Nov 05, 2020
LIFE IS COMING FAST FOR LAMAR CONSOLIDATED SENIOR BROOKE MORRIS.
Homecoming. Prom. Finals. Graduation. It felt like only yesterday when Morris was watching her senior teammates depart high school for the next chapter in life.
And, now, here she is.
“It’s a bunch of mixed emotions,” Morris said. “It’s such a big, important year. Not only dealing with volleyball, but also with college and finding a school, signing day… it’s a lot coming at once and I still feel like a junior. I feel like we just finished the season and now it’s here again.”
Last year, Morris helped the Mustangs to the Area playoffs. As a setter and right-side hitter, she totaled 189 assists, 140 digs, 61 kills and 22 aces and was a first team, all-district selection.
However, she vividly remembers the disappointment of another season ending in the second round of the postseason. Again. And now she gets one final chance to push the program as far as she thinks it can go.
No matter what happens for the Mustangs this season, Morris will be front and center.
“I’m expecting to be a leader,” she said. “My coach is expecting a lot from me. She wants me to be that voice, be that senior that can lift a team and tell them what needs to be done and how. It’s kind of nerve wracking.
“But I know this is my team. I need to show out and bring my teammates together, especially the younger girls. We want to win. For the past three years, we’ve gone to the second round of the playoffs but we’re trying to go farther than that.”
Morris loves being a setter. Most leaders do.
She loves to control the offense. She relishes teammates looking to her for guidance and coaches trusting her to run the team.
Since she started playing volleyball when she was 11, Morris has always been a setter. It was a natural fit. Meticulous, conscientious and detail-oriented, she welcomed the responsibility that came with a prominent role.
“I like how I get to bring the team together,” Morris said.
A confident, poised young lady who knows who she is and what she’s about, Morris credits her parents, Barbara and Allen, for her makeup.
When Morris was 15 years old, talks with them and her coaches helped her understand she could not afford to get down or hang her head as a setter. As a leader.
So, she developed a counter to adversity. Whenever times get tough during a game, Morris wipes off the bottom of her shoes and stares out into the distance somewhere to reset herself. Mind, body and spirit.
“They’re always hard on me, always strict on me,” Morris said of her parents. “In this world, you have to be strong and confident in everything you do. They’ve taught me to make sure I’m doing everything I have to do to be the best.”
Morris wants to play college volleyball.
“That’s the dream,” she said.
But she doesn’t necessarily care to play for the biggest name or under the brightest of lights. She wants to play for an HBCU, a historically black college and university.
“It’s important, being a black, female athlete,” Morris said. “There’s this idea, you know, that maybe I wouldn’t fit at bigger schools, but there are some really good HBCU schools. I feel like black, female athletes being at one school is a really great thing.”
Strong and confident reasoning. The Morris way.
DJ LAGWAY IS BLESSED.
Yes, he can throw a ball through a wall and hurdle tacklers with a single bound, but it ’s more than that.
Three other things make him blessed – a tremendous work ethic and his parents, Derek and Niki Lagway.
The former Willis High School sweethearts have nurtured and guided their son to be in position to be one of the most coveted athletes in the nation. Derek was a star football player, who went on to play at Baylor, and Niki was a cheerleader, basketball player and track athlete both representing the purple and white.
“Going out to the first game this year and seeing my son lead the Willis Wildkats in front of his community… our community… it was a dream come true,” Derek said. “We were just overjoyed with pride.”
“Our high school memories were a blur,” Niki laughed. “The games, the pep rallies. It’s so different now because it is so much bigger. Everyone is supportive and involved.”
They have witnessed first hand his development dating back to his toddler years.
“He would just watch TV and these athletes,” Niki said. “At two-years-old, he would go out in the yard and take a wiffle ball and a bat. He didn’t put the ball on a tee, he would just toss it and whack it. At that point, I knew we had to get him into sports.”
Derek added: “When he was five years old, he was just different than everyone else at basketball. He was bigger than most everybody, but he could play. When he played Little League football when he was about 10-years old he was tackled like five times – the entire season.”
His legend only continued to build through middle school on the baseball diamond, the basketball court and the football field. As he moved into high school, the buzz continued to grow.
“When I was coming up, I personally didn’t have his work ethic,” Derek said. “That is what has always set him apart. He got that from his mother.”
“He is a goal-oriented person,” Niki said. “On his bathroom mirror he writes his goals – small goals and big goals. He marks them off and won’t rest until they are done. Everything he puts his mind to, he’s done.”
As the spotlight has gotten brighter, it seems like Lagway continues to stay grounded. He works and works and works – and he eats.
“He loves fast food – Chick fil-a for sure,” Niki laughed. “He loves my fried chicken and chicken alfredo from Cheddars. There is nothing he won’t try.”
“He got his birthday money, and he was so happy,” Derek laughed. “I told him, don’t eat yourself to death.”
While he will be eating at their table for the next few years, before long, he will be moving on to a college meal plan. Everyone wants to know where, but the Lagways are supportive wherever his life-changing choice will take him.
“I just want him to go play for someone who loves him and treats him like their son,” Derek said. “Sure, I’d like for him to be close to home, but if you are not in the right situation, you will never get a fair chance.”
“He has to be happy,” Niki said. “We are going to drop him off at college and I know what he is thinking… he wants to play. He wants to get to the next level. I tell him, ‘I’m always gonna get to you’, so go wherever you want. I want what his goals are.”
