It was during her freshman year that Cinco Ranch senior Sophie Atkinson was dealt an awakening of sorts.
A metatarsal fracture limited Atkinson to two cross country meets during that year. Then she suffered a stress fracture to another metatarsal on the same foot that wiped out her track season.
But after eventually coming to terms with the devastation of two setbacks within months of each other, Atkinson found a wat to move forward. She leaned on her faith. Her focus turned to becoming a better teammate. And, most importantly, she realized there was a lot more to her life than running.
A serve was hit and everything seemed normal again, almost as if time froze and the tragic pandemic of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 was forgotten, at least for a couple of hours.
Just days after Katy ISD cross country teams initiated their respective 2020 seasons, and mere minutes after team tennis programs began district play, volleyball teams followed suit on Tuesday afternoon, albeit six weeks later than usual. Wearing masks and exchanging high-fives for elbow taps, Katy High volleyball players and coaches showed off a genuine enthusiasm and appreciation, even more so than usual, during their season-opener at home against Stratford.
The Tigers swept the Spartans in dominant fashion, 25-11, 25-13, 25-16.
As the youngest daughter, Casey Batenhorst felt the pressure to live up to the volleyball greatness of her two older sisters.
Dani Batenhorst, the oldest, is a redshirt sophomore outside hitter at Gonzaga University. Ally, the middle sister, is a senior outside hitter for Seven Lakes and a Nebraska verbal commit. So, Casey, a junior setter for Seven Lakes, not only felt the need to be successful like her sisters, she wanted it for herself as well.
“It was difficult,” said Casey, 16. “I felt since they were really good, then I needed to be, too, to finish the family tradition, in a sense. It was stressful, but I took it well. I worked really hard, because I knew I wanted to be a part of that and go to a school for volleyball like them.”
Batenhorst can relax easier these days after verbally committing to play volleyball at SMU on Sept. 10. Batenhorst averaged 9.2 assists per set in her first full season as the starting setter for the Spartans last season to go with a 34.4 kill percentage.
Playing a different position than her older sisters allowed Batenhorst to set her own path.
“Definitely, because no one could compare me to them,” Batenhorst said. “As a setter, and them two both being outsides, was great for me. People saw me as my own player.”
Batenhorst chose SMU mostly because of its proximity to home, among other key reasons.
Some of her friends are also going to college around the area. She also noted the school’s rigorous academics and the “amazing” volleyball program and its coaches.
“It just checked off everything I wanted in a school,” said Batenhorst, who plans to study international business.
The Batenhorst sisters were seemingly born to play volleyball. They are tall, long and athletic. Dani stands 6-foot-1, Ally 6-4, and Casey 6-1.
Growing up, Batenhorst figured she’d be an outside hitter like her sisters. She never expected to be a setter.
“I was surprised by that, too,” Batenhorst said. “When I was little, I thought setting was fun, but I never really thought much else about it.”
But when Batenhorst was playing club volleyball at 12 years old, her coach needed a setter, so she set some balls for him.
“I don’t know if (the balls) were good or not, but he made me a setter and I just stuck with that my entire career,” she said.
Now she can’t imagine playing any other position on the floor.
“I love everything about it,” Batenhorst said. “People call it the quarterback of the team and it’s really interesting. You study the other side of the court, see what the matchups are, know who’s on that game, and you have to be focused every single play. I think it’s fun to run an offense and be in control of the ball, run different plays and see the holes. The dynamic is super fun.”
Batenhorst has only been setting for five years, so she’s still growing into the role. She said she’s improved the most at knowing where middle blockers are during any given set and determining the height of the balls to place for her hitters. She’s better at running a faster offense.
“I used to set a pretty high ball,” Batenhorst said, laughing.
She acknowledges there is still room to improve. Batenhorst wants to get better deciphering each hitter and making it easier for them to attack off her sets. She obsesses over delivering the perfect ball, per each hitter’s wants and standards.
She wants to work on picking up tips more as well as executing deep dumps, which is hitting balls from the front row, but deeper on the court.
This 2020 season will be Batenhorst’s last playing with Ally, something she does not take for granted.
“Having a sister on the team, especially me as a setter and her being an outside (hitter), there needs to be a lot of communication because the hitter dictates what they want,” Batenhorst said. “Since we’re family, it’s a lot easier for her to tell me. We just have that connection to where, no matter what, she won’t get mad and I won’t get mad. It just works well. Throughout the years, she hasn’t had to tell me as much because I’ve learned her as a player. I absolutely love playing with her. Setting her and seeing her get a kill is the best thing for me.”
Setting Ally has made Batenhorst a better player.
“She needs a faster ball, but it can’t be low because she’s so tall,” Batenhorst said. “So, I have to set it almost past the pin so she can cut it off at a certain point. It’s a farther ball, but higher. She works well with that, and she’s really good with 3s (balls that are more inside; a quicker, faster ball so the hitter can hit to the line and have more options), and 2s (balls to the outside, far to the pin), too, which I feel are underrated because it’s harder to block a 2. I love when she calls that, and I can set it lower and faster and she comes in super quick.”
Batenhorst credits both high school volleyball and club volleyball for her success.
Under revered coach Amy Cataline at Seven Lakes, Batenhorst plays six rotations and the front row as well as the back row, something that is appealing to college coaches when they look for setters. In club ball, though she mostly only plays from the back row, the exposure is significant, as college coaches are more likely to attend those showcases than high school games.
“Coach Cataline is an amazing coach and was a setter herself, so she really helps me through that aspect,” Batenhorst said. “Being able to play six rotations and set from the front row, I think that will help me for college. A lot of colleges want setters that play (that way), so I’ve been able to learn blocking and everything else. For club ball, the coaches are great, and they’re all so invested in us with great connections to colleges.”
The Batenhorst sisters started their athletic careers playing basketball up until middle school. They started playing with the Katy Volleyball Academy late during their elementary years.
Dani was a late bloomer to the club volleyball scene, starting her freshman year. Ally started club volleyball during the fifth grade, Casey during the sixth grade.
“We all love the team aspect of volleyball,” Batenhorst said. “It’s different than any other sport, in my opinion. You’re so much closer and there’s such like a family aspect to it. The game is fast-paced, which is super fun, and there are so many techniques and dynamics to the sport that you can always learn more. There’s never a dull moment with volleyball.”
Jordan High freshman Addison Sutton was nervous going into her first varsity cross country meet Saturday morning. Scared, even.
And still, Sutton came away victorious at the Pearland Dawson Early Bird meet.
Sutton ran a time of 12-minutes, 39-seconds to win the two-mile race and help the Warriors to a first-place team finish in the program’s first varsity competition. The Warriors, a Class 5A program, scored 27 points, followed by Clear Creek (40), Ridge Point (64) and North Shore (102).
“I was scared, but I was thinking really positive thoughts,” Sutton said. “I knew whatever I put into my head, that’s how I would do during the race. If I had a positive mindset, I knew I’d have a positive outcome. I know my body will do what my mind believes, so if I believe I can do it, I know I can push through.”
Due to the restructuring of the UIL 2020 high school football season caused by the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Katy ISD’s nine head coaches spent the last month or so revising their schedules.
Some programs, such as Katy and Tompkins, still have holes to fill on their schedules. But otherwise, the primary change is moving up district games earlier to get those done—as it is the district season that determines playoff qualifiers—and splitting the four non-district games for the district’s seven Class 6A programs, two for Weeks 1 and 2 and two more, if possible, to close the season.
In Class 5A-Division I, where Paetow resides, nine-team District 10-5A will split into zones for the upcoming season. Paetow will be in Zone A with Richmond Foster, Kempner, Rosenberg Terry and Houston Wisdom. Zone B consists of of Angleton, Hightower, Manvel and Milby.
A little more than two years ago, then-Tompkins incoming sophomore Jalen Milroe could not stop smiling.
A late morning July discussion with a reporter in Tompkins head coach Todd McVey’s office centered around Milroe’s potential. His intriguing background. His promising future. His raw, though obvious, natural skill.
Following an eye-opening two months in spring ball, Milroe was the unofficial projected starter for a Tompkins program that used three quarterbacks while going through a 2017 winless season.
“The MVP of smiling,” McVey acknowledged of his precocious youngster. “It’s contagious.”
The first four plays on Taylor senior safