Locked In: No. 1 Klein boasts undefeated record, Zora wins No. 500 of career

HOUSTON - Looking towards the 2020 season, Kate Zora envisioned her 500th career victory would come in August.

Due to COVID-19 pushing back the beginning of the season for Class 6A programs and the University Interscholastic League eliminating tournament play, that milestone would have to wait.

On Tuesday, with a 3-0 victory over Tomball - pushing Klein's overall record to 15-0 and 6-0 in district play - Zora reached No. 500.

"You don't get anywhere without great athletes that want to work hard every single day and that has attributed to the success that we've had," Zora, who has coached at FB Bush, Round Rock Westwood, A&M Consolidated and Klein in her career, said. "It's like a business, your best asset isn't what your product is but the people. We try to invest a lot of time and effort on building relationships. I think that's been a big attribute to the success."

Entering this week, Klein remained No. 1 in Texas in Class 6A with a perfect record and have dropped only one set all season. Klein is followed by Pearland Dawson at No.2 and Seven Lakes at No. 5.

The Bearkats are also nationally ranked in the AVCA/USA Today poll at No. 3 in Region 4.

"This group, they're special," Zora said. "They are really focused and are really driven on what the goals are. They come in each day prepared ... They know what they want to be able to do and that's the biggest thing."

Klein reached the Region II-6A Finals a year ago, falling to eventual state champion Plano West.

Since that loss, Zora said the motto for the group has been "Locked In", ironically foreshadowing what the players would have to go through the next few months during the COVID-19 quarantine.

"It was just really a mindset and mentality," Zora said. "We were going to be locked in and focused on their goal. They have done that and a lot of that is leadership but at the same time when you have leaders you have to have everyone to follow. As a team we try to stay as balanced as possible."

Klein this season has been led by seniors Clemson-commit Devan Taylor (141 kills, 245 digs and Annie Antar (116 kills, 144 digs and 272 assists) but the leader in kills through 15 matches has been sophomore Ariana Brown with 157 and 29 aces.

"The amount of improvement she has been made has been amazing," Zora said about last year's District Newcomer of the Year. "She's playing with a lot of confidence and I attribute that to the amount of hard work and time she has put into her game. You don't get better because you want to, you get better because you really worked hard for it."

Defensively, Rice-commit Gaby Mansfield has led the team in digs with 253 and Camy Kling, who recently committed to University of North Alabama, has led the team in assists with 287.

For a team that's goal has been reaching the UIL State Tournament in 2020, they have had literally everything thrown at them that could be foreseen as an obstacle - global pandemic, losing a traditional offseason, no club volleyball circuit, a late start to the season.

But this group has taken it in stride and doesn't look to be slowing down.

"I attribute that to their flexibility," Zora said. "It goes back to that idea of 'Locked In'. They are just like 'we know what our goal is, we will be flexible when we need to be flexible, we understand things are going to be last minute'. We are just trying to take it one day at a time and handle everything that we have. We just try to communicate as much as possible.

"They've just kept a really level mentality where they're not really letting anything get to them, which I think is very mature of them. I think that's what makes them special. Their ability to handle pressure and handle changes."

Klein will be back on the court on Friday at home against Klein Cain and have seven regular season matches left on the slate prior to the 2020 playoffs beginning, where they will try and advance to state.

"This group of seniors has been to the Regional Tournament every single year," Zora said. "They've established a good legacy of high expectations."