By Justin Hartojo
New Concordia Lutheran coach Branden Smeltzer is a self-proclaimed numbers nerd.
He sees the game in percentages and as a chess match.
"If you understand the numbers, you will have success," Smeltzer said. "We are very detailed in the data. Our serve retrieve numbers were down in the middle of the season, so worked on passing all that week. Setting our middle percentages should be higher so we do a ton of reps slow down our offense to get those up.
"If you don't know the numbers, you don't know what to work on. It's like the 'Money Ball' movie."
Smeltzer has also brought a new culture inside the locker room of accountability and learning.
"We teach the game much more," he said. "Look, I'm a player's coach but I have very defined boundaries. For instance, if you are late to practice or the bus, you sit. If you don't pick up the classroom after our pregame meal, it's burbies for everyone. That just the deal."
His stars are shining even more brightly as well. Sophia Keene is doing "Sophie Keene" things. The Baylor-commit had 22 kills in three-set win over The Village School. Sydney Whitfield is becoming a "breakout star" this season before heading to Liberty University.
The surprise has been hitter Caitlin Stein.
"She has been a stud," he said. "Everyone focuses on Sophie and Sydney but now you have to deal with Caitlin. She has been killing it."
The setters, Addy Polk and Anna Schatz, have improved greatly and will be key on the 'Saders playoff run.
In the middle are Haley Manjack and Faith Wilkins, who could be difference-makers as they get fed more with sets.
"They are way under set. They are set 18-percent of the time and I need that about 30-percent," he said. "That middle-setter relationship is really improving."
He's happy with his defense.
"Kylie Bray a beast on defense and Brooke Austin comes in to help," he said.
The numbers don't lie as Concordia Lutheran is 30-7 and wrapping up regular season play. Their only loss came to state-power St. Agnes in a 5-set classic. They could meet again in the postseason.
"I think we are a dark horse for state," he said. "We should get to the show but there is some improvement we still have to make to get there."
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Welcome to another week of H-Town High School Sports with Todd Freed!
The Baytown Lee Ganders are exceeding expectations this season lead by coach Tim Finn who get the nod for Coach of the Week!
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HIGHTOWER SENIOR SETTER ANAIAH JORDAN CAN'T HELP BUT THINK SOMETIMES ABOUT HOW FAR SHE'S COME.
When recalling her not- long-ago volleyball past, she delivers a quiet laugh that elicits, Seriously?
Just three years ago, Jordan was so talented that she was put on the varsity team as a freshman. And she could not, for the life of her, understand why.
"I was very nervous to be on the floor," Jordan said. "I would be on the court and think, 'Why am I even on varsity?' I was timid. I was scared to tell my setter how to set me or call my balls for serve-receive. Unbelievable, I know."
But Jordan always had the goods.
Coaches clearly saw something in her that she couldn't. Aside from raw talent, Jordan was a natural leader. It's why she gravitated toward playing setter not long after taking up volleyball about eight years ago.
Jordan liked that playing setter, the "quarterback" of the volleyball team, forced her to grow out of her comfort zone.
A generally reserved person, she embraced learning how to run the team and being a positive, uplifting influence.
"I'm not the kind of person to be happy for my own success," she said. "I'm happier for others' successes."
She consumes herself with others.
"I always want to help people," Jordan said. "As a setter, it's my job to put myself in everybody else's shoes and think quickly about what's the best possible situation to put our team in. Who's the best to set, who's off, who's on. It's difficult.
"There are so many options to consider and so many decisions to make in such a short amount of time."
But she thrives under pressure.
Jordan has had a tremendous season for the Hurricanes, compiling 371 assists, 225 digs, 162 kills and 66 aces in 94 sets. She is no longer that reluctant freshman.
Her confidence and communication skills have improved considerably, while, on the floor, her serves are more aggressive and she's better moving the ball around.
"My freshman year, I'd always just set to whoever I was facing," Jordan said, laughing. "Now I can move the ball to different hitters."
The last time Hightower made the playoffs was Jordan's freshman year. She's optimistic this year's team can snap that two-year skid.
"This is the team I've been waiting for since my sophomore year, because we've all had a chance to play with each other at
least once in our volleyball careers," Jordan said. "Now that we're all together, all the pieces are fitting."
This story appeared in the Inaugural VYPE Fort Bend ISD Fall Edition, which is now available to pick up at your local Fort Bend ISD High Schools.
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