By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 1, 2021
ATLANTA—Volleyball players at Notre Dame Academy and Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School challenged each other in a closely fought game between the two developing programs.
It came down to the fifth and final set.
In the contest pairing the two independent Catholic schools, players tied the game two sets apiece. The Cristo Rey Flames in the final set edged out the visitors, 15-8.
The Cristo Rey Atlanta girls volleyball team scored the win on their home court on Thursday, Sept. 23.
Coach Alexis Johnson said emotions were high, especially with friends and family of the team’s seniors in the stands.
“They wanted it more than anything,” she said. A key timeout by Johnson paused the game, giving her players time to regroup. “Take a breath. Let’s finish this game. Be on your toes,” she told them.
Senior Alexis Miller can scan the court from the back row. As a team captain and playing in a new role as the libero, she leads the team to set up passes and attacks.
She’s played on the team for four years, first inspired by a cousin playing volleyball, now finding pleasure in the game herself.
“There are so many little moments in a game when you are so proud of your teammates, whether diving for the ball, or getting a perfect block or spike. Those little moments in the game do fill us with pride and joy,” she said.
Both teams play in the Georgia Independent School Association league.
Coaches on both sides stressed how their teams are improving game after game, even if their records don’t show it.
Johnson has coached the Flames volleyball team since 2017.
The women’s volleyball program at Cristo Rey Atlanta has outgrown what began as a recreation club. Players committed to summer conditioning sessions and wanted more practice time, Johnson said.
The team now forces competitors to play four or five sets in games they would have lost easily in prior years, she said.
The team honored five seniors at its recognition night on Sept 23. Johnson said she hopes the student athletes take away a love for the game’s athleticism, plus confidence in themselves.
“Volleyball is a team sport, but you have to believe in yourself before anyone else,” she said.
Assisting the volleyball program are Colleen Hunsberger, assistant varsity coach, and Emma Marsden, the junior varsity coach.
Drills stressing the fundamentals of the game are practiced at Notre Dame Academy, in Duluth.
“This is pretty much a fresh, new team,” said MaTia Hughes, who is in her first year as a coach for the Irish. The focus for the freshman-dominated team has been on learning the basics, how to pass correctly and becoming familiar with rotations, said Hughes, who played volleyball at West Virginia University and New York University.
Hughes tells the Notre Dame players mistakes are part of the game.
“It’s okay to make mistakes, but I want you to make mistakes in the right way. Instead of doing it incorrectly, I want you to try to overcorrect and make those errors by doing it the right way,” she told them.
Hughes wants to help the young players come out better in the face of challenge, “not just wanting it, but putting in the work.”