High-SchoolVolleyball: Texas state volleyball tournament

By Walter Villa

Texas volleyballLoneStarVolleyball.comLake Travis (Austin, Texas) enters the semifinals of the state tournament without losing a single set this season. "Not losing a set is a huge goal for us," setter Katy Beals says.

Gwen Egbert, the coach of Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.), said she never talks to her team about perfect records “because you’re never going to be perfect.”

Don’t tell that to Lake Travis (Austin, Texas).

One week after Papio South -- No. 1 in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings -- won a state title and finished undefeated, No. 2 Lake Travis will try to accomplish the same feat, with a twist.

Lake Travis (48-0) is trying to reach the finish line without losing a single set all season.

On Thursday, Lake Travis plays Foster (Richmond) in a Texas Class 4A state semifinal. If it beats Foster (38-10), Lake Travis would either face No. 33 Randall (Amarillo) or Pearce (Richardson) in Saturday’s state final.

Besides Lake Travis, three other teams in the FAB 50 are undefeated, but none have gone unscathed in terms of sets. Papio South lost a total of four sets; No. 12 Chaparral (Parker, Colo.) won a state title last weekend, finishing 31-0 with six lost sets; and No. 25 Central Catholic (Portland, Ore.) also won a state title on Saturday with a 33-0 record and three lost sets.

Lake Travis coach Jennifer Kazmierski, like Egbert, doesn’t talk to her team about perfection. But she does admit “it’d be really sweet.”

“As a coach, my aim is just to win the match,” Kazmierski said. “I don’t want to put extra pressure on the girls by talking about not losing a set. But I know for them, as the season has gone on, not losing a set has become their goal.”

Certainly, there have been some close calls, including a regular-season game against Cedar Park in which Lake Travis was down 19-17 before winning 25-23.

But the most dire situation came in the regional quarterfinals against Canyon (New Braunfels). Canyon led 16-7 in the second set before Lake Travis rallied to win 25-22.

“I was pleasantly surprised when we came back to win that set,” Lake Travis setter Katy Beals said.

Kazmierski said it helps that her team is rock-solid mentally.

“They don’t put pressure on themselves, and they don’t get flustered, even when they’re trailing,” she said. “It’s stunning to see.”

It’s probably fair to say that all teams feel pressure, especially when they are closing in on their championship goal.

Papio South players admitted as much last week before they won their second straight state title and extended their winning streak to 82 matches.

“Everyone has really high expectations for us,” Papio South libero Lauren Poulicek said. “Struggling through school and volleyball at the same time, it’s really hard to keep focused on what we want to do.”

Papio South outside hitter Amber Rolfzen and setter Kelly Hunter said the key was how the team reacted to the pressure they faced.

“I think we perform best under pressure,” Rolfzen said. “That’s why we always come out on top.”

Added Hunter: “I think we like the target on our backs. We knew everyone was going to give us their best shot. There was a lot of pressure, but I think it made us better and made us work harder.”

Ron Kordes, coach of No. 3 Assumption (Louisville, Ky.), watched his team win a state title this season, finishing 43-1. He said his team played much better after an early-season loss, a defeat that took the pressure off and allowed the players to play free.

Lake Travis, though, has no such luxury. A loss now and the season would be over.

Just ask No. 5 St. Ursula Academy (Toldeo, Ohio), which had an undefeated season until this past Saturday, when the Arrows lost to Mount Notre Dame (Cincinnati, Ohio) in a state final.

Perhaps the Arrows, who had won 48 matches in a row entering the final, felt the pressure.

“When you start thinking of pressure,” former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once said, “it’s because you've started to think of failure.”

Then again, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had a different view on the same issue: “A diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.”

Now it’s up to Lake Travis to decide how they will be remembered this season. Will an opponent end their dreams of perfection? Or will the pressure they face create a jewel of a finish?

“Not losing a set is a huge goal for us,” Beals said. “At the beginning of the season, we weren’t very serious about (the goal). But after (the) Pearland (tournament), it became more real. We beat a lot of great teams there.”

Asked if she felt pressure to finish the season on a high note, Beals flipped the script.

“I think if I were going up against a team that hadn’t lost a set, I’d be nervous,” she said. “For us, it’s just about having fun.”
By Walter Villa

high school volleyballMike Gunnoe and LoneStarVolleyball.comNo. 1 Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.) and No. 2 Lake Travis (Austin, Texas) still have some obstacles in their way, but both teams are closing in on state titles and perfect seasons.

In this corner, there’s Papillion-La Vista South (Papillion, Neb.), the No.1 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 national rankings and winners of 73 matches in a row.

In that corner, there’s No. 2 Lake Travis (Austin, Texas), which has won 53 consecutive matches and hasn’t lost a set all season.

Papio South, as the school is commonly known, and Lake Travis are like two great boxing champions who have never faced each other. All fans can do is wonder what would’ve happened had they met.

“I wish we could play them,” Lake Travis senior setter Katy Beals said. “That would be sweet.”

