HOUSTON – Every season, the seniors of St. Agnes Academy volleyball are in charge of coining the team motto for that upcoming year.
The Class of 2022 went with “Apply the Pressure”.
Usually there is only one team motto for each season, but this fall was different. In fact, for coach Cydryce McMillian it was life changing. On the first day of tryouts, McMillian received a phone call and was told she had breast cancer.
Thus, the second motto for 2021, “Her Fight is Our Fight”, was born.
“That ‘her’ wasn’t just me,” McMillian said. “We put that on our Dig Pink shirts but that ‘her’ was all the individuals on our team who was going through something. I would tell them we are all in the same storm, the storm of life. We’re just in different boats and we’re just trying to get to that shoreline together and we’re not going to leave anyone behind.
“So, while my battle may be breast cancer. Your battle may be mental illness or something going on with the recruiting side. Everybody had something but collectively ‘Her Fight is Our Fight’ and we really embraced that concept. We were all fighting for someone else.”
Through the 2021 season, McMillian every three weeks had to travel downtown to undergo a chemotherapy session. Her first was on October 12, which was the same night of a practice.
On November 2, McMillian underwent her treatment that morning and that night it was a road match for her Tigers at rival Concordia Lutheran for the District Championship – they swept the Crusaders to win 3-0 and the district crown.
“It was good to see them fighting on days when I knew physically that I was fighting to beat this breast cancer,” McMillian said.
After that, the Tigers were in the TAPPS 6A playoffs, seeking their second state crown in a matter of three seasons.
St. Agnes Academy rolled past Trinity Christian Academy (3-1), Incarnate Word-San Antonio (3-0) and then Concordia Lutheran (3-1) in the state semifinals to reach the title game. Once there, they beat Prestonwood Christian 3-1 to capture the 2021 TAPPS 6A State Championship.
“State championships are hard, and they’ve come through a lot of adversity,” McMillian said. “When you start talking about championships and competing at that level, then you look at the teams and what they have to get through to get there. There’s a lot of adversity that teams have to overcome, either as individuals or as a team.
“It has been an honor to coach this program for the last three years and sustain a champion-like mindset and a culture that embraces that level of excellence year after year.”
As McMillian spoke to VYPE on November 23, the state champion coach had just finished her third session of chemotherapy that very morning.
Going through a season undergoing the treatment, McMillian said she was blessed to have limited side effects to it. But what really has helped her the most through this process is the game of volleyball and her team.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” she said. “Being with my team and my program was definitely a distraction to what could have happened with all the other stuff had I not had some place to be. It gave me light during a time I wasn’t sure which way I was going but I knew I needed to put one foot in front of the other.
“There were some tough days and others I felt amazing. For me volleyball is more than a team, it’s a family, especially when you’re with this group every single day and I’m also an educator on campus. It was so warming to have them around me and asking how I’m doing or for me asking how they were doing. To know we were a family through all of this helped me to keep going and keep pushing.”
As McMillian has gone through this chapter of her life, she has had her team, the St. Agnes community but also her faith.
Which she has seen his light shine through the dark times in multiple areas of her life.
“He just continues to show me how good of a God he is and how much favor he has on me as a child of God,” McMillian said. “So, I can’t say enough praises for him and the things he’s done to take care of all the things that concern me. He’s done a good job watching over all of us and protecting us.
“I thank God for using me. As much as it’s not necessarily something I want to go through he has kept me the whole way as people are watching. My faith and my Christianity are very high and I’m thankful he’s used me and protected me so others can see who he truly is.”
This senior-landen team, which also created the hashtag “#We’veGotYourBackMac” to support their coach, was led by the likes of all-staters Sophie Agee, Lexi Visinitine and Grace Webber.
Webber led the team in assists with 577, while Visintine had 326 kills and 297 digs and Agee registered 485 kills, 322 digs and 40 blocks.
It was this group that came up with the “Apply the Pressure” and in a season where McMillian believes it was a season about “grit” and how to be a “champion” they fulfilled their vision from the summer.
“Their vision was that we were going to start as individual pieces of coal and go through a season where we had to continue to apply the pressure to come out as diamonds,” she said.
In the end, the diamonds they became will now be represented by the diamonds they put on their rings in a few weeks but for McMillian its about more than that.
“We grew a whole group of champions this year in so many ways,” McMillian said. “We did it and we did it together. It keeps me smiling. This one is so special for so many reasons. We’ve all made it to the top and now we’re taking a nice look of where we came from.”