A season full of effort – by both coaches and student-athletes. A season full of travel – by teams, families and fans. This past weekend, a lot of tears – both of joy and of sorrow.
All of it leading up to this week.
Welcome to State Tournament Week for UIL volleyball.
To use a basketball term, it's Final Four time for 24 teams in the six UIL classifications – from small-town 1A up to the big-school Class 6A.
Here's some information and thoughts about this year's tournament and the results of each Regional Finals match, with some personal notes about Regionals Semifinals to follow:
A couple of state-ranked powers, one consistent program and one Cinderella program compose the four teams competing for the Class 5A, Region III title this Friday and Saturday at the Delmar Fieldhouse in Houston.
Here's some notes on the four teams (note: individual stats are gathered from MaxPreps.com):
ROUSE (34-9): The Raiders of Jacob Thompson have been ranked in the Top 5 (TGCA and LoneStarVolleyball.com) all year long. The Raiders have a great strength-of-schedule rating, playing many state-ranked 5A and 6A teams all during the preseason.
Rouse is participating in its fourth-straight regional tournament; the Raiders lost to eventual state finalist Cedar Park in 2016 before losing to Prosper in the State Championship match in 2017. Last season, the Raiders made it back to the regional tournament but lost to Friendswood in five sets.
Impact players include: senior Grayson Schirpik (624 kills, 594 digs, 61 aces, 21 total blocks, 7 assists); senior Reilly Heinrich (824 digs, 39 assists, 38 aces); senior Kara Erfurth (1,369 assists, 299 digs, 135 kills, 40 aces, 32 total blocks); freshman Kayla Lopez (294 digs, 268 kills, 39 aces, 14 total blocks, senior Madison Butler (158 kills, 74 digs, 65 total blocks, 13 aces); junior Emery Reid (190 kills, 99 digs, 22 total blocks, 17 aces).
MANVEL (41-6): The Mavericks of Susan Kennedy made a perfect run through District 24-5A, winning 48 of 49 district sets on their way to a 16-0 district mark.
The Mavericks are currently riding a 24-match win streak. They own two wins over Friendswood back in August and have also scored wins over No. 3 Dripping Springs while losing to state-ranked teams such as Denton Guyer, San Antonio Reagan and Decatur (Class 4A defending state champs).
The Mavericks didn't make the playoffs last year but made it to the Region III finals the previous year, losing to Rouse.
Impact players include: senior Morgan Smith (413 kills, 152 digs, 130 total blocks, 45 aces, 31 assists); junior Aryn Johnson (577 kills, 366 digs, 87 aces, 32 total blocks); junior Hailey Turner (257 kills, 63 aces, 325 digs); and senior Cecilia Harness (1,347 assists, 58 aces, 292 digs, 27 total blocks,
FRIENDSWOOD (32-17): After a great season in 2018, Friendswood was highly-ranked to start this season. Coach Sarah Paulk's Mustangs stumbled out of the gate, enduring a four-match losing streak on their way to a 7-7 start.
But when the 'Stangs hit District 22-5A play, they went on a roll, winning all 14 district matches while winning 42 of 45 sets in those district matches.
Friendswood beat Rouse last year in the Region III semifinals in five sets before losing to eventual state champion Kingwood Park in four sets.
Impact players include: senior Makensy Manbeck (431 kills, 32 aces, 82 digs, 28 total blocks); senior Tori Weatherley (1,035 assists, 212 digs, 44 kills, 30 aces); junior Ashlyn Svoboda (492 digs, 386 kills, 11 total blocks); junior A Meoni (234 kills, 139 digs, 2 assists); and, sophomore K Beuche (233 digs, 185 kills, 5 assists).
CEDAR PARK (25-21): The Timberwolves are not only the surprise of the region, but the surprise of the entire state. Head Coach Lori McLaughlin, who coached Ridge Point (Houston) to the Class 6A state finals last season, took the CPHS job shortly after last year's State Tournament.
McLaughlin took over a team that went to the state finals in 2016 (they lost to Amarillo) but hadn't advanced past the area round since then.
The Timberwolves finished second in 17-5A to Rouse, losing only to the Raiders on their way to a 10-2 district mark. The tell-tale sign for the T'Wolves may have been their second district meeting with Rouse, when they took the Raiders to 5 sets (the match was played at Rouse).
Impact players include: senior setter Olivia Meyer (645 assists, 118 digs, 78 kills) - Meyer missed a part of the team's early-season schedule with injury; senior middle blocker/hitter Jaelyn Grimm (257 kills, 30 total blocks); junior Abbi Lemmond (298 kills, 231 digs, 37 total blocks); and junior Madison Alexander (442 digs, 81 assists).