Both are closing in on perfect seasons and their second straight state titles – Nebraska will crown its champions on Saturday, and Texas will save its coronations for Nov. 19.

Both teams emerged as national powers last year. Papio South won the 2010 Class A Nebraska state title and also finished atop the FAB 50 rankings. Lake Travis, the 2010 Class 4A Texas state champion, finished 18th nationally.

The Papio South Titans were then ranked No. 1 in the 2011 preseason and have remained there. The Lake Travis Cavaliers were ranked No. 2 in the preseason and haven’t budged, either.

While their high schools teams haven’t met, the elite athletes on each team are familiar with each other.

Papio South libero Lauren Poulicek plays on the Nebraska Juniors club team with Titans teammates Kelly Hunter, Megan Stroyek and the Rolfzen twins, Kadie and Amber. Meanwhile, Lake Travis stars Beals, Amy Neal, Mackenzie Mayo and Sierra Patrick compete for Austin Juniors.

“We played them once at nationals this past year,” Poulicek said. “We lost. We had some (chemistry) problems.

“I thought (Austin Juniors) had a couple of really good players, and at key times they made big plays. They were all really athletic, good defenders. We couldn’t put the ball away.”

But Poulicek said she’s confident things would be different if Papio South played Lake Travis.

“I think with the way we are playing right now, we could challenge them and probably win the match,” she said.

Neal said she recalls playing Nebraska Juniors more than once over the years.

“I’ve played against them many times from 15s to 16s,” she said. “They are amazing players, very hard to stop. We beat them in the 15s and 16s … I don’t remember losing to them.

“I think we’d do very well against them if we played them now because we have so many offensive weapons.”

But all we can do is guess as to what would happen.

So, taking another page from the fight game, here is the tale of the tape between Papio South and Lake Travis:

Records: Papio South 35-0; Lake Travis 46-0.

Win streaks: Papio South 73; Lake Travis 53.

Sets lost: Papio South 4; Lake Travis 0.

Last team to beat Papio South in a match: Marian (Omaha, Neb.) defeated Papio South on Nov. 14, 2009 in the Class A state final.

Last team to beat Lake Travis in a match: Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas) beat Lake Travis in a regular-season match on Oct. 30, 2010.

Biggest remaining obstacle for Papio South: Marian, possibly in the state semifinal.

Biggest remaining obstacle for Lake Travis: No. 39 Randall (Amarillo), Friendswood, J.J. Pearce (Richardson) and Aledo are possible tests in the state tournament. Lake Travis has already topped all of those except Pearce already this season.

Coaches: Gwen Egbert is in her ninth season at Papio South; Jennifer Kazmierski is in her first season at Lake Travis.

Papio South’s stars: 5-11 setter Hunter and the 6-3 Rolfzen twins are all juniors who have committed to Nebraska. The twins were ESPN’s National Sophomores of the Year last season.

Lake Travis’ stars: 6-0 senior setter Beals, who has committed to Washington; and 5-10 senior libero Amy Neal, a Texas recruit.

Papio South’s supporting cast: 5-5 senior libero Poulicek; 5-11 senior right side hitter Stroyek, who has committed to Washburn; 5-7 senior setter Whitney Kostal (Rockhurst); 6-0 senior middle blocker Rachel Nelson; and 5-11 junior middle blocker Katie Kurtz.

Lake Travis’ supporting cast: 5-5 senior libero Mayo (Baylor); Patrick, a 6-0 right-side hitter (Texas A&M); Piper Toler, a 6-0 outside hitter (Texas Christian); Kaci Eaton, a 6-2 middle blocker (North Texas); 5-7 senior setter Cassie Wang (Washington University in St. Louis); 5-11 junior middle blocker Claire McCown; and 5-9 senior outside hitter Gabby Bienkowski (Great Falls).

The case for Papio South: They haven’t lost a match since 2009. They won this year at St. James (Lenexa, Kan.), which is No. 4 in the nation and is otherwise perfect this season. They also have wins over FAB 50-ranked teams Lincoln Pius X (No. 45) and Marian (No. 48). ... Hunter, Poulicek, Stroyek and the Rolfzen twins played on the Nebraska Juniors club team that won a 16-U national championship in 2010.

The case against Papio South: They lost two sets against Marian and two to St. James. They did not play in any big out-of-state tournaments.

The case for Lake Travis: The Cavaliers haven’t lost a set all season and have defeated four teams that are ranked among the nation’s top 50: No. 39 Randall (Amarillo, Texas); No. 21 Lovejoy (Lucas, Texas.); No. 19 College Park (The Woodlands, Texas); and two wins over No. 24 Cypress Woods (Cypress, Texas). ... Four of the Cavaliers’ top stars – Beals, Neal, Mayo and Patrick – won a Junior Olympics national championship last summer while playing for Austin Juniors.

The case against Lake Travis: They haven’t played any team outside of Texas. Class 4A in Texas is not nearly as competitive as Class 5A. And without great size, one wonders if they could handle Papio South’s 6-3 Rolfzen twins.