O’Connor claims top volleyball team in San Antonio

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As a former sportswriter, I can’t help but pay attention to the wide world of sports. The Spurs dominate the culture of San Antonio, but the town of Alamo has many stories just waiting to be told. This series, titled “Cheap Seats,” will see me leave the press box and head for nosebleeds, bleachers, and berms to tell stories beyond the statistics.

This week I climbed the steep bleachers of O’Connor High School for a game of volleyball. I’m not used to these large 6A school gyms, but they provide a great view for all action, albeit with a lack of back support.

As many prepare for the start of high school football next week, San Antonio can’t ignore some of the best volleyball teams in the state.

There was little doubt that O’Connor would field another solid team. The Panthers are coming off undefeated district championships and back-to-back regional tournament appearances. But the team seems to have started the year wanting to make a statement.

“They’re showing a lot of character coming back from being behind,” O’Connor head coach Yamilet Garcia told MySA. “They show a lot of fight. Their efforts couldn’t be more than I could ask for. They gave me a lot of effort in training every day.

O’Connor’s volleyball coach Yamilet Garcia leads his team against Taft in women’s volleyball at Harlan Gym on Tuesday, September 21, 2021. O’Connor swept Taft, 3-0 in sets, to claim victory .

Kin Man Hui / Personal Photographer

O’Connor opened the year with a 3-0 win over reigning Class 6A state champion Brandeis on Aug. 8 and is undefeated 9-0 through Wednesday, Aug. 17. The Panthers defeated Clark and Smithson Valley to win the NEISD/NISD Tournament. over the weekend and defeated Regan in straight sets on Tuesday, August 16.

With the win over Reagan, O’Connor beat last year’s top three teams in the 28-6A District, moving up to second in the TGCA Class 6A standings.

“I like playing against big opponents,” Garcia said. “I think that’s what makes teams better. We love being in these competitive matches. If you don’t play these competitive matches all the time, it’s harder to move forward.

O’Connor has found success offensively with Kelli Fording, who leads the District 29-6A with 76 kills, Anabella Guevara (19 kills) and Kendall McKee (9 kills); Jenna Garza leads the team with 115 assists. But against Reagan, the Panthers were able to bounce back from the errors of the Rattlers.

O'Connor's Kelli Fording right hits Monday August 8, 2022 against Brandeis defenseman Austin Smoak during the Panthers game against the Broncos at the Northside Sports Gym.

O’Connor’s Kelli Fording right hits Monday August 8, 2022 against Brandeis defenseman Austin Smoak during the Panthers game against the Broncos at the Northside Sports Gym.

William Luther, Staff Photographer / Staff Photographer

In each set, O’Connor pushed the ball into Reagan’s half and forced the Rattlers to make mistakes. The three-set winning runs were out of Reagan’s errors.

“Playing Brandeis, our rival, was a big step for the tone,” Fording told the Express-News after the win over Brandeis. “We really wanted to prove our worth, and we did. The bar is really high this season.

O’Connor had one of the best starts to the season, but there is still a long way to go. Several teams in the San Antonio area are still worth watching.

Other suitors

O’Connor’s district rival Brennan (8-1) is ranked No. 12 in the TGCA poll, and Holmes took over to start the season. Brennan’s Angel Osteguin and Giana Brown have 48 and 43 kills, respectively. Holmes’ Arissa Garcia has 54 kills and 100 digs, but the Bears struggled to get out of the gate with a 4-5 record.

Brandeis' Sophia Kuyn, left, and Tessa Fontenot, right, defend Monday, August 8, 2022 against a shot from O'Connor's Kendall McKee during the Broncos' game against the Panthers at Northside Sports Gym.

Brandeis’ Sophia Kuyn, left, and Tessa Fontenot, right, defend Monday, August 8, 2022 against a shot from O’Connor’s Kendall McKee during the Broncos’ game against the Panthers at Northside Sports Gym.

William Luther, Staff Photographer / Staff Photographer

In 28-6A, Brandeis (6-4) is ranked No. 16 in the Class 6A poll after going 3-2 at the Katy ISD tournament last weekend. Emma Halstead and Sophia Kuyn lead the Broncos offense with 96 and 84 kills, respectively.

District rivals Clark (8-1) and Reagan (7-4) are ranked No. 14 and No. 19, respectively. Clark finished third in the NEISD/NISD tournament and beat Alamo Heights 3-1 on Tuesday. Clark’s trio of Kaitlin Whitlock, Arianna Roberson and Natalia Silva have 58, 48 and 43 eliminations respectively.

Reagan’s Mya Allen and Gabby Reeves are part of a young team that showed talent early on, creating potential down the line for the Rattlers.

Reagan's volleyball coach Rachel Torvik (center) watches her team take on Clark at Northside Gym on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. The Rattlers beat the Cougars, 3-1 in sets, to win the game.

Reagan’s volleyball coach Rachel Torvik (center) watches her team take on Clark at Northside Gym on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. The Rattlers beat the Cougars, 3-1 in sets, to win the game.

San Antonio Express-News/Staff photographer Kin Man Hui

“Any time you play against a high caliber team, you’re looking for what you need to work on to keep improving,” Reagan head coach Rachel Torvik said. you play the best to become better and not only to be able to go out and win tournaments, but also to face tough teams.

Meanwhile, in Class 5A, New Braunfels Canyon, fresh off a state tournament appearance, stormed out the door with a 10-1 record. Maya Jones (83 kills), Courtney Pope (74) and Danielle Classy (73) carried Cougarette’s attack. Canyon’s only loss so far was against Class 6A school Katy Tompkins in the Katy ISD tournament.

Overall, the San Antonio area is brimming with talent and plenty of teams worth watching this season.

Emma Halstead of Northside Brandeis High School scores a point as Alice Volpe of Bridgeland High School looks on in their volleyball semifinal match against Garland, Texas on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Brandeis won.  CREDIT: Louis DeLuca for The Houston Chronicle

Emma Halstead of Northside Brandeis High School scores a point as Alice Volpe of Bridgeland High School looks on in their volleyball semifinal match against Garland, Texas on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Brandeis won. CREDIT: Louis DeLuca for The Houston Chronicle

Louis DeLuca

Is there a team that I missed? Is there a game or player you think I should cover? Email me at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @PLScamardo2.

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