lorich believes that the entire program has benefitted from the senior class and the team should still compete in the years to come.
McDermott hopes to attend Canisius next year where she wants to study business, and Lorich said she already has a business-like approach to volleyball and life.
"I'm so proud of how far she's come," Lorich said. "Over the past four years she's been the leader of the girls in that class, so whenever I went to organize open gym she'd be the one to get everyone there. She loves the game and she's the type of person I can definitely see being a coach in the future. She's good at pushing people to succeed."