by Kara Hansen
In a pivotal scene in the movie “Hoosiers,” Gene Hackman’s character, Coach Normal Dale, tells his players what competition is really about.
“If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be,” he says, “I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book, we’re gonna be winners.”
While the sport might be different — volleyball instead of basketball — the sentiment is certainly the same for four archdiocesan Catholic schools who competed for state championship titles this past weekend.
Topeka’s Hayden High School and Lenexa’s St. James Academy vied for the rights to the 4A state championship title on Oct. 26, while Overland Park’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School and Roeland Park’s Bishop Miege High School battled for the 5A state bragging rights.
While it is a bit of an anomaly to have four Catholic schools competing for state titles in the same sport at one time, coaches say it was not unexpected given the talent level on all four teams.
“I know the caliber of each team, so it was not a surprise,” said Gwen Pike, head volleyball coach at Bishop Miege High school. “Every team has quality players.”
In addition to a lot of talent on the benches, coaches also felt that the work ethic of their teams factored into their success.
“The Catholic school system in volleyball is very good,” said Hayden’s head volleyball coach Jesica Farmer-Walter. “We’re all strong competitors, and all the kids play in the off-season. The more you play, the better you get.”
Although the other Catholics schools already boasted a solid winning tradition, St. James was sort of the new kid on the block.
“I think the Catholic schools here have a tradition of being a winning program, and that’s intimidating to other programs,” said Nancy Dorsey, head volleyball coach at St. James Academy. “Obviously in our case, we have not been around very long. But we did very well last season with just freshmen and sophomores, so there were high expectations for us this season.”
To call any of these teams simply “good” fails to do it justice. They have each enjoyed unparalleled success during the 2007 season. St. James Academy, a team with no seniors, boasted a record of 45-1. Bishop Miege’s record stood at 42-2, and the team had been ranked as high as fourth nationally throughout their season. Hayden set a record of 40-5 in its road to the state 4A championship. And St.Thomas Aquinas won the state 5A championship with a record of 39-3.
In regular season matchups, St. James beat Hayden twice. Bishop Miege beat Aquinas three times.
“Kids start playing sports at a young age with CYO, so they get a taste of the sport and what it’s like to be part of a good team at an early age,” said Pike. “I think each of the schools has very competitive programs at every level, varsity through freshmen, and that creates a strong sense of community, as well as high expectations in each program.”
Dorsey also cited the larger school community as a contributor to her team’s success.
“The support is just amazing. Our student body organizes cheers, and there’s one student who rallies everyone. It makes for a great atmosphere. I played volleyball in college, and I told my girls I never played for a crowd like this before,” said Dorsey.
Hayden, Bishop Miege and St. Thomas Aquinas really benefited from veteran players as well. With the exception of St. James, the clubs had a minimum of five seniors per team.
“We had really strong senior leadership, and the whole team followed suit,” said Pike. “This was a team of tremendous talent and respect for one another and the game.”
Even though it seems hard to top the success experienced by these teams in 2007, each is looking forward to the opportunities next season will bring to build on what has been accomplished this year.
“I expect all four teams to be very competitive next year, and for each team to do well again,” said Pike.