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 week until the last high school state championship in November:
• Mississippi, Tennessee, Oklahoma (large schools): Those are the states that have completed their fall, 2022 high school seasons.
South Carolina’s Independent Schools finish up today with the two largest classes, after Laurens Academy and Patrick Henry won 1A and 2A, respectively, last night. The win for Laurens Academy was the fourth straight this season over Cambridge Academy, whose only 1A losses came to Laurens.
By this time next week, state champions will also have been determined in Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine and Utah’s small schools.
It’s all happening!
• Focusing on what lies immediately ahead, Spartanburg Christian Academy goes after its seventh straight title in South Carolina’s Independent Association. SCA is in 3A this year.
Porter-Gaud seeks its second straight title in the next 4A classification. The Cyclones and Cardinal Newman are meeting in the final for the third straight season.
• Alabama’s state championships started today. Covenant Christian’s Ashlee Gann had the best stat line among early participants: 22 kills, 15 digs and five blocks in a four-set quarterfinal win in Class 1A.
The stuff that really interests us in the Yellowhammer State doesn’t start until tomorrow in Class 6A, when Mountain Brook¸ moving down from Class 7A, goes for its fourth straight state title; and Bayside Academy, moving up from Class 5A, seeks its national record 21st consecutive top finish. If both teams win in the morning, that clash could take place tomorrow afternoon in the semifinals. Bayside lost in four last Thursday to Spanish Fort in the South Regional final. That’s how the Admirals got on Mountain Brook’s side of the bracket.
• In Tennessee, five teams claimed state titles this past week.
Cleveland, powered by the Hurst Sisters, Addison and Lauren, won its first-ever large-class volleyball state title, in three over Collierville.
Creek Wood captured its first title as well, downing an East Hamilton team that defeated it the day before, in five, breaking a 12-12 tie with three straight points, capped by a stuff block from MVP Katie Bowers.
Summertown won in 1A, Battle Ground Academy won again in Division II –A and Briarcrest Christian won state for the fourth time in five years, downing Baylor in straight sets in Division II – AA behind MVP OH Kendall Barnes and setter Ashley Pruitt.
• The story of the tournament was indeed Briarcrest Christian, because the players were playing for their coach, Carrie Yerty. The Saints played their best volleyball of the season at the state tournament to claim the title.
An NCAA Division I head coach for 17 seasons, Yerty compiled a 315-244 record between the University of Memphis and the University of Wyoming before coming to Briarcrest after the 2017 high school season. The Saints had won state in 2016, 13 years after winning their fifth title all-time, but the program went in a new direction under Yerty. Briarcrest won state in Yerty’s first year. And second. And third. She was building a dynasty in Eads, just as Barbara Campbell had done at Brentwood in Class AAA.
“When Carrie took the helm, she took it to another level,” said Jauregui in a prepared statement. “She created a dynasty. Carrie has been an incredible leader and mentor for the coaching staff and players. She sets a high standard of achievement, and the program has thrived under her direction.”
Briarcrest’s title in 2022 was its fourth in five years and tenth overall. Yerty remained head coach, with April Jauregui, herself a former collegiate head coach at Memphis, as Associate Head Coach. But Yerty has been ailing with colon cancer since 2017 and could not be physically present for the team this year. That made this title all that more special, because the team was playing for her.
“She continues to fight and has shown tremendous faith and grace,” Jauregui said. “She gives so much of herself to the team and players. Her faith has been her anchor, and volleyball has been her saving grace. Carrie has made it a priority to show the girls how to navigate the difficulties of life and impact those around you in a positive way.”
Her impact is not just with this team; it is across the volleyball community.
At a re-match of the 2021 State Championship match, Knoxville Catholic came to play Briarcrest this past September. Knoxville Catholic’s players walked into the gym wearing “Fight Like Carrie” shirts on.
“They had them made to show support for our team,” Jauregui recalled. “The entire gym was crying. We were so moved by their display of love and a bond was formed between our two programs. We learned that they talked about Carrie weekly and discussed what she means to volleyball and to this program. They also prayed for her daily.”
“That day, we had a new mission and theme for the season,” Jauregui continued. “We, indeed, were going to ‘fight like Carrie.’ This year was not without challenges. There was a heaviness to the season, but we found a way to have fun, and just surrender all the anxiety and fear. We played with a new hope. The girls and staff wanted nothing more than to bring home another championship for Coach Carrie. And they did just that! While trophies and medals fade, the feeling of this season will not be forgotten. God showed His faithfulness. Carrie continues to fight, and now she is ‘fighting like a Saint.’ ”
• In Oklahoma, Edmond Memorial and Mount St. Mary are your larger-class state champs.
