On the high school volleyball scene, it’s been another fantastic season for the Bellaire Cardinals. With a perfect 12-0 record in the District 20-5A race, the Cardinals were well on their way to an eighth consecutive district championship. “I think we’ve lost only one district game in eight seasons,” said head coach Ap Clarke. “The players have really done an amazing job.”
As for this year’s players, senior outside hitter Ariana Chin leads the team in skills. “She’s really our go-to hitter,” said Clarke. Another one of the team’s top hitters says Coach Clarke is Elizabeth Grubb. “She’s not only an outstanding hitter, but also an excellent passer. Coach Clarke also has high praise for junior libero (defensive specialist) Vivian Hu. “Vivian’s also one of our main passers, and when she’s not at her best, our team struggles. Vivian’s playing real well right now.”
The Cardinals have also been inspired by the play of setter Alyssa Moniaci, who underwent brain surgery this past summer. “She was having severe headaches and seizures,” said Coach Clarke. “For her to not only return to the team but also be a major contributor is truly remarkable. Alyssa played the whole match in our recent championship victory over Eisenhower at the HISD tournament and was even named to the all-tournament team. A lot of kids would’ve given up, but not Alyssa. Her positive attitude is really amazing.”
It isn’t only about the girls when it comes to varsity volleyball. Here in Houston, Southwest Preparatory Conference schools Episcopal, St. John’s, and Kinkaid are among a handful of schools across the state that field a boys volleyball team. “If you’re going to watch boys volleyball in Texas, then you’ll see the best here in our conference, said Episcopal Knights head coach Bobby Dingenary. “St. John’s has typically been the strongest team in Houston, but our program has made some giant strides. We were even able to beat St. John’s in a tournament earlier this season and again in our first conference matchup.”
The Knights are led by senior outside hitter Charlie Hurd, and “He’s usually the best athlete on the court,” said Coach Dingenary. “We also have a very tall team, including 6-foot-6-inch middle blocker Mark Callier.” Another reason for the Knights improvement has been the play of setter Graham Davis. “He’s dedicated himself to volleyball, even playing club ball in the summer. Graham really understands the game.” Coach Dingenary added that “While the Dallas schools still dominate our league, we’ve gone from the spoiler role to a team that has to be taken seriously. They know we’re getting better.”
Now, despite its recent conference defeat to Episcopal, there are plenty of positives to speak of regarding the St. John’s boys volleyball program, which has been going strong since the mid-80s. “We’ve been in the top four of our conference for virtually ever year,” said Eric Lombardi, who’s been the Mavericks head coach for 11 seasons. “In fact, we were in contention to win the SPC title the last two seasons, before losing some tough elimination matches in the semifinal round of the conference tournament.”
The biggest challenge facing Coach Lombardi and the Mavericks this season has been filling the void left by the graduation of standout setter Robert Howard, who Coach Lombardi says was probably the best player in the entire league in the last couple of seasons. “One of our captains, Clayton Benavides, had done a real nice job of stepping into the setter role, as has Leeor Mushin, who’s the other setter in our system. We’ve also got a pair of solid outside hitters in Tom Johnson and Even Winograd, who consistently are our top scorers,” said Coach Lombardi. Meantime, Coach Lombardi says defensive specialist Gabe Aguilar is one of the best players at his position in the conference. “He’s phenomenal,” says Coach Lombardi. “Gabe is a great competitor with especially quick hands. When Gabe’s on the court, it can’t get especially frustrating for opposing hitters.”
“The great thing about our program right now,” adds Coach Lombardi, “ is that our freshman class is the strongest we’ve ever had. They’ve put the most time into the game, so, there’s a real youth front coming in for St. John’s volleyball.
Editor’s Note: Todd Freed is the host and executive producer of High School Sports Live, which can be seen each Saturday, Sunday, and Monday at 6 pm on KTBU Channel 55 The Tube. To submit information for possible inclusion in SportzBuzz, please e-mail Todd at (email@example.com) todd (at) thebuzzmagazines (dot) com.