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The John Cooper School made a huge statement with the hiring of their new volleyball coach.
Enter Courtney Eckenrode, who won a UIL State Title as the leader and setter of The Woodlands High School before having a stellar career at the University of Missouri. Most recently, she has been the Director of Volleyball for Houston Skyline.
“The qualities Courtney displayed in both her playing and coaching career align with the mission and vision of The John Cooper School. Her familiarity and knowledge of our community is a huge asset and will assist in the transition to Cooper,” John Hoye, Cooper athletic director said.
“We immediately sensed Coach Eckenrode’s passion for coaching volleyball and teaching. Her leadership, respect and relationships within the volleyball community were the exact qualities we were seeking for our program and players.”
"Off the court, my goal is to teach the girls the value of hard work and the importance of building genuine relationships. There are so many aspects of sports that can transition into their next chapter, and I hope to teach my players how to be good teammates and leaders that will set them up for success in whatever they choose to do after graduation," coach Eckenrode told VYPE.
"The dedication to excellence at John Cooper was so evident to me throughout the entire process. It wasn't just something that was spoken about, the actions and the intentionality behind them proved to me that this was a culture I wanted to be in. The tremendous amount of support within the athletic department has been a huge blessing and the team culture instantly had me hooked.
I am looking to instill a lasting culture within the volleyball program of responsible young women that chase excellence in all that they do, day in and day out. I want to lead them to be hungry for an SPC championship and teach them what it takes to achieve those goals. I hope that when seniors leave the program, they leave with lifelong relationships that they will cherish for the rest of their lives," Eckenrode finished.
While at The Woodlands, she directed the Highlanders to a 45-0 record and State Title in 2013. She was named the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year and the USA Today and MaxPreps Player of the Year.
“Courtney was one of those players who always gave 100-percent, had a great attitude and was a great leader,” former Woodlands High School coach Leslie Madison said. “I have no doubt she will be the exact same as a head coach. I am excited for the players who will get to have her as a role model and I look forward to supporting her and her team.”
SYDNEY GOTCHER REMEMBERS ARRIVING IN GARLAND IN NOVEMBER. The first person she encountered asked where they were from.
Gotcher responded, "Fulshear".
The worker quickly responded back. "Never heard of it."
That was 2019. That was before Fulshear rolled into the UIL State Volleyball Tournament as unknowns and exited as Class 4A State Champions. Everyone in the volleyball world should know who Fulshear is in 2020.
There is no more surprising anyone.
"We know it's going to be a little different situation," Gotcher said. "Teams we may have caught off guard are going to be ready and waiting for us. I think we're up for the challenge."
The biggest challenge Gotcher and her squad faces in 2020 is moving up.
In December, when the UIL cutoff numbers were announced it was known then that Fulshear would move up to Class 5A for the next two years. In February, the Chargers learned of their new district home – District 24-5A.
"I think we have humbled ourselves moving up a classification, but I think we know [winning state is] still definitely a possibility for us," Fulshear junior Ava Underwood said. "I think that's our ultimate goal. "We've also told ourselves we can't look too far ahead."
Alexis Dacosta added: "We have more to prove. I feel like a lot of people feel like we can't do it because we were 4A. I feel like all of us know we are as competitive as the 5A teams."
It wasn't too long after Fulshear won state that Gotcher began the process of mapping out their road back to state.
There are teams she has her eye on in Region III-5A, Gotcher admitted. Ones that they will have to go through to get back to Garland. But their approach compared to 2019 doesn't change one bit.
"We're just facing it the same way that we would face [Class] 4A," Gotcher said. "I think it's less about the competition and more about what we're doing. So, we're going to focus on preparing ourselves, going one game at a time and not thinking about the level of play being higher. Because our level of play will be at the highest all the time."
Talking about the level of their play, Fulshear is loaded for 2020. Underwood is verbally committed to Texas A&M, while teammates Ellie Echter and Dacosta are committed to LSU and Baylor, respectively.
They also all play for the same club – Houston Skyline – and from those experiences are ready for higher-level competition.
"I'm so ready for 5A," Dacosta said. "Just the competition from club, we're ready. We play big competition already."
Echter added: "We're very fortunate to have us all at the same school and back for another year."
Despite, being a favorite for the Class 5A title in 2020, this team exudes an aura of confidence but not cockiness. They know they still have to put in the work.
For Underwood, the feeling is that they have to prove themselves all over again – just like they did in Class 4A.
"I think we do have to make our name again," Underwood said. "I do think we're on the radar more than we were last year because we did win state. I think moving up a classification, it's like starting all over."
When talking about the list of goals for 2020, Underwood first listed winning district.
In their new district, Fulshear will have to overcome Angleton, FB Hightower, Kempner, Marshall, Willowridge, Foster, Lamar Consoidated and Rosenberg Terry for the title.
The next goal is to make it to the Regional Tournament. And then State.
"We don't want to make that just an ultimate goal. That's always in our heads, but it's kind of there," Gotcher said about winning state. "It is a little unspoken. We know we have the talent; we have the kids to do it; they've put in the work to do it. So, it's something everybody knows we can do."
If Fulshear does get back to state, they will have a chance to join an exclusive club.
Since 2000, in UIL volleyball, two teams have won back-to-back titles after moving up a classification. Decatur won the 3A title in 2013 and then the 4A crown in 2014. Before that, Lucas Lovejoy won the 3A crown in 2011 and in 2012 took 4A.
"That would be the icing on the cake, getting back-to-back, especially in two different classes," Echter said. "I think that's something not many people can say they've done. To be able to do it would be really cool."