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.

• In 2016, Cornerstone Christian of San Antonio was 13-25. That’s not good but it beats the 2015 season, when the Warriors won just one match. How can this be the same school that today is 52-2 and ranks second in the nation?

The answer is easy: Mike Carter.

Carter knew next to nothing about volleyball when the football coach wannabe was hired by Randolph High School in 1990 to coach volleyball. The first officiated high school volleyball game Carter ever saw was the one in which he coached.

Twenty-eight years later, including a long stint at national power Reagan of San Antonio, Carter retired from the public school system. He had almost 900 wins under his belt.

“At that point just I planned to run Alamo Volleyball Club — [he is the current club director] — which is a full time job,” Carter said. “I reached out to Cornerstone about facility usage. Long story short they offered me a great opportunity and five years later I’m still loving it.”

Carter took over as the head coach in 2018 and turned the program around. The Warriors won 17 matches in his first year, 30 in Year 2, went 22-3 during the Covid year and won 43 matches a year ago. This year the team has exceeded 50, one of which was career win No. 1,000, making Carter the first coach in San Antonio history to reach that milestone.

• For as long as I can remember, while private school volleyball largely dominated the other volleyball-rich states, public school volleyball was king in Texas. It did not matter how much talent the privates attracted, put up an Austin St. Michael’s or The Hockaday School or Bishop Lynch or St. Agnes or Parish Episcopal against a top public school and, inevitably, the public school would come out on top.

That has started to change the past couple of years in the Lone Star State, as Prestonwood Christian and Cornerstone Christian have emerged not only as state powers, but as national powers as well.

Carter cited five reasons why privates are finally getting  a foothold in the state:

No standardized tests, which he characterized as “needless”

Christ-centered education

Smaller class size

Feeling of security “with all the craziness out there”

Ability to schedule up and play out of state

• The ability to schedule up — no requirement to play a District slate — allowed Cornerstone Christian to play most of the best teams from Houston and Austin, with a smattering of Dallas-area teams for good measure. Carter’s team is 41-1 against teams from around Texas, including 13-1 against the state’s top 25.

Cornerstone Christian also was not bound to stay in-state to play Friday District matches during tournament season in other parts of the country. The Warriors were able to go to Florida for the Nike Tournament of Champions – Southeast at the beginning of the month. Heavily favored, the Warriors made the final before being shocked by Miami Westminster Christian.

• Saturday in the Phoenix area, Cornerstone Christian was at it again. Playing in the Nike Tournament of Champions – Southwest, the Warriors swept through their Friday pool, including a win over Timpview, one of Utah’s finest; then won four Saturday matches to take the title. Cornerstone Christian defeated Horizon, which features the two best attackers in Arizona; in the quarterfinals. It bounced defending national champion Marymount of Los Angeles in the semifinals, then handled Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach, California, the state’s No. 2 team, in a three-set final.

“WOW what a great weekend of high level play,” Carter said. “I’m super proud of my team.”

Carter added that it took a complete effort to get the wins over Marymount and Mira Costa. He said beating those two was akin to defeating Texas powers Prestonwood and Cypress Ranch.

Carter said that the team’s ball control, anchored by libero Alyssa Manitzas and OH Rylee Busse; was on point all weekend. Megan Fitch and Nayeli Gonzalez carried the bulk of the offense, but the attacking and blocking of Hannah Spencer, Macy Hughes and Grace Carroll and the all-around play of setter Taylor Anderson contributed mightily to the team’s success.

“I have been very fortunate to coach this talented group of kids,” Carter said. “Several of the seniors have been a part of the program since 8th grade and it has grown each year. I am truly blessed to have been given this opportunity.”

• Is public school ball in Texas dead?

Hardly.

Of the teams ranked in the MaxPreps’ top 25, only three are private schools.

The highest-ranked public school is Highland Park of Dallas. The Scots are 32-2. Their only losses have come to Prestonwood Christian, in five in early August and in a 2-1 decision later in the month. Michael Dearman’s team is undefeated in District play and riding a streak of 10 straight sweeps.

• Highland Park was 39-7 a year ago and won three playoff matches before being bounced by Frisco Reedy in five in a 5A regional semifinal. Reedy lost to eventual 5A champion Lovejoy in its next match.

Highland Park graduated 6-3 OH Emily Hellmuth and three others from that team. The big loss was Hellmuth, a player Dearman called a “generational talent.” Hellmuth now starts on the outside for 12-4 Pepperdine, and is averaging close to three kills per set.

Dearman said there was no way the Scots could replace Hellmuth, “an amazing player and leader,” going into the 2022 season.

“Losing someone like her to graduation obviously affects your team in a big way,” he explained.  “Simply replacing a First Team All-American and expecting that position to produce the same is not reasonable.  Instead, we had to take a hard look at our personnel and team dynamics and decide how we would approach our off-season to give ourselves the best chance at success this season.  

“I credit the work our team put in during our off season for the results we have seen thus far.  We focused on leadership and buy-in with all our returners as well as a focus on blocking, defense and explosive strength.”

Highland Park did benefit from a large number of experienced returning players, led by pins Sydney Breon and Bella Ocampo and middles Ceci Gooch and Sadie Gooch. Dearman saw great off-season improvement from the bulk of his roster, many of whom were multi-year starters; and welcomed Zoe Winford to the court, a libero who was ineligible all of last season because of a transfer.

