FEATURE: “Surreal” start for Conroe Volleyball to 2022
HOUSTON – In Charvette Brown’s 17 years of being a head coach, never has one of her teams gotten off to as hot a start as her 2022 Conroe Tigers.
“Surreal,” Brown said of the 21-0 start to the season.
The change for Conroe started back in the spring when Brown’s daughter Ariana transferred to the program for her senior season.
And the impact was felt immediately.
“She just upped everybody’s level of competitiveness,” Brown said. “She just makes them better. Not just her court presence. She’s a good leader and she doesn’t accept anything less than the best. I think they’ve appreciated that.”
Every team can have star players but from year to year the biggest question is will it all mesh together? How will the team chemistry be and how long will it take to become strong?
For Brown’s Tigers, their “court chemistry” is good. Their off-the-court chemistry is just as strong and has been “beautiful to watch”.
When the season started, Conroe came out of the gates strong beating Lufkin and Lake Creek. Then they rolled through the Austin ISD Jason Landers Invitational to move to 9-0.
The following week when Conroe faced Klein Cain in a non-district showdown, that is when what they were accomplishing on the court hit Brown following a 3-0 sweep of the Hurricanes moving them to 11-0.
“I just saw the resilience and they were so confident even when we were down because that was a tight game,” Brown said. “They just stayed relaxed and in control and I haven’t seen that with a team at Conroe and I’ve been here for 10 years.”
A perfect run through the Aldine ISD Tournament this past weekend pushed their record up to a perfect 21-0 and vaulted the Tigers to the No. 4 spot in the most recent VYPE Volleyball Class 6A Rankings. On August 16, they came in No. 5 in the State in the TGCA Class 6A Rankings.
“This is by far the best team that I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached club as well,” Brown said. “They truly enjoy each other. They really are a family and that’s how they’ve been able to be successful and how we’re able to stay calm when the game is tight.
“It’s just a good team. Talent-wise and chemistry-wise, they just have it all.”
So, how have they done this?
Well, for starters Ariana has come out swinging in 2022 to lead the Tigers with 228 kills (averaging 5.2 Kills/Set) in 44 sets played. She is on pace to break her single-season record of 481 kills easily in 2022. Brown has 1,181 career kills.
“She is playing her best volleyball,” Brown said. “You just see it. She is a true senior. The leadership, consistency. I want to say almost every game when the game we’ve needed her to put a ball away when the game is tight, she does it. She’s owning that role of being a senior with experience.”
Currently, Brown is ranked No. 2 in the country in kills just behind Brooklyn Jaeger of Fayetteville, Texas who has 255, according to MaxPreps. Brown joins Houstonians Carly Paugh (Willis – 209 kills – No. 6), Evny Snook (Magnolia West – 202 kills – No. 8) and Olivia Jones (Clear Creek – 200 kills – No. 10) in the Top 10 in the nation in kills.
But being 21-0 takes more than just an outstanding hitter.
Senior Emma Malak is in her fourth year of being on varsity at Conroe and has owned the Libero role for the last two years. This season, in 46 sets she has a team-leading 273 digs, averaging 5.9 digs per set and 13 digs per match. Malak also leads the team in receptions with 225 (10.7 per match) and only five errors all year.
This past summer, Malak’s club team won a National Championship, which Brown believes gave her a boost of confidence heading into her senior year.
“Emma is that one that leads by example,” Brown said. “She doesn’t say much. She’s going to take care of business all the time. She is playing her best volleyball. In serve-receive, she has been unstoppable.”
Congratulations to Seniors Ariana Brown-Tournament MVP and Emma Malak-All-Tournament Team on their great play this weekend! #SicEmpic.twitter.com/BnhoKIBIR0
— ConroeVolleyball (@ConroeTigerVB) August 21, 2022
While Brown and Malak have been a dynamic front row-back row combo for the Tigers, setting it all up has been Kenedi Medford.
The junior setter suffered a knee injury last season which sidelined her but has come back ferociously in 2022 with 213 assists, averaging 4.7 assister per set. She also has 86 digs.
“I didn’t know how she was going to be, she had just been released in July,” Brown said. “She just hit the floor running. She’s doing a good job running our offense. She’s just very smart, probably has one of the highest volleyball IQs on the team. She knows who to set and when. She’s also a good leader on the court.”
Other names to take note of include Brooklyn Spikes, who leads the Tigers with 44 blocks in the middle and is in her third year on varsity. Spikes has led District 13-6A in blocks for the past few seasons and has continued that trend this fall.
Sophomore Kendall Glover (58 kills, 40 blocks) “continues getting better” at the net offensively and defensively, Brown said while Kaiden Medford (66 kills), Kenedi’s twin sister, has balanced the offense being a big hitter on the right side. Sophomore Prestyn Parish (58 kills, 108 digs) is “solid” and has “tremendous amount of ball control” for the Tigers as well.
I had so much fun setting this weekend!! Kendall crushed this ball!! I love my team!! @ConroeTigerVB@PrepDigEventspic.twitter.com/16PnQfj60D
— Kenedi Medford (@medfordkenedi) August 21, 2022
Now the real test for Conroe comes – District 13-6A play, which they open on Tuesday night with Caney Creek.
In a district that includes perennial powers The Woodlands, College Park and Oak Ridge, the Tigers are looking to make some noise and make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
“The good news is we know the grind,” Brown said. “We know what our district is all about. It’s not like we’re one of the new teams in the district. But I think now we have the respect. I think people are going to take us seriously … I think we’re going to make everybody earn every single thing that we get and we’re going to give people a run or their money at the end of the day.
“Playoffs is something our goal is right now. We’re happy we’re undefeated but we want to make sure we make it to the playoffs and go as far as we can.”
So, what’s the barometer district match for Brown?
Answer – Grand Oaks.
“They are well coached, they are the up-and-coming team in our district,” Brown said. “Not a very old school. A lot of juniors, couple of younger kids and I think they are similar to us. So, that’s the game. Obviously, The Woodlands and College Park as well but I think Grand Oaks is the one where I’ll be able to gauge better on how we are.”