GARLAND — Win for Coach Cat.
GARLAND — Win for Coach Cat.
As Seven Lakes played deeper into the volleyball playoffs—a state championship seeming more and more a legitimate, if not altogether inevitable, possibility—the Spartans’ ‘why’ became clear.
Yes, the Spartans thirsted for a state title. It had been their M.O. since day one of the season, and, really, since 2017, when they lost in the state final to Lewisville Hebron. But who they wanted it for, they kept stressing during the weeks leading up to their Class 6A state championship win over Klein at the Culwell Center on Dec. 12, was for the person who had taught them so much, head coach Amy Cataline.
“She’s such a great coach and taught me how to be a leader,” said senior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst, the championship game’s Most Valuable Player. “Being able to play for her and win one for her, she puts so much passion into this team and does so much for us. She really loves us. We could not have done this without her.”
Cataline, in her fourth season at the helm of the Spartans, had previously been to the state final twice. In 2015, as coach of Fort Bend Austin, her Bulldogs fell to Hebron. In 2017, Hebron, again, prevented Cataline and the Spartans from hoisting up the gold trophy.
But the third time has a ring to it.
“It means so much that I was with a group of girls that wanted it so bad and was able to see it through,” Cataline said. “I’m just so elated for the girls. That means the world to me.”
Cataline’s philosophy is simple. Her life’s truth, one that she even emphasizes to students in her leadership skills class, is the good ol’ time-tested axiom: “10 percent of life is what happens to you and 90 percent is how you respond to it.”
“That’s who I am,” Cataline said. “I believe in that wholeheartedly.”
She gets her moxie, fight and resilience from her mother, a former multi-sport coach at Clements High School, and father. As a child, Cataline’s father would tell her if she did not like what she was getting, keep working harder and the cream will always rise to the top.
“It is very important to me that the girls unite as one team and play with passion and poise and resilience,” Cataline said. “My favorite complement is when an opposing coach tells me, ‘Your girls are fun, I can tell they love each other, and they just don’t get rattled.’ That’s what I want Seven Lakes volleyball to be. Everybody celebrating each other and being one.”
Mission accomplished. But not only does Cataline’s players celebrate each other, but they love celebrating their coach.
Senior libero Kailey Bickel said Cataline has a knack for making every single player feel important.
“She’s my favorite coach I’ve ever had,” Bickel said. “She’s grown me as an athlete, as a volleyball player and as a person. The whole holistic view. I’m very grateful to have her. She inspires us not just to be a team, but to be our best selves.”
Bickel’s favorite story of her coach is a tradition of Cataline’s each season in which every week a different player is given an award that is personalized for that player, highlighting the best they have to offer. In every player, Cataline brought out their strengths and acknowledged them for what she appreciated them for.
“I’ve never seen a coach that has cared as much as her,” Bickel said.
Senior Katarina Teahen remembers looking up to Cataline as a freshman, being “super excited” to play for her. Cataline’s specialty, Teahen said, is studying all the differing personalities and strengths of each player and making it into one team.
“It’s an amazing quality,” Teahen said. “I’ll always remember when she told me how proud of me she was after the Katy win (in the regional final). And just to see that excitement for us and that we’re all in this together, it’s really incredible as a player to get that from your coach.”
Batenhorst is a physically gifted athlete, a 6-fooot-4 generational talent who was born to play volleyball. But Cataline even managed to bring out another level in the No. 3 ranked player in the nation for the class of 2021.
Knowing that Batenhorst needed to be a voice and leader of the team, Cataline had her star player sit in on weekly leadership meetings starting the spring of Batenhorst’s sophomore year. They had been meetings generally only reserved for seniors.
“Ally didn’t realize the voice she has,” Cataline said. “She doesn’t want to be overbearing or seem like she’s talking down to someone. She doesn’t want to step on toes. So, she just will sit back and stay in her own lane. But she needed to know that her lane was as a leader.”
Each week, the meetings focused on different aspects of leadership, such as accountability, responsibility, et cetera. Cataline encouraged Batenhorst to be more vocal and coached her on how to engage with teammates.
“Because of her, I feel I can bring the best out of my teammates around me and keep everyone focused on one goal,” Batenhorst said. “Communicating and holding teammates accountable. It’s a different type of being a leader.”
One of Cataline’s proudest moments was when Batenhorst spoke to the team before its first playoff game against Dulles. Players often speak before playoff games, but Batenhorst had requested to speak specifically for that game long before the playoffs were to start.
Batenhorst showed a video montage of the 2017 team’s trip to state.
“I’m not showing you this to compare this team to that team,” Batenhorst told her teammates. “I’m just showing you we can do this.”
Batenhorst choked up at times as tears ran down her face. She struggled to finish sentences. A player who, prior to this season, had so often watched others assume ownership of the team was baring her heart and soul.
“I get chills just thinking about it,” Cataline said. “She told the girls she believed in the team and how we could make our own memories. Just to hear her baring her heart and showing how much she cared … I mean, she’s graduating and going to Nebraska. Having an elite player like that be so sold out for her high school teammates is exceptional. At that moment, I knew my job was done.”
Cataline’s best player was courageous and vulnerable during that time. Her teammates and coaches felt it. It inspired a dominant postseason run for the Spartans, culminating in Katy ISD’s first volleyball state championship.
“She’s taught me how to not only lead by example, but lead by character,” Batenhorst said. “We really wanted to win for Coach Cat, because all of what she’s done for us.”
Players had seen the investment, love and effort Cataline poured into each meeting, practice, game. The least they felt they could do is wrap that gold medal around her neck.
“I’m so happy we could show her how much she’s impacted us,” senior Mayo Olibale said. “Coach Cat has made us better athletes, better people. Faith, passion and work ethic … all those things she’s instilled in us. I’m so happy we could do this for her.”