No expectations. Fresh start. New look.
Katy High isn’t really starting from scratch this season, but close enough. Gone are nine seniors, including program stalwarts Amanda Meuth and Autumn Gentry, who are now plying their trade at NCAA Division I programs. In their place is a young, dynamic group of young ladies that was new to the game last year, but is all grown up and ready to make its own mark.
“It’s a good different,” sophomore setter Maddie Waak said. “Last year, there was a lot more pressure. This year, we can just play the game. No one’s really expecting that much of us. There’s that talk about how we lost so many seniors, questioning how we’ll do. But I feel like that’s good for us. We don’t have anything to lose.”
The Tigers were Class 6A regional quarterfinalists last season, the fifth time this decade they reached the third round of the postseason. The next obvious step is overcoming that hurdle and reaching the regional tournament. If they are to do that this season, however, it will come via different recipe for success than previous years.
“Working on volleyball IQ has been a big thing for us, because we’re not as big as last year,” senior libero Maddie Thayer said. “What we have to do is use our skill more and our knowledge to ultimately win games. Height is a huge thing in volleyball, obviously, but where you put the ball and where you are on defense, that matters too.”
Katy graduated a lot of its offensive firepower; Meuth and Gentry accounted for 48 percent of the Tigers’ scoring. Katy doesn’t lack offensive skill this year, but the balance will be more diverse.
Waak will assume the role of a go-to playmaker after averaging 2.2 kills and 4.7 assists per set last season. The LSU verbal commit expects to have more fun this year. Admittedly nervous and reluctant to talk last year, Waak said she is more comfortable around girls she’s had a year playing together with now.
Junior Hannah Hoover returns as an outside hitter; she, Waak and Thayer were named to the Greater Houston Volleyball Coaches Association’s Class 6A preseason team.
Senior Skylor Weaver, who missed last season due to injury, will be a factor offensively, as will junior Perris Key and senior Katie Garner.
“It’s definitely about learning from your experiences and those situations and being able to apply the best strategy to get ourselves out of it, whether it’s serve receive or transition,” coach Karen Paxton said. “This group’s played a lot of volleyball, some elite volleyball, and they love volleyball. Yes, we graduated nine seniors, a very solid group, but we have a lot of experience coming back. We’re a different look, different team.
“Where we were bigger at some positions last year, we’re quicker in some others. It’s a different feel.”
This year’s team is Thayer’s and Hoover’s, and their leadership style is different than other captains from previous years.
“Everyone’s learning,” Hoover said. “We have a lot of new learners, and I think that will be able to just grow our mindset together. For me, it’s about helping others, setting a standard, just getting everyone on the same page.”
Thayer remembers encouragement being a big deal for her last year as a newcomer to the team. She remembers young players who needed others to pick them up.
“I was only a junior last year feeling that way, so I can only imagine how these sophomores feel,” Thayer said of a team that will rely upon three sophomores to contribute significantly. “So being encouraging and letting them know that if they mess up, hey, it’s fine. Get the next ball. You’ll be OK. That’s important. It’s like a fresh start, for sure.”
During scrimmages and practices, the Tigers have been ahead of the learning curve defensively. Paxton expects that to be a strength. The offense is more deliberate, emphasizing smarter shot selection.
“When we finally put it all together, it’s going to be pretty good to watch,” Waak said.
Eventually. The hope is that comes sooner than later.
“It’s about making it about progression,” Paxton said, “not perfection.”