ANNA – In a gut-check performance on Tuesday, May 15, at the annual Peach Fuzz boys volleyball tournament at Anna High School, a seasoned crew of Seniors led by head coach Taylor Medrick rallied in back-to-back matches to claim the storied championship. In this best-of-three-sets format, the Seniors first dispatched the Freshmen in a semifinals test then, immediately after, stormed back to school a boisterous squad of Juniors for the title.
In both cases, the Seniors recovered to win after dropping the first set. Noteworthy too was the fact that these victors hadn’t all shown up together for a single practice prior to this ritual end-of-school showdown. When it was over, Coach Medrick was asked to assess how her team had matured over the last, oh, hour or so. “They finally played together,” she said, “and they were a lot more confident in themselves. We really did not want to lose to the Juniors this year. Last year we played them in the first round and lost. This year it was kind of like a rematch, it was revenge. We were coming in wanting to win from the beginning.”
Was it difficult to get the Seniors to shape up? “It was very tough to get these guys in line,” Medrick said. “You know how high school boys are. They do not want to listen to anybody but themselves. … I did have to get on to them — a lot.”
Medrick, a veteran Lady Coyotes volleyball standout, said her choice for tourney MVP would have to be Hunter Lebo, Jacob Perez or Kaleb Stewart. “Those three pulled through the whole time and really showed up to help us win.”
This grizzled scribe must also note the play of big man Romel Readus, who improved as the matches wore on, slapping down kills and dominating the front line. “I didn’t go to practice,” Readus said. “I worked.” He added that he hadn’t touched a volleyball since Peach Fuzz last year and that setting is the toughest game skill to master. As for his spikes, Readus laughed, “It’s the only thing I’m good at.”
Senior Mason Williams said he and his teammates simply kept bouncing back. “We picked our heads up and everybody started playing as a team. We just started talking and listening to our coaches.”
“I was concerned,” Stewart said of dropping the first set to the upstart Freshmen, “because I thought I was good at serving but it didn’t go over the net. … We only had one practice and two guys showed up. So coming on the floor with a whole bunch of dudes that haven’t played together, it’s kind of hard.”
Assisting Medrick on the Seniors’ bench was fellow Lady Coyote standout Micaela Cornelius.
Juniors head coach FeKyra Wells was succinct in her assessment of the outcome. “At first, they worked hard as a team,” she said. “And it kind of just crumbled, I guess.”
Unbowed Junior Zach Howard said the hastily-scheduled championship match may have helped the Seniors. “It’s always fun to compete against other people. I love competing. It sucks when you don’t come out on top, but I think they had the advantage. They got to have a warm-up game earlier today. We didn’t. We came in cold.”
Added teammate Gavin Reno, “We played well but there was just a lack of communication. Everybody was trying to jump around and it just didn’t work out well. … We weren’t warmed up that much but you can’t blame it on that. It’s us.”
Head referee for this controlled maelstrom was Coach Tomika Crosby, with Coach Jeff Egger assisting as the down referee. Coach Jeremy Patton and Anna senior Kirklyn Bedwell (on crutches) ably handled line judge duties.
This day was to have been for semifinals only, with the title match slated for the following Thursday. But with the Sophomores’ disappointing forfeit to the Juniors after the Seniors’ first-round win, the idea of immediately playing the championship swept through the frenzied venue. Coach Egger was a major proponent of the plan, making his way through the crowd, saying (paraphrased), “We’re not coming back on Thursday. The newspaper guy is here and everything. Let’s get this done.”
And so the title match started — but 20 minutes before the Juniors’ originally-scheduled match was to begin. Consequently, Junior assistant coaches Hannah Howell and Lauren Schlicht — and a couple of players — arrived as the first set was ending. No protests were filed by the Juniors, especially since they won Set 1 in thrilling fashion, 29-27. But things soon went downhill for the 2019 grads. In Set 2, the Seniors jumped out, 11-2, and were never threatened, eventually prevailing, 25-15. Set 3 went to the Seniors by a count of 15-12 with Readus providing the game-winning hit.
“I’m proud of those Seniors,” Crosby said while quickly exiting the court with newspaper-guy escort. “They pulled it out. I didn’t know if they were going to or not.” She then noted, “It was a little stressful at moments, especially in that first match – calling the net, watching the lines. They were giving me some hard times.” Indeed, in the second match as well, Lebo and Stewart approached the head referee’s perch at one juncture - arms raised with disbelieving countenances — only to speak to Crosby’s hand.
“It was just filling in the empty spaces,” Williams said in conclusion, “seeing what I could do to help the team. I was trying to talk on the court, help everyone out. … [The Juniors] were mouthin’, they were talking smack, but we didn’t let that affect us. As you can see, we won — with no practice.”
Lebo added that playing two matches in a row didn’t bother the Seniors. “I think after the first one our adrenalin was up,” he said. “We wanted [the Juniors]. They were in the finals last year, so we were ready for them.” Lebo, at 5-8, even got up for a couple of big slaps over the net. “I’m not really known for that,” he said, “but, yeah, I had a few kills.”
What did Medrick learn about coaching in leading this perhaps never-to-be-matched effort? “I learned that it’s a lot more stressful than I thought it was,” she said. “I knew Coach Crosby got stressed a lot when we were playing but I had never experienced that myself. I still really want to be a coach. Even though it was stressful, it was a lot of fun. In the end, it was the best feeling ever.”