AFTER LEADING HER TEAM TO FORT BEND CHRISTIAN ACADEMY ’S FIRST STATE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST WINTER, HEAD VOLLEYBALL COACH ALEX EDWARDS LOOKED OVER HER ROSTER FOR THE UPCOMING 2022 SEASON.
So, what is next?
Long after the celebration had settled on a magical 35-4 campaign that finished with a sweep of Prince of Peace in the TAPPS 5A State Championship in Waco, Edwards came to an eyebrow-raising conclusion.
A repeat is doable, if not probable.
“I did lose four critical people, but at the same time there are pieces that stepped up who are returning,” Edwards said. “I have some upcoming leadership that will be good … it’s exciting to see how they’ll all apply their version of what a leader is.”
Only four seniors graduated from last season. Yes, they were some program stalwarts, like outside hitter Bailey Hanner, one of the best to ever wear the forest green, gold and white, and libero Avery Hodge. But the Eagles return two of their top three attackers and their top blocker, and they will have experienced options at libero.
Edwards will need to find a setter. But otherwise, things are looking pretty good once again for the Eagles.
“It’s very possible we can do it again,” incoming sophomore Layne Bulow said. “If we can find the people to fill in some of the key roles, we definitely have a great shot at doing it again next year.”
Bulow led the team in aces with 86 and ranked second on the team in digs (6.8 per set). Incoming sophomore Bayleigh Minor led in blocks (65) and was second in kills (2.2 per set).
Incoming junior Oyinkansola Ajimotokan was second in blocks with 56 and had 102 kills.
“We should be really good, and I think we can repeat,” Minor said. “We just have to keep working. The girls coming back, we know we have to step up. But we definitely could go back-to-back.”
Along with incoming senior Shea Stone (108 kills, 64 aces, 4.8 digs per set, 4.1 assists per set) and incoming junior Hadley Hodge (2.4 digs per set), the core is there. Incoming freshman Laycee McGrady, a projected star and daughter of former NBA star Tracy McGrady, and defensive specialist Lillian Drennon are expected to assume significant roles next season as well.
“The future of the team is unknown, but the part I do know is the core we do have coming back, we can win another State championship just with that,” Edwards said. “Anybody additional is a bonus.”
Bulow, Minor and Ajimotokan are gamechangers.
“[Bulow] can be a sixrotation outside (hitter), but she’s also a great libero. She can fill whatever void we need. She wants to be our next Bailey Hanner and she’s capable of it,” Edwards said. “[Minor] is such a stud athlete. She is growing as a leader and a competitor and is continuing to evolve, adjusting from an individual sport like track to what she’s learned in a team sport like volleyball. Her mental game and leadership are stronger.
“On the court, she can do anything. She can jump higher than anyone. She’s so quick.”
Edwards added about Ajimotokan: “I’m excited to see her just get more confident. I think after the training she’s getting and after the year she had, she’s going to be such a big threat.”
In her second season last year, Edwards had enough on the roster to where she no longer had to practice with the team and could have quality scrimmages and drills. The team began to reap what was sowed in the 2020 season.
“Year two was different because we went through it, we grinded, we learned,” Edwards said. “We understood what we were doing was working.”
Edwards is a passionate leader who brings a celebratory energy to every practice, let alone a game. She expertly manages and balances time to where kids can still be a regular high school kid, seeking their input often before and during the season.
“She gave me a lot of confidence,” Bulow said. “She had faith in me. She helped me be more aggressive with my hitting and be on my feet more as a passer. Little things like that are a big deal.”
Edwards often moves players around, even inseason, to mix and match talent to positions. She’s always evaluating, always observing, always tinkering. It’s something that can frustrate most high school athletes. Not these Eagles, though.
They know Edwards has their best interests at heart.
“Coach Alex moved me around from right side to middle, and I trusted her,” Minor said. “We trusted what she was doing. Let her do her thing. She’s a tough coach, but she’ll push you exactly as hard as you need it. She knows what it takes for you to be better.”
It’s impressive how the program’s culture has turned around from two years ago. No longer is Edwards stressing about getting more girls in the program. Now she’s looking forward to meshing and molding an experienced, young, talented team and repeating as State Champs.
“We now have this target on our back and this expectation that people now want us to meet,” she said. “There is a different pressure moving forward, and so I want to see the response. The nice thing is we can build upon what we already have.
“We’re leaving off on a really good high and we can just continue to grow from that.”