Memorial won in five over Jenks to capture its first Class 6A title since 2016. Chandler Lawrence had the clinching kill. Madelyn Onan had a team-high 16 kills for the victorious Bulldogs.
Mount St. Mary repeated as 5A champion by sweeping BishopMcGuinness. The Rockets finished the year 41-1, their lone loss to Norman North at the Mustang Tournament late in the regular season. Junior Ally Fees sparked Mount St. Mary, showing courage by continuing to play despite badly rolling an anjle midway through.
• In Mississippi, the Mississippi High School Activities Association conferred title in six classes. Brandon won in 6A, Lake Cormorant downed familiar foe Long Beach to take the 5A title, Caldeonia won in 4A, Our Lady Academy returned to the winner’s circle by taking 3A, Belmont stood tallest in 2A and Ingomar won its first-ever title in 1A.
Brandon’s title completed an historic year in which the Bulldogs set a school record with 43 wins and represented Mississippi well by winning the Juanita Boddie Tournament in Alabama.
“We had so much talent and experience returning from last season that you knew you had the tools to repeat,” said coach Kelsa Walker. “This team just had a ‘no quit’ mentality regardless of what the scoreboard said. They were going to FINISH WELL and accomplish #MissionRepeat!”
Our Lady Academy avenged a loss in the state championship a year ago to Alcorn Central by sweeping the Bears in 3A behind MVP Annalaura Williford’s 23 kills. The Crescents won their first title under head coach Emily Corley and first since coach Mike Meyers left in 2000 with 14 titles to his name in 20 seasons.
• Brandon’s title capped a remarkable career for Sunni Sheppard. The 5-4 senior OH, who has been with the Brandon program since seventh grade, took home MVP honors as the Bulldogs won their second title in a row and third state title in her six years on varsity.
“From the moment she stepped in my gym as a 7th grader, I knew this was a super special kid with that ‘IT FACTOR’ you cannot coach; yet she always remained one of the most humble athletes that I have ever coached,” Walker wrote. “She served our program so well on the court and off the court. She has poured her heart and soul into our program every single day, even to the point of helping out with our middle school volleyball program her junior year. This is not just a program for her; it is her family! Her heart’s desire was that every player in our program, from the varsity team to the JV team to the middle school team, know that they are important. Her role on the court changed from season to season from starting setter, to starting libero, to starting as a six-rotation outside hitter. She never blinked, just kept giving all she had!”
• The MAIS, “Midsouth Association of Independent Schools,” conferred three state titles as well, the most notable being Jackson Academy’s fourth straight 6A crown.
Senior OH Laken Laurendine, who has been instrumental to all four titles, put an exclamation point on an amazing career with a virtuoso performance in the championship match against Madison-Ridgeland Academy. The 6-2 Auburn recruit had 20 kills, 19 digs and two aces in the final. She finished with 623 kills (4.9 per set), 526 digs, 97 aces and 35 blocks for the 40-5 Raiders, who went undefeated against in-state competition, including twice sweeping Brandon.
Head coach Melissa Denson took over the Raider program five seasons ago and has presided over a squad that has gone 187-28 during her tenure.
“I think our program has been successful because of the staff I surround myself with, the type of people/athletes in my program, the level at which we train, and the support from administration in our goals,” she said. “I am beyond blessed with some of the best coaches in the area that could very easily go and take a head coaching position somewhere else, but choose to stay here and invest in our girls. Our program is based on relationships within our team and entire program.”
Denson said that the players in her program, from sixth to twelfth grades, have interactions with each other and build relationships.
“It forms a sense of community and something to work/fight for,” she added. “Our girls are extremely close and know they are loved. They are free to make mistakes and grow through those mistakes. This is what allows us to train at the highest level. We have that trust that the girls believe in what we are doing and try even if they cannot see the results immediately. I think the environment of JA as a whole and our program allow our athletes to reach their full potential.”
• State champions in Indiana won’t be crowned until Nov. 5, but the headline matchup may already have taken place. Because Indiana sorts its teams into sections and regions, sometimes the best teams play early. That’s what happened this year when Hamilton Southeastern (32-1) and defending 4A champion McCutcheon (33-1) met Saturday in a Regional final.
HSE came into the match with just one loss, a four-setter to McCutcheon in its season opener in August.
McCutcheon’s lone loss came two weeks later in a tournament to Yorktown (33-2). Yorktown’s two losses both came in five sets, one to HSE.
Until next time …