“Her presence on the court as our libero has had a dramatic effect on our defense and ball control,” Dearman said of Winford. “Our team is more balanced offensively this year as we move the ball all around the court in fast tempo, including back row attacks. There are not one or two players that our opponents can focus on to defend. Instead every player on offense is included in our offensive strategy in a balanced way. The number of attack attempts and kills per player is about as even you can get, thus making us very hard to defend.  In addition, all of our hitters are very skilled and have control to place the ball in any part of the court. We run a 6-2 offense and we do not see any change in our efficiency when we change setters. Again, balance has been the key for us.”

“The one intangible factor that has perhaps had the biggest effect on our overall success this year is the buy-in from all players,” Dearman continued.  “Player to player accountability, players being very coachable, and having everyone laser focused daily and pointed in the same direction has had a positive impact on our season. In summary, the team is very talented, balanced, coachable and focused together on a daily basis.”

Mother McAuley

• In Chicago, Mother McAuley won its own tournament, the venerable Asics Challenge. The Mighty Macs, who won the LIVT in Louisville in early September, swept their Friday pool, then knocked off Hamilton from Wisconsin, Skutt Catholic from Omaha and Notre Dame Academy from Northern Kentucky to win. The semifinals and finals required three sets.

“It was a long day of hard-fought wins,” said longtime coach Jen DeJarld, whose McAuley team won a national championship in 2016. I felt this was one of the stronger years of competition at the Challenge.  I’m super proud of this team.”

It marked the first time that the Mighty Macs had won LIVT and the Challenge in the same year during DeJarld’s tenure.

• Ellie White, a 5-11 Jr. OH, was a beast in the championship match. She had 19 kills, from front row and back, and added nine digs. Libero Gigi Navarette contributed 26 digs in the final to shine as well. Both made the All-Tournament team, So, too, did Notre Dame’s Kamden Schrand, a libero/hitter; OH Whitney Woodrow of Assumption, OH Madison Quest of Divine Savior Holy Angels and OH Morgan Burke of Skutt Catholic,

• The state of Michigan has announced its finalists for 2022 Miss Volleyball. There are always 10 finalists, they are all seniors and always announced weeks before the season concludes.

This year’s list of nominees came out Labor Day Weekend, two and one-half months before the state championships in mid-November and just two weeks after play in the state began.

How can the powers that be possibly get the finalists right so soon into the season? I ask that all the time! And yet, they do an incredibly good job of identifying a pool of worthy seniors from which to choose.

This year’s finalists are:
Laurece Abraham, 6-1 Sr. MB, Detroit Country Day
Nina Horning, 6-5 Sr. OH, Lake Orion
Kennedy Louisell, 6-0 Sr. OH, Forest Hills Northern
Erin Madigan, 6-2 Sr. S, Dakota
Ella McAllister, 5-6 Sr. libero, Marshall
Harper Murray, 6-2 Sr. OH, Skyline
Abigail Reck, 6-2 Sr. MB, Northville
Ava Sarafa, 6-0 Sr. S, Marian
Ella Schomer, 6-0 Sr., RS, Marian
Sarah Vellucci, 5-11 Sr. OH, Novi

What makes this list noteworthy is that all but McAllister are among the players on the ION List for Michigan that will be released Wednesday. That was a list VolleyballMag.com produced late in September of the top players in every state based on year-to-date performance.

In sum, the Detroit Free Press really knows how to pick its finalists!

• At Dots, we’re on the lookout for players who put up outrageous single-match stat lines. We are asking coaches on our list to let us know if any of their players achieved any of these benchmarks:

55 assists in a match
35 kills in a match
35 digs in a match
10 blocks in a match
10 aces in a match

We have had several from OREGON achieve these thresholds.

55 assists or more in a match
Jackie Carle, 5-6 Soph. S, Jesuit – 58 assists in four-set win over Westview on Sept. 29

35 or more digs in a match
Kaili Kirkhart, 5-3 Jr. libero, Oakridge — 45 digs in a four-set win over Oakland on Sept. 17
Olivia Lyons, 5-1 Jr. libero, Warrenton — 38 digs in a four-set loss to Banks on Sept. 20
Angeleena Acosta, 5-4 Jr. libero, David Douglas — 35 digs in a five-set loss to Sandy on Sept 29

10 or more aces in a match
Annabelle Peterson, 5-9 Jr. MB, Cascade — 14 aces in four-set win over Stayton on Sept. 27
Jeryn Hildenbrand
, 5-7 Soph. RS, Westside Christian — 11 aces in three-set win over De La Salle North Catholic on Sept. 27
Reese Rothwell, 5-10 Sr. RS, Burns — 10 aces in sweep over Riverside on Oct. 3

Outside of Oregon, we learned only about these special achievements:

10 or more blocks in a match
Reese Dunkle, 6-3 Soph. MB, Center Grove (Greenwood, Indiana) — 12 blocks in a win over Bloomington South on Sept. 22

Jenna Otts

10 or more aces in a match
Jenna Otts, 6-1 Sr. OH, Bartram Trail (St. Johns, Florida) — 15 aces in a 3-0 victory over Beachside on Sept. 27

Impressive!

Do you have any players who have met these benchmarks? Let me know at jtawa@volleyballmag.com.

Until next time …

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