With five-set triumph against undefeated foe, Knights prove that Ann Richards isn’t only team with star power

Victory over longtime rival won’t affect standings, but it inspires confidence that team can hang with anyone

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Jolie Gabriel

The varsity players on the court at game’s end leap into the air, shouting and smiling after they had just won their last home game of the season. The score was 14-10 in the tiebreaker set against undefeated Ann Richards. Junior Grace Werkenthin tipped the ball onto the other side of the net, propelling the team to a 3-2 victory. “It was really exciting to final win that last set,” Werkenthin said. “I was just really happy to help win with me team and see their reaction after the last point. Everyone was so excited to beat Ann Richards and to ruin the perfect record they had, so everyone was just screaming and hugging each other.”

Lily Prather, staff reporter

On one side of the net, an undefeated team plays on the road. The team has the ball, and it’s their serve.

On the other side, the home team stands on the brink of a signature win. Through the match, they have communicated well and played well, proving that they are a unit that learns from its losses and a team that fires itself up with little handshakes and other rituals that build camaraderie.

The scoreboard reads 14-10 in favor of the hosts. It’s the fifth set, and the only thing standing in the way of winning is one … more … point.

The ball is served then passed back and forth and suddenly with one slight tip, the ball falls to the ground on the visitor’s side. The final point belongs to the hosts. A feeling of joy envelops the McCallum varsity volleyball team.

Ann Richards had beat us in five sets both times we played them, so coming back this year to finally beat them three years later meant a lot to us and to Coach B.”

— senior setter Sophia Henderson

The Knights have just beated the unbeatable Ann Richards. The crowd, smaller than the moment calls for due to COVID restrictions but a bit larger and more boisterous on this night, cheers just as loud as the players, who leap in the air and hug each other in celebration. They just did something that they had been working towards ever since they lost to Ann Richards in the Stars’ gym on Oct. 9.

On Tuesday night, the McCallum volleyball team played Ann Richards, one of their toughest opponents. It was an instant classic.

The tight match went the full five sets. Mac led 2-1 after three sets, but Ann Richards won the fourth to force a winner-take-all tiebreaker fifth set.

The players weren’t sure of victory, but they were sure that they were all in it together.

“We all had doubts about winning,” senior Bridget Russo said. “Ann Richards was undefeated until last night, and I thought back about how we lost the playoff game so I was nervous the same thing would happen, but when [junior hitter] Grace [Werkenthin] tipped the ball over, and we won the last point everyone was so happy and excited.”

Varsity head Coach Amy Brodbeck said that the victory was huge for the team even though they remain the No. 3 seed in the district behind Ann Richards and Anderson.

“Even though winning this game did not affect our standing in the district, it gave the girls confidence that we can play teams that are ranked in the state and be successful,” Brodbeck said.

Every game has been doubly challenging in this COVID-shortened season because Mac has two opponents: the team on the other side of the net and the pandemic that fundamentally changed the way that games are played.

SETTING UP A WIN: Senior Sophia Henderson sets up the ball, ready for a hitter to attempt a kill. The varsity team exacted their revenge against Anne Richards on Tuesday after losing to them on Oct. 9, when they played them on their court. To prepare for the rematch, they practiced and learned from their mistakes in their prior meeting. “We played great each set,” Henderson said. “We were all super connected and communicated really well, but the whole game was still very back and forth with them, so it was hard to get a lead. Especially with me blocking, it makes it a lot harder on our defense, but they adjusted and did an amazing job. That’s one of the best times we’ve ever played all four years I’ve been on varsity. I’m beyond proud of everyone.” Photo by Jolie Gabriel.

“Playing these games now is way more difficult because of the masks,” said senior setter Sophia Henderson, who dished out 47 assists over the five sets.

“We had a lot of very long and intense rallies, making it really tiring. This season though, because it was so much shorter than the rest, made us want to win even more.”