So, if DJ Lagway is this blessed, I guess his younger brother Jamal is too. The seventh grader is already making a name for himself at the age of 13. These days, it’s great to be a Willis Wildkat.
AFTER 50 YEARS GOVERNED BY THE TEXAS INTERSCHOLASTIC SWIMMING COACHES ASSOCIATION, WATER POLO WAS ADOPTED AS AN OFFICIAL SPORT BY THE UNIVERSITY INTERSCHOLASTIC LEAGUE BEGINNING THIS FALL.
“It’s something TISCA has wanted,” said Foster coach Kassy Parker, who enters her third season leading the aquatics program. “People have worked really hard to get it [recognized by the] UIL. It’s exciting because it means there’s more growth in the sport. It means more attention, and now younger kids will grow up knowing it’s an option for them. It’s really cool.”
Three years after winning a State Championship, Foster’s girls team placed third at State last season. The boys team finished second in 2019, when the girls won it all.
Foster joins Baytown Sterling, Cypress Creek, Clear Creek, Clear Lake, Humble, St. Agnes Academy and Clear Brook as Greater Houston area teams with girls water polo State Championships. On the boys’ side, Clear Lake, Baytown Sterling, Clear Creek, Cypress Creek, Humble, North Shore, Strake Jesuit and Tomball have State titles. Brazoswood and Bridgeland are also perennial area powers.
Last season, Foster girls earned the highest Houston area finish at State in May (the season will now be played during the fall).
“Obviously we want to win, but every team does,” said senior Lola Trujillo, an all-state, first-team selection last season. “We’re going to try to get everyone on the same page and try our best. Every team is going to do the same and it’s going to be a fight for first place.”
The Foster water polo program’s success was initiated by coach Scott Slay, the man responsible for coaching the Falcon girls to the State title.
Slay, now the head coach at Katy Jordan and the highly-regarded Viper Pigeons club program, built the Foster program from the ground up and was critical in growing the sport in the southwest Houston area.
“It got younger kids on board,” Parker said. “So, we get kids who’ve been playing the sport for a while.”
Senior Dalia Kohn said the Viper Pigeons program has been vital.
“They have a great coach,” Kohn said. “It’s an amazing environment. We’re all trying to build each other up. That club has really helped our school because everyone here joins it, gets better during the summer and when the season starts, we’re all already on the same page.”
Parker was an assistant at Stratford for four years before she was hired to succeed Slay. She currently has 14 girls and 30 boys, mostly sophomores, in the water polo program. She said it’s easier to get boys involved. Girls tend to enjoy the sport once they try it, but it can look intimidating to parents and athletes from the outside.
The majority of athletes in the Foster water polo program come from the swim team but Parker is optimistic she can recruit more from other sports now that it is sanctioned by the UIL. She said swimmers with a background in basketball and/or softball tend to make for good water polo players.
Trujillo had a gymnastics background.
“I got bored, and my sister was always a swimmer,” Trujillo said. “When she got to Foster, Slay got her into water polo. I started swimming and she got me interested. I came to practice and thought, ‘Hey, this is pretty cool.’
“It’s a lot of different sports combined while having the swimming aspect. Every game is different. With swimming and gymnastics, it’s the same thing every time you compete. With water polo, everyone plays different, teams play differently. You see something new every time and you have to figure out what to do.”
Coaches and athletes think the popularity of a sport said to be “a combination of soccer and rugby in the water” will grow considerably now that the UIL is involved.
“In past years, water polo hasn’t been a big sport,” Kohn said. “No one knows of it, we have to pay for everything, we’re doing everything ourselves. Even our school doesn’t recognize water polo as much as football or basketball, which is understandable, but now that it’s UIL, we’ll get recognized more.
“More stuff will get done. It’ll get more exposure. There will be more media. More people will get interested. More clubs will start. More teams will start. Just this year alone for high school, there’s tons and tons more teams.”
But the UIL’s strongest influence may come in the pockets of participants.
Coaches and players feel the sport will grow in participation now that expenses are being covered. Along with equipment, players were also responsible for their own transportation and paying for hotels to and from games.
Trujillo said players would drop out of the sport because it was too much of a financial burden on families.
“Previous years, we’ve had to pay for everything ourselves,” Trujillo said. “It’s great that the UIL is recognizing us as a sport and we’ll get the funds so it won’t be trouble for us to pay for stuff.”
“A typical water polo game is more physical and aggressive than many people think,” Parker said. “It is a battle of attrition for four quarters. The depths of the pools differ and are unique to each respective facility.”
Foster’s practice pool is 7 ½ feet deep. The Lamar Consolidated ISD natatorium is 12 feet deep.
“If you have never watched water polo before, it’s definitely exciting,” Parker said. “Obviously I’m biased, but I think it’s the world’s most fun sport to play. It’s aggressive but it takes a lot of technical and tactical skill. People are shocked that you’re not standing in the water. You’re treading the whole time. If you come from a basketball background, you’ll recognize similarities, like, ‘Oh, they ran a pick.’”
Foster’s girls are once again one of the favorites to come away with a State Championship this season.
Trujillo and Kohn are offensively and defensively gifted and two of the best players in the Greater Houston area. Junior Clara McKee is a force in the cage. Sophomore Kinley Niles is a precocious talent and mature beyond her years. Sophomore Emma Woods is also a central figure.
“We all have the intention to win,” Kohn said. “Last year, we could’ve won State. We felt it was taken from us. This year, we’re not getting second or third. We’re all coming together and working to get first.”
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