Aug 13, 2021
Cinco Ranch has had a good run of years here recently. The Cougars reached the Regional Quarterfinals for the fifth straight season in 2021.
Now, can they punch through and get to the program’s first Regional Tournament since 2018? The good thing for coach Danielle Wells is that she returns several of her key pieces with experience from a year ago.
Courtney O’Brien led the team with 384 kills, followed by Makenna Loo (142 kills), Emily Killam (103 kills) and Gabby Martinez (103 kills). O’Brien also led the team in digs with 397, followed by Kayla Atkinson’s 371.
Freshman setter Kassidy O’Brien – the younger sister of Courtney – led the team in assists with 419 and will look to be the Cougars’ No. 1 setter in 2022.
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Dennis Silva II | VYPE Media
Taking over Fort Bend Christian Academy’s volleyball program comes with a bull’s-eye target and heavy expectations for Tommy Sustala, who has never coached at the high school level but has nine years of coaching high-level club volleyball.
Sustala succeeds Alex Edwards, now assistant director at the Houston Skyline club volleyball program after leading FBCA to a 52-15 record over the last two seasons, including a historic campaign in 2021.
Last year, Edwards guided the Eagles to 35 wins in 39 games and the TAPPS 5A state championship, the school’s first team state title.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” said Sustala, who is also entering his fifth year as coach of Houston Skyline. “Alex did a great job getting the kids ready. They had a good group of kids. But this is a new group. They lost two or three pieces that were really big for them, had played very high-level club ball. But it’s good that the foundation is built, and they know what to expect.”
Despite practices starting last Monday, players have already noticed Sustala’s impact.
“I had him for 14’s (club volleyball) as an assistant, so I knew him already,” sophomore Layne Bulow said. “He’s great. Great guy. He’s fun. I know he’s going to push us to be great. It might be harder than last year, but he’ll push us to be the best we can be.”
The Eagles won’t have as many elite club players as they had last year. Only four seniors graduated from last season, but there were a few critical talents pieces that departed in outside hitter Bailey Hanner and libero Avery Hodge.
FBCA still returns significant star power in Bulow, sophomore Baileigh Minor and senior Shea Stone, but the roster is not as complete as last year.
“They’re confident, and that’s good, but they’ve got to understand it’s a new year,” Sustala said. “Not only is this a new team, but there will also be other teams that have new additions, too. We’ve got to get back to work.”
The Eagles aren’t going to overwhelm anyone this season with physical ability or sheer talent, but their skill level, experience and know-how are not to be overlooked.
Sustala said the setting and defense are fine. The pins (outside hitters) will need work. He said he will teach to rely more on shots instead of physical domination.
“We have to outwork people,” Sustala said. “We have to play better defense and outwork teams to win. We have to be good enough technically to be able to outlast a team in a rally, rather than just terminating. We just don’t have those individuals.”
With that said, Sustala has been pushing his players hard, even during the first few days of practice.
“There’s definitely more discipline,” junior Hadley Hodge said. “I think we’ll be more scrappy this year. We don’t have as many club players, so we’ll be picking up balls in ways that you might not expect it.”
But it’s not on the court that Sustala said his transition will be most challenging. It’s off it.
“The big difference for me, compared to coaching club, is there are a lot of things I don’t know outside of coaching volleyball that I’ve got to learn,” he said. “Senior night, stuff like that. The difference is in club ball, they don’t get to play in front of their peers. None of their peers come to watch those matches. This is different. They want to play in front of their peers. So, it’s a different atmosphere. I’ll get to see these girls every day, whereas in club ball I only get to see them twice a week. You get to focus in on more technical things since we’ll have more time.”
Every minute, every day is precious. Defense of a state title is on the line.
“We have a target on our back,” Bulow said, “and we need to come in with the determination to do it all over again.”
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