Panthers On The Prowl Once Again In 2022
IT CAN BE ARGUED THAT RIDGE POINT IS THE CREAM OF THE CLASS 6A CROP WHEN IT COMES TO GREATER HOUSTON VOLLEYBALL THESE DAYS.
The Panthers have made the State Tournament three of the last four seasons. Since 2017, they have an overall record of 174-40, a winning percentage of 81.3 and have won four District Championships via a 69-1 record.
Fourth-year coach Lauryn Bailey has been at the helm of the last two State appearances.
“One of the most important things is relationships,” Bailey said. “It is what makes the sport more fun. It’s already tough and competitive, and it only gets tougher if you show up every day and don’t want to be around each other.
“First thing I wanted to do when I became a head coach was to build relationships with the girls and let them know they could trust me, and then the relationships within each other.”
It has worked. But it has also helped to have elite talent. Not just today’s stars like Sydney Jordan (Colorado-commit) and Arissa Smith (Mississippi State-commit), but past stalwarts like Nina Moorer (Louisville), Alexis Roberson(LSU), Reagan Rutherford (Kentucky), Claire Jeter(Arizona State) and Nia McCardell (Rice), to name a few.
The unifier of all that skill, however, lies in the intangibles.
“Team chemistry and leadership is everything, "Jordan said. “Our team last year was so connected on and off the court, and it really helped us getting through tough moments and winning some critical games.
“So, coming into my senior year, I really want to be the best leader I can be on and off the court, with the three other seniors beside me and Coach Bailey.”
Players credited a huge part of last season’s success to the preseason Volleypalooza tournament in late August in Austin. The Panthers only won two of eight games. But overnight talks, fun and games in their hotel rooms— “just girls being girls,” Bailey said— set the tone for what was to come.
Ridge Point went 25-4 the rest of the way.
Bailey has conscientiously initiated a sense of sisterhood. Last year, one day a week (usually Wednesdays), she had the girls do some sort of team-bonding activity during the athletic period. There were scavenger hunts around campus. TikTok silliness. Soon and so on.
Bailey doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Ridge Point had a subpar season, by its high standard, going 15-8 with a first-round playoff loss in 2020, when COVID-19 canceled the offseason and preseason tournaments leading up to it.“
Relationships are always something you’re working on,” Bailey said. “It’s just as important as the talent and skill and coaching. The only way they can play together on the court is to trust each other, and through that is spending time together and creating those fun memories.”
The Panthers are expected to be a top team again this season. Bailey has strong concerns about the setter and libero positions. Someone will have to step up in those roles.
But leadership is a strength. Talent and depth are non-issues.
Jordan (396 kills, 490 digs in 2021) and Smith (187 kills, 85 blocks) are sublime, but there is a plethora of promising potential behind them in (deep breath): senior defensive specialist/libero Josie Condrey, junior outside hitter Lauren Battle, sophomore hitter/defensive specialist Kennedi Rogers, senior setter/defensive specialist Ava Thornquist, sophomore outside hitter Aaliyah Smith and junior outside hitter Carrington Cook.
“The goal is always to meet the high expectations that have now always been placed on us,” Bailey said. “We have incoming freshmen that are amazing. I’ve seen eighth graders who are, like, holy moly. So, there’s no reason why the expectations people have put on us should drop. While we still have the athletes who care enough to win and put in all the work and time to get to state, that will always be the goal.
“The motivation is we still haven’t won. Yes, we’ve made it there, but we haven’t won.”
Ridge Point is off to a 17-5 start for the 2022 season. This article appeared in the 2022 Fort Bend ISD Fall Edition.