Perfect match: Ron Kordes & Assumption volleyball
BY MIKE FIELDS
LOUISVILLE – When Ron Kordes was hired to coach volleyball at Assumption in 1989, then-principal Karen Russ asked how long he thought he might lead the Rockets’ program.
“I told her, ‘Let’s do it a year at a time, and as long as I’m enjoying it, we’ll continue on,’” Kordes recently remembered.
“Now here I am 28 years later and I’m still enjoying it.”
Talk about a perfect match.
Under Kordes’ direction, Assumption volleyball has been one of the most successful and dominant programs in the history of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
The Rockets have won 19 state titles and been named national champions four times in the last 24 years. Starting in 1995, they won eight consecutive state titles and fashioned a remarkable 174-game winning streak against Kentucky competition.
Kordes should notch his 1,000th career victory in the next week or two. (His win total is currently 990.)
Not bad for a guy who didn’t have much of a volleyball background when he started coaching the sport at St. Raphael, a Catholic elementary school in Louisville, in 1981.
Kordes had played golf at Flaget High School and the University of Louisville. He was a good enough basketball player that he was invited to be on the freshman team at U of L where he got to practice against such stars as Wes Unseld and Butch Beard. “That was a lot of fun,” he said.
He also got to be friends with U of L basketball player Jerry King, and when King began coaching grade school hoops at St. Raphael in the late 1970s, he asked Kordes to help him. A few years later, Kordes started coaching volleyball there, too.
“I had played some adult volleyball. I was never a great player; I just enjoyed it,” he said. “So when the opportunity came to coach, I said I’d take it. And I fell in love with it.”
Kordes’ breakthrough came in 1985 when he coached a Louisville-based 13-year-old club team to a bronze medal in a national AAU tournament in Chicago.
“That kind of lit a fire in this area,” he said. “Volleyball really started to take off. It kind of opened the door for club volleyball here.”
It also opened the door for him at Assumption. The Rockets already had a solid volleyball program when Kordes took over in 1989, but cross-town rival Mercy and northern Kentucky power Notre Dame had won eight of the first 10 state titles.
“That’s who everybody was chasing,” he said.
Assumption caught up quickly. It upset Mercy in the state quarterfinals in Kordes’ first year – “A huge win that kind of put us on the map,” he said — and went on to reach the finals for the first time before losing to Notre Dame.
The Rockets won their first state championship in 1992, and they’ve been a dominant force ever since.
Kordes said it’s not easy being a perennial power.
“It gets tougher because you’re always a target,” he said. “When we won eight (titles) in a row and had that long in-state winning streak, I thought the pressure was getting too great for the kids. Toward the end of the season they couldn’t wait for it to get over. Especially the seniors. I told them they should be enjoying the last few weeks of their high school careers.
“But it is what it is. I tell kids who come into our program that it’s not easy to play here. It’s pressure-packed. When you walk on the floor you’re expected to win. The pressure is placed there by history and by parents.”
The game itself, Kordes noted, has pressure, too.
“There is no clock,” he said. “In basketball and football, you can get to a point where the other team doesn’t have enough time to catch you, and you can clear your bench. In volleyball, you can’t build a good enough lead so you can rest. Momentum can switch in any game, and if it goes against you, it can get ugly. I’ve seen teams up 24-15 end up losing. It’s pretty rare, but the fact is you’ve gotta finish the job.”
Assumption, of course, has been blessed with terrific talent, partly because Kordes’ presence is a magnet for good players.
The Rockets graduated seven seniors off last year’s state title team, including All-American Allie Gregory, who’s now at the University of Florida. But their lineup this season includes six players who’ve committed to NCAA schools, led by senior libero and University of Louisville signee Lexie Hamilton.
The Rockets have had two national players of the year in recent years — Katie George, who went on to have a stellar career at U of L, and Alexa Filley, who’s now a junior setter at Auburn.
Kordes’ former players also include the head coach at U of L — who also happens to be Kordes’ daughter Anne. She played on Assumption’s first state title team in 1992, and obviously inherited her father’s passion for the sport.
“I eat, breathe and think about volleyball all the time,” Ron Kordes said. “When Anne was (playing) at Louisville, she told me, ‘Dad, I understand. I think I feel the same way.’ Intensity and competitiveness . . . that’s where I see myself in her.”
Anne coached at Indiana, Illinois and St. Louis before landing the U of L job in 2011. “When they hired her . . . talk about dreams coming true,” Ron Kordes said.
Anne guided the Cardinals to the ACC title last season and was named conference coach of the year.
As for her dad’s influence on her, Anne said in an email, “I would say his work ethic. Not just the day-to-day work, but the effort it takes to continue to learn. As much success as he has had, he never stops attending conventions or clinics to find out what other coaches are teaching.
“He has no ego about his success, only passion about continuing to learn. I love that about him.”
Ron Kordes doesn’t just coach volleyball, he lives it.
Twenty-three years ago he and a business partner built the Ohio Valley Volleyball Center in Louisville. Kordes runs it, and his office overlooks the courts that are home to the Kentucky-Indiana Volleyball Academy (for ages 8 through 18), adult leagues and club tournaments.
The OVVC was quiet on a recent Tuesday morning, but Kordes was at his desk, talking about how Assumption should have beaten Indianapolis Cathedral a few nights earlier, but it let victory slip away.
Like most coaches, the tough losses stick with Kordes more than the big victories. But he views them as lessons learned, and like his daughter said, he’s still learning at age 68 (he’ll be 69 in December).
How long will he remain as the man at mission control for the Rockets?
“I get asked that question from kids looking at coming to Assumption,” he said. “All I can tell you is I don’t have any intention of quitting. Of course, a change in health could change that. But God willing, I can keep going. I don’t feel any burnout. I still enjoy it and look forward to practice and matches.”
Just like he did when signed on with Assumption 28 years ago.
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