For four-year varsity players like Henderson and outside hitter Preslie Boswell, the victory is one they will never forget because the rivalry with Ann Richards goes all the way back to their freshman year on varsity.

Grace Werkenthin came ready to play, having one of her best games so far this year. … Ann Richards did not have a way to stop her.”

— varsity head coach Amy Brodbeck

“It was amazing,” Henderson said. “For Preslie and I, our freshman year on varsity, Ann Richards had beat us in five sets both times we played them, so coming back this year to finally beat them three years later meant a lot to us and to Coach B. When we played them at their home court this year, we lost, but we knew we could beat them so we prepared for this game for a while and it paid off.”

Exactly how they prepared shows how much the victory meant to the program.

Brodbeck said the team studied film from the team’s first meeting at Ann Richards on [date], and made adjustments. A big one, she said, was running a 5-1 quick tempo offense.

Another adjustment was preparing for Star outside hitter Tiffiney Booe who led the Stars with 11 kills during her team’s 3-0 home victory on Oct. 9.

“We knew that their outside hitter was athletic and smart,” Brodbeck said. “One of the best moments in the game was blocking the outside hitter. Grace Werkenthin came ready to play, having one of her best games so far this year. … Ann Richards did not have a way to stop her. We moved the ball around so that we did not always set one player.”

While Booe had another outstanding game with 23 kills, she was countered by a team effort from the Knights. Boswell had 19 kills, Werkenthin, 17; Sophia Olivares, 11; Sydney Nabhan, 8, and Gella Andrew 7.

“We are a multi-hitting team,” Brodbeck said, “and this game proved it. I am proud of all the girls.”

ALL SMILES: The freshman team cheer on the varsity players with posters, balloons and smiles. It was Senior Night last Tuesday, the last home game for the seniors. The freshman and JV get big sisters or “bigs” each year. The freshmen look to their big sisters as mentors, but they also cheer them on during the games. For Senior Night, the freshmen made signs to celebrate the varsity girls. “We made them because we care about them and will miss them,” freshman Ella Rankin said. “I don’t think we have ever cheered louder because I woke up the next day and could barely talk.” Photo by Jolie Gabriel.

With the crowds limited due to occupancy restriction in place due to COVID, the bench and the sub-varsity teams take on greater importance over the course of the game. Throughout the year, the volleyball program has limited attendance to varsity parents and the JV and freshman players in the program.

But despite these restrictions, Tuesday night’s crowd was a bit larger and louder than an average 2020 game.

“The fans showed their appreciation of the girls’ skills by cheering us when we were up and down,” Brodbeck said. “Our bench [also] helps the players on the floor by cheering them on and providing support whether in game or practice time,” Brodbeck said.

This was probably one of the few games that felt like a ‘normal’ game. The crowd was very lively and it definitely made a difference.”

— senior defensive specialist Darian Dieterich

Senior Darian Dieterich agreed, saying that the crowd, while smaller than in previous seasons, was essential in firing the team up.
“As a player, seeing everyone in the crowd supporting you is a really special thing,” Dieterich said. “It feels nice that we’re all so excited about reaching a common goal and then succeeding. This was probably one of the few games that felt like a ‘normal’ game. The crowd was very lively and it definitely made a difference.”

This game was the seniors’ last home game, so the game was important not only because they beat a worthy, perennial rival but also because it was the last time these seniors would play at MAC together.

Hearing that final buzzer going off, that defining moment of knowing it was over, the players may have been exhausted but they were also exhilarated.

“We all just started screaming and rushed onto the court,” Dieterich said. “It was an amazing moment.”

The Knights have one more district game against newly independent LASA tonight at the Delco Center then it’s off to the playoffs where they will almost certainly face a No. 2 seed from District 18-5A, one of the three Pflugerville schools: Pflugerville High, Connally or Weiss. The Stars and Trojans also play tonight with the winner securing the district title and the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs.