St. John XXIII volleyball charges into district play

September 24, 2018

There were three TAPPS District 4-6A volleyball teams still perfect in league play following a full night of matches Sept. 20.

St. John XXIII, St. Agnes and Concordia Lutheran all passed their initial tests to begin the single round-robin schedule, which determines seeding for the district tournament in the nine-team circuit.

The Lions treated their home crowd to two district wins last week, sweeping Incarnate Word and defeating Duchesne in four sets to improve to 15-11 overall. While several key matches remain on the schedule, the team is continuing the program’s progress this fall, with some quality non-district wins as evidence.

“I feel like this season, specifically, since we’ve started playing together we’ve become a lot more mentally aware and skill oriented,” senior Elena Welsch said. “We’re getting better consistency and focus in practices and games.”

St. John XXIII coach Lauren Cowan said this is the most promising group she has had in five years leading the program. Among the Lions’ strengths is depth and versatility, with much of the team skilled enough to play any of the six spots on the court.

“The best part is we have a full bench that we can actually do a six rotation when we need to,” Cowan said. “It’s fantastic that we have a lot of skilled players who can play several positions.”

Even with contributions from all classes, the team did not take long to come together, winning three straight matches on the final day to take home a bracket championship at the season-opening TAPPS Spike Down Classic.

The team has been close throughout, even with key players from every high school class. Junior Taylor Morello, a quality addition this year at outside hitter, said she was able to fit in quickly after transferring to St. John XXIII.

Sophomore Bridget Thompson said the camaraderie has been reflected in their success.

“I feel like we’re a family and we know our boundaries with each other,” Thompson said. “We’re really close. We have a lot of faith in each other and our program.”

Like most volleyball teams, the Lions have had to learn to handle the constant momentum swings during matches.

“Sometimes we get into holes and make mistakes, but we do well coming out of the holes, building each other up and fixing our mistakes,” sophomore Blair Moreland said.

The Lions prepared for district play with a competitive schedule and some notable victories, among them a four-set triumph Aug. 21 against TAPPS 5A power Fort Bend Christian.

“That was a big win for us,” Cowan said. “Preston Smith actually coached with us last year, and then he went to Fort Bend. It was a good win for us, a solid win against a very good Fort Bend Christian team. It gave us a lot more confidence going into the rest of the season.”

The Lions also played three Southwest Preparatory Conference members, earning a tournament win against Houston Christian. Welsh recalled an encouraging first set against defending SPC champion Episcopal.

The Lions have a solid senior class of Meagan Shively, Claire Rady, Sydney Price, Emmi Rotta and Welsh, who had a career-high 15 kills against Duchesne while hitting .438 from her middle blocker position.

The junior class includes Morello, Dana Sheehan, Lauren Witt and Calli Collins, who was a first-team all-district selection as a sophomore.

Moreland, a setter, and Thompson, an outside hitter, both start as sophomores. Isabella Eguia and Sophie Ibanez-Flores were skilled enough to make the team and contribute as freshmen.

The Lions were scheduled to continue district play Sept. 25 at St. Pius X, with the first week of October bringing tests against The Village School and St. Agnes.

The Lions finished a strong third in district last year, but are looking for more.

“We definitely want to win district,” Thompson said.

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