This is “Dots,” VolleyballMag.com’s weekly look at 10 things in high school volleyball, past or present, that interest me and hopefully will interest you. Look for Dots every Tuesday until the last high school state championship in November:
• Players at Buda Hays High School (TX) report being subjected to racial slurs from the home student section while playing a volleyball match last week at New Braunfels high School. Students were accused of using the N-word throughout the game and while the players were leaving after the match. The students were allegedly warned to “watch your mouths” but no one was ejected from the gym. The school district has since apologized for any improper behavior on the part of its students.
Ironically, the Hays players all had written the number “3” on their hands in support of Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, who leveled a similar accusation at BYU fans following an August 26 match.
• Marian of Bloomfield Hills won the 2021 Michigan large-class state championship with a 53-1 record. Spain Park won the 2021 Alabama large-class state championship with a record of 47-4.
Arundel captured the Maryland large-class state title in 2021 with a record of 20-1. St. Mark’s won the Delaware all-class state title last fall with a record of 18-0.
Why the disparities in matches played? Each state association regulates the number of matches teams can play in a season. Some allow too many matches; some too few. Bottom line: your high school experience can vary wildly depending on the state you’re playing in.
• St. James of Lenexa, Kansas, a two-time national champion during my tenure running PrepVolleyball.com, is off to a 6-0 start. The Class 5A Thunder have defeated the No. 3 team in Nebraska, Papillion-La Vista South; the two-time defending Kansas 3A champions, Heritage Christian; and top 6A school Washburn Rural, among its wins.
St. James wins because it dominates the first two contacts. The Thunder have four back row studs, from libero Mya Bolton to DS’s Heidi Devers, Lauren Brown and Katelyn Blessing. And their setter is 6-0 sophomore Reese Messer, perhaps the best sophomore setter in the nation. You may remember her from the Dynasty 16 Black team that was winning all of those matches.
The team also has its fair share of effective attackers, led by junior middle Julia Headley. Kate McKnight, Ava Spachek and Ella Goodwin are three others with a knack for scoring.
St. James started the season ranked second in the KVA 5A rankings, behind rival St. Thomas Aquinas. Expect those two to flip spots, as Aquinas has a loss to the same Washburn Rural team St. James recently defeated.
• OH Neomi Beach is off to a smashing start for two-time defending 6A champion Hamilton. The 6-0 senior, a Temple recruit, had 31 kills and 19 digs while hitting .460 in a four-set win over Sunnyslope. She had 25 kills and hit .477 in a sweep of Liberty. Beach is averaging 5.8 kills per set over nine matches for Hamilton, all wins. The Huskies, who were years came up short of a state title with stacked teams, may be the favorite to capture their third in a row…
• Bronson of Michigan has five state titles in Jean Laclair’s 23 seasons on the bench. Laclair, who has practically seen and done it all through 1,003 career wins with the Vikings, said that coaching using a knee scooter for the first eight weeks of the season is a first for her. She had major foot surgery before the season, the result of eight broken bones nearly 29 years ago in a car accident.
“I have only tumbled once in practice, pretty early on,” Laclair recounted. “The kids stood there, mouths ajar, not knowing what to do. I just said, ‘Is anyone going to help me up?’ And then they all came running. Thankfully I did a tuck and roll so no further damage to the foot or anything else.”
• Venice High School is 6-3 and champing at the bit to host its home opener on Thursday. The Indians play at the TeePee and are virtually unbeatable there. It’s a true House of Horrors, where 1,000+ fans every match wave terrible towels and many make up the “crazy Wheatley wacko section,” named after 29-year coach Brian Wheatley. Under Wheatley, Venice has five state titles, three over the past 10 years.
And get this: the team has an insane intro it plays on the Jumbotron that is as slick as any collegiate DI program. Check it out at the bottom of this story.
• I’ve been fortunate to see state championship volleyball contested in a lot of different formats and at a lot of different venues. My favorite, by far, was in Alabama, where they let the students out for the mid-week tournament and the students used to ring the court cheering as loudly as they could, under the watchful eyes of supervisors, of course. What atmosphere!
Sadly, those days are gone, as Alabama now plays its championships in a hockey arena, thus relegating its still-boisterous fans to the first rows of seats.
• La Costa Canyon started the season 0-3, dropping the Mavericks from the California statewide top 25. That didn’t stop LCC from winning the California Challenge last week. The Mavericks overcame a pool play loss to Kahuku of Hawaii to win out, including a sweep of previously undefeated Torrey Pines, California’s fifth-ranked team, in the championship match.
LCC sophomore OH Jaidyn Jager was named tournament MVP. Senior MB Eva Rohrbach, playing for the first time this season; and setter Madisyn Parady joined Jager on the All-Tournament Team.
• Howard County is Maryland’s volleyball hotbed. In 2021, the county produced two of the state’s four champions, Reservoir in 3A and Glenelg in 2A. Reservoir and Glenelg will be strong again, but 4A Centennial may be the County’s best in 2022. The Eagles return all starters from their 11-3 season last year, including junior OH Malinh Godschall, who amassed 282 kills, 273 digs and 63 aces as a sophomore.
• In mid-August, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer released its pre-season area top 20. Three of its top five have already suffered losses. The only two still undefeated, Gilmour Academy and Magnificat, are coming off of state championship seasons. Both teams are underclass dominated, with sophomores Aubrey Anders and Ella Jackson leading Gilmour and juniors Julia Sprecher and Mary Flanagan showing the way for Magnificat. Can anyone say, “Dynasties?”
Until next time …