Now that the Houston High School volleyball team’s 2023 season is over, it’s time to reflect on what a great run the Lady Tigers had and celebrate their resounding success.
Never mind all the weird hoopla that highlighted the final days of the campaign, the bottom line is this was a very, very good team that improved daily and ultimately put together a fine set of results, including the program’s first district championship since 2007.
All along the way, it was great to see so much contribution from so many players.
Like senior Kelsey Pritchett scoring on a block (and the captivating “oooohhhh” sound and hand gestures that followed). Junior Makinley Aaron diving horizontally with the floor to get her fist under a ball and keep a rally alive. Sophomore Kayla Wagner serving absolute bullets. Senior Maddie Holder finding just the right opening in which to hit a ball and score. Sophomore Kynlee Weaver battling for a ball at the net with the other team’s best player. Junior Morgan McKinney setting a ball perfectly so it could be bashed by a teammate.
And of course, senior outside hitter Angie Smith banging kills with incredible regularity. As plenty of people can confirm, I’ve been joking for all four years she’s been a starter for the Lady Tigers about how I kept expecting her to put a hole in the floor with one of her patented blasts.
To expound on Ms. Smith and her superb (and rare) God-given talent in this game, when you combine her amazing vertical leaping ability with her comprehensive court vision, it’s no wonder she can post absurd numbers like 43 kills in a single game, like she did this season at Thayer. When she jumps for a ball set for her, it’s as if time slows down at the apex of her leap and she scans the entire court before crushing it into an opening. With calculated alertness leading her actions, she doesn’t just bang the ball and hope it lands somewhere, but rather locates that sweet spot and purposefully directs it toward an intended destination.
As people can also confirm, I’ve sometimes compared her court vision to that of former NBA star guard Magic Johnson, who famously could see everything like he was looking through a wide-angle lens. That surely takes some topnotch peripheral vision, but also requires an unteachable instinctive awareness.
And how cool is it that the Lady Tigers won 26 games and the Class 2 District 8 championship in head coach Julia Sloan’s first season in the position? As young as she is (she’s in her early 30s), coach Sloan has already put together a pretty impressive resume that now includes back-to-back South Central Association conference crowns (at Cabool) and a district title, along with a bunch of 20-win seasons.
Anyway, knowing beforehand how fast-paced and intense high school volleyball can be, I found Houston’s season to be highly interesting and entertaining. There were ups and downs to be sure, but the entirety of the situation is all on the “up” side.
So, with 2023 in the rearview mirror, it will be interesting to follow the Lady Tigers next season as they enter the post-Angie era. And while it will be kind of strange not seeing her slamming balls all over gyms next year (and hearing that booming sound caused by her hand making hard contact with a ball as she soared high above a net, and the inevitable sound of the ball impacting something on the other side – either the floor or a body part of an opposing player who got in the way), we all know that all good things must end, and we can appreciate how much fun it was while it lasted.
But make no mistake, a bunch of capable players will be in Sloan’s fold in the 2024 season who could produce something special again.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.