Katy ISD houses some of the best volleyball teams in the Houston area, and a plethora of underclassmen are making an impact.
After the conclusion of the first round of District 19-6A play on Friday, Oct. 4, Cinco Ranch, Seven Lakes, Katy and Tompkins are in line for postseason berths. Each program is capable of a deep run in the playoffs next month.
Cinco Ranch, in first place in district by two games, has been buoyed by the play of freshman Courtney O’Brien and sophomore Catalina Martinez. Seven Lakes sophomore Casey Batenhorst has helped pick up the slack after stars Morgan Janda and Natalie Winter graduated, and sophomore Mia Blum has been a strong attacker.
Katy sophomores Maddie Waak and Jordan Gamble have been a nightmare up front for opponents.
But Tompkins has been the real surprise. The Falcons have not skipped a beat after graduating a talented senior class, relying upon freshmen Presley Powell, Tendai Titley, Katy Lopez and Cindy Tchouangwa, and sophomores Paris Herrman, Cassidy Karonka and Natassia Baptiste.
“The biggest thing for me is two things we’ve had to tackle this season: one is ball control and the second one is getting them to think strategically,” Tompkins coach Allison Merrell said of her four freshmen. “When you’re an eighth grader, you can just hit the ball hard and it’s probably going to be a kill. You do that on varsity, you’ll get blocked or it’s not going to end very well for you. So getting them to understand the mindset of staying alive versus kill mentality is one of the biggest things we’ve had to overcome.”
Like Herrman last season, Titley has been a revelation as a freshman, with 213 kills, 216 digs, 27 aces and a 36.2 kill percentage.
Herrman is the unquestioned offensive leader, with 349 kills, 77 aces and a 39.9 kill percentage, but Titley shares the same qualities.
“Both are extremely driven,” Merrell said. “They’re sponges in practice, outside of practice. Their best is never good enough for them. They are constantly asking questions about what I want and how they can get better. They’re just never satisfied.”
Tchouangwa has 149 kills and 25 total blocks. Lopez has 119 kills and 26 total blocks.
Merrell said she’s never had more than one freshman contribute on varsity during any season, let alone four. But she also knew this freshmen class was “super talented.”
“Typically, you see one, probably, per season, maybe two,” Merrell said. “But definitely not four. This isn’t typical for us by any chance.”
She has been impressed with their drive and hunger.
“They don’t see themselves as freshmen. They don’t get intimidated,” Merrell said. “Those are things you just never know how girls will be when they’re 14, 15-years old playing against 18-year-olds. But never once have they shied away. They’ve jumped right in, and they want everybody else to work as hard as they do.”
Batenhorst has been a perfect complement alongside older sister Ally, a Nebraska commit, for Seven Lakes.
Coach Amy Cataline said Casey is faster, more confident and making smarter decisions compared to last season, when Batenhorst was timid in finding her way among 11 seniors.
“Definitely the speed of the game is an adjustment,” said Batenhorst, who has 930 assists and 218 digs. “I’ve worked really hard to learn the speed of my hitters. I’m having to set my hitters a lot faster than last year because they hit faster and run faster tempos.”
Blum, who has 112 kills, adds a hitting talent for a team that needs more spark on offense outside of the Batenhorsts.
Waak, an LSU commit who has 239 kills, 41 aces and 540 assists for the Tigers this season, emerged as a leader for Katy last year, but Gamble, who played on the freshman ‘A’ team last year, has provided height and athleticism along the front row, totaling 228 kills and 76 total blocks.
“Yes, I have had some success, but that is mostly because of my team and my coaches,” Gamble said. “Every player on my team is so talented, and without them doing what they do I couldn’t do what I do. My coaches give me good direction and I just listen to them when they want me to make adjustments. Because of them, I am inspired to always do better than my best.”
Gamble said having a successful club volleyball season encouraged her. She plays middle blocker for Katy, but plays all positions during club ball, broadening her perspective as a player.
That allowed her to be more confident. She has worked hard to get her timing and footwork down and trusts herself more and more with every swing.
“There’s so much underclassman talent in the district,” Gamble said. “In order to thrive and hold your own as a young player on the varsity level, you have to believe in yourself and your abilities to be a great volleyball player.”