Your password needs to be at least 8 characters and one number.
After finishing as a Region III-6A finalist last season, Katy started its playoff run this year with a dominant sweep of Fort Bend Travis on Monday evening at the Merrell Center.
KATY—This is the time of the year Katy High has been longing for ever since last year's run to the regional finals.
The Tigers were hungry all offseason, preseason, and regular season to get back to the playoffs. They had raised the program's bar last year by going the furthest the program had been since 1993. Eager to prove it was not an aberration, they went through the motions of the regular season, sometimes methodically and most times exceptionally, with a much bigger picture in mind.
"We are a completely different team this year, just because we have so many new people," senior libero Izzy Denton said. "It took a while for us to mesh and have that cohesiveness as a team, versus last year when we were together every single day, and maybe more motivation and drive because of COVID.
"This year, we had to go back to the basics and re-learn how to play with each other. Like any team, we've had our rocky moments, but we've gotten through those well and we're leaning on each other a lot more."
In its Region III Class 6A bi-district playoff Monday evening against Fort Bend Travis, Katy played like it. The Tigers swept Travis 25-12, 25-21, 25-16 to advance to the area playoffs against Cy-Creek later this week.
Katy improved to 28-16 overall with the win.
.@MaddieWaak seals it. @katyvball21 takes the third set 25-16 and the game 3-0. Advances to play Bellaire or Cy-Cre… https://t.co/CQdN8TQV80 — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
"It feels good," senior setter Maddie Waak said. "We lost some people last year, but we gained some new people as well. I think we can go just as far as we did last year."
The Tigers are loaded.
Katy has four NCAA Division I verbal commits for volleyball in Waak (LSU), Denton (Southeastern Louisiana), Chandler Lee (New Orleans) and Jordan Gamble (Northwestern State); five, if you include Kailey Wyckoff, who is going to Stephen F. Austin for softball.
Asked if there might be pressure to squeeze every ounce of potential out of such significant talent, Katy coach Karen Paxton agreed, adding it comes with a necessary balance.
"I think there's pressure with everything," Paxton said. "You have to find a balance in intensity. If it's too intense, the pressure can get to you, and if it's not intense enough, then we have to find ways to turn it on. Having the right personnel and right mindset is really key for our coaching staff right now. It's OK to take risks and make mistakes, but as far as the level being elevated, it's time."
The Tigers had a lot of good go their way against Travis. Some key takeaways:
>> Katy showed off its wealth of firepower. Gamble had 12 kills, two blocks and an ace. Lee had 11 kills. Waak and junior Maddy Chaapel had six kills each. Waak expertly executed the offense with 25 assists and had 13 digs and a block as well. "Whenever you have a group that sees success like we did last year, and we carry that over, the intensity level definitely picks up toward the end," Paxton said. "We have a lot of really strong leaders and getting everyone to buy-in at this point is huge for success."
>> Perhaps Katy's biggest star was Denton, who had seven aces along with her usual dominant play on the back row (18 digs). "I have a very consistent routine that's pretty much superstition at this point," Denton said of her serving. "I notice every time I mess up my routine, I end up missing my serve. That could be more of a mental thing than anything, though." Denton bounces the ball three times, spins it, and then tosses it up for a swing. "Izzy is a solid server for us and has come in and changed momentum in several matches for us this year," Paxton said. "Not only on defense does she keep us in rallies, but she turns things around with serving. She showed tonight what she's capable of."
>> The turning point of the game came in the second set. Trailing 18-12, Katy fought back behind three kills from Gamble to tie it at 18-all. That's when Chaapel flew toward a ball on Katy's side of the court headed out of bounds, saved it back into play by punching it back in with one arm, and stopped short of almost crashing into press row on the sideline. The Tigers eventually got the point on the rally for a 19-18 lead. They went on to win, 25-21. "I realized once I turned around and the ball wasn't on our side of the court anymore, I was like, 'Oh, shoot. We can still get this point,'" Chaapel said. "I just tried to do my part and got to the ball. I almost killed myself getting to it."
Waak said "everybody played their part." And that's what Katy will need, she said, if it wants to meet its great expectations.
"We all have to be in it together," Waak said. "If we're not in it together, we're not going to go far. The family aspect is what pushed us as far as we went last year. It's been good this year. We can get better, like anyone, but it'll only improve as the season keeps getting better for us."
Paxton is encouraged by what's she seen.
"We're really starting to put things together," she said. "I feel like we turned a corner going into the playoffs, and it's kind of like, OK, here we go."
Katy High senior middle/outside hitter Jordan Gamble verbally committed to Northwestern State on July 4.
Since Katy High senior middle/outside hitter Jordan Gamble started playing volleyball for a local league in fourth grade, and then competitively in club in sixth grade, the sport always awarded a sense of purpose. Gamble felt accomplished every time she stepped onto the court.
Admittedly "horrible" at the game at first, Gamble loved being part of a team.
"I had some friends playing and it looked like they were having fun, so I wanted to try it," Gamble said. "I was so uncoordinated. It was a lot of hard work, but I really enjoyed working hard. I understood the game and, if my body would just cooperate, I felt I could actually be good at it."
As she put in the time and work, the game gave back. And July 4 provided the high of Gamble's young career as she committed to play for NCAA DI Northwestern State in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Gamble appreciated the school being close to home and its smaller class sizes. The academics and competitive volleyball program were plusses.
"I knew it was a perfect fit for me when I stepped onto the campus, and it just felt right," she said. "People would tell me that I would know when I found the right place, and I now know what they were talking about. It was overwhelming in a wonderful way, for sure. I was blessed to have offers from all over and was seriously considering a handful of them, but a few things made me change my mind about being so far from home."
I’m extremely excited and blessed to announce my verbal commitment to play D1 volleyball and further my academic ca… https://t.co/ruiWrQ4gjm — Jordan Gamble (@Jordan Gamble)
The COVID-19 pandemic, for one, altered Gamble's perspective. She realized she did not want to be far from family in case she was needed or she needed them. She did not want to leave Texas, but also did not have many offers in-state. Northwestern State, however, is only 4 1/2 hours away, and the coaches made it an easy decision once she talked to them and visited the school.
"Once I was on campus, my heart knew it belonged there," Gamble said. "The town, the people, the campus, the support staff, and the coaches were all amazing. It has the same feeling I have here in Katy. It is a school surrounded by a town with wonderful people and full of school pride and traditions."
Gamble said it was between her eighth and ninth grade years that she realized college volleyball was a possibility. Colleges started reaching out to her then and several of her club teammates started verbally committing.
In two varsity seasons with the Tigers, the 6-foot-3 Gamble, gifted with height, length and athleticism, has 474 kills and 181 blocks in 223 sets played. She has a hitting percentage of .324.
Jordan Gamble on Hudl
Jordan Gamble on Hudl
Watch Jordan Gamble's videos and check out their recent activity on Hudl
Gamble recently talked more with VYPE about her journey.
Q: What's the biggest improvement in your game since your freshman year?
A: "I significantly improved my communication with my teammates. I still have work to do, but it has come a long way."
Q: What about playing volleyball comes naturally to you?
A: "I guess I would say reading the opposition and the game, in general, just comes naturally to me. But I still need to work on my reaction time to what I know is about to happen, and/or communicate that to my teammates so they are ready."
Q: Last year was special for you and Katy, going to the regional finals for the first time since 1993. What did you learn about yourself and your team, and what do you hope to build upon for this year?
A: "I think we all learned that we're all talented players and we each have something to contribute to the team. We just needed to sync and that is exactly what we did. The returners know this, and everyone is working really hard this summer to be the best they can be. We have so many talented players returning that I feel if we can just sync again like we did last season, we can have a repeat of last season or possibly go further."
Q: What is something people don't know about you?
A: "I am not a competitive person off the court. On the court, it is all business, I want to win! But off the court, I will happily let you be No. 1."
Q: What motivates and inspires you? What makes you tick?
A: "My passion for volleyball, having a purpose, being part of and showing up with and for my team is what motivates me."