Sisterhood of Success: STM Girls Volleyball

With two state championships and 12 conference titles, girls’ volleyball at St. Thomas More is a tradition like no other

By Will O’Brien (TM ’07)

The big banners hanging in the Jerry Huennekens Gymnasium say it all.

St. Thomas More has enjoyed 150 years of sustained athletic success, from the early days of its predecessor schools, to the gridiron and running trails, into today. And though student-athletes of all disciplines have seen their share of triumphs, few have succeeded like members of the always-competitive, often-dominant girls’ volleyball program.

The Lady Cavaliers have won 12 conference championships, eight regional crowns, and two state titles since the school went co-ed in 1989, earning the respect of rivals and a special place in the hearts of the hundreds of individuals who have made the program what it is today.

“Some of my best times and most formative high school experiences came from playing volleyball at St. Thomas More,” said Bernadette “Bernie” Starszak, a standout player who graduated in 1997. “From the coaches, to my teammates, to the rivalries with other schools, to the successes and not-so-successful moments, I feel fortunate to have played at St. Thomas More.”

Girls’ volleyball won eight of its conference titles during a particularly dominant decade that started around the time Rob McLaughlin arrived on campus to coach junior varsity in 1993.

“The program was already strong,” among the best in a highly competitive conference featuring perennial state challengers Wisconsin Lutheran and Pius XI, said McLaughlin, a St. Thomas More Athletic Hall of Famer who now lives in Florida with his family. “We were among the top 10 teams in the state, with a very strong freshman class.”

The team kept improving under McLaughlin, winning its first conference title in 1995 and another in 1997, the year St. Thomas More started competing in the Woodland Conference with the likes of Cudahy, Greenfield, and Greendale. A long string of trophies followed.

The Cavs reached the pinnacle in 1999, winning state in the final year of the all-private-school Wisconsin Independent Schools Athletic Association (WISAA). Thomas More repeated in 2000, becoming the first private school to win Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) state volleyball title.

Ted Schulte, girls’ volleyball coach at Catholic Memorial for decades and a well-respected leader in Wisconsin club volleyball, described the back-to-back state titles as “Thomas More announcing its presence as an elite program.”

When asked about standout players, McLaughlin quickly rattled off more than a dozen and continued peppering in names while sharing other recollections.

“There were just so many,” he said. “The kids were really dedicated, coming in early and staying late, and with great support from the families. Everyone worked toward a common goal. It was a special time. Everyone worked hard and deserved everything they got.”

Among them was Kristin (Koralewski) Perkins (TM ’00). An Athletic Hall of Famer at St. Thomas More and Northern Kentucky University, Perkins served as head coach of the Cavaliers program from 2010 to 2020. Perkins’s younger sister, Karli Koralewski-Flores (TM ’07), who like Kristin played varsity volleyball all four years at St. Thomas More, will succeed her as head coach for the 2021 season. Koralewski-Flores previously worked as an assistant on Perkins’s coaching staff.

Jenna Flayter (STM ’20), now playing at Alverno College, described the sisters as opposites who balance each other out and quickly earn the respect of young players through their accomplishments and obvious dedication to the game.

“They’re just awesome coaches,” said Flayter, the fourth of four siblings to attend St. Thomas More—her father and grandfather are also alumni. “I don’t have enough good words to describe how much they’ve done for me and the program.”

Under the Koralewski sisters’ leadership, girls’ volleyball, though always a contender, returned to its title-winning ways. After a short run without championships, the Lady Cavs won conference again in 2015 and 2019, when they also earned their first regional trophy in almost ten years.

St. Thomas More now competes in the Metro Classic Conference, a conference of all private schools with enrollments similar to St. Thomas More’s. The Cavaliers and Catholic Central in Burlington have emerged as annual challengers for the girls’ volleyball conference title.

“Both schools are always near the top of the conference,” said Catholic Central coach Wayne Schultz. “I look forward to our match every season because I know it will be a challenge and help our program get ready for the playoffs.”

St. Thomas More President John Hoch (TM ’87) described girls’ volleyball as emblematic of the school’s commitment to providing students with a well-rounded experience. The team has benefited from several investments, including an upgraded fitness center, girls’ locker room, and gymnasium floor, but most important is the overall experience and impact of being a student-athlete—the practices, the challenges, the teamwork, the bonds.

“There’s a lot of pride from the girls who’ve played in the volleyball program,” said Hoch, boys’ basketball coach and athletic director from 2010 to 2021. “They’re very proud of being volleyball players and are still very supportive of the program.”

Flayter and Koralewski-Flores both described the bond as one of sisterhood, from the experiences on-court to program traditions like a pregame prayer circle and a ceremonial passing down of jerseys. One hallmark of which they’re both particularly fond is the early-morning “kidnapping” that takes place when upperclassmen welcome younger players to the varsity.

The bit of razzing is, of course, all done in good fun and for the younger players signifies “you’re part of the volleyball program at a higher level,” Flayter said. “We are one instead of 12 individuals.”

Former players regularly return to serve as line judges and to cheer on the Cavaliers from the stands.

Koralewski-Flores, a teacher at St. Mary Parish School in Hales Corners, remembers watching her older sister play for the Lady Cavs The younger Koralewski would assist with team warmups and help in the concession stand.

“Looking up to her, being around the game—I learned a lot just from watching,” Koralewski-Flores said.

When it was her time to lead the Cavaliers, Koralewski-Flores excelled, garnering all-conference honors in each of her four seasons and being named conference player of the year in 2006. The team shined as well; Thomas More won three conference titles during Koralewski-Flores’s time as a student-athlete.

Asked what St. Thomas More volleyball means to her, Koralewski-Flores, who met her husband, Roberto Flores (TM ’07), at the school, was quick to answer.

“The program and school have done so much for me,” she said. “Now my goal is to give back to St. Thomas More what it gave me—to carry on the legacy of what St. Thomas More volleyball is all about.”

 

 


About the Author
Will O’Brien (TM ’07) has been writing Spirit magazine stories and blog posts for St. Thomas More since spring 2019 and is a founding member of the St. Thomas More Communications Committee.

He is a Director of Corporate Reputation in the Strategic Communications division of FTI Consulting.

 


In celebration of our 150th Anniversary, throughout the 2020-21 school year, the St. Thomas More Communications Committee will release a series of engaging stories and spotlights to highlight and celebrate influential figures and memorable moments from our school’s 150-year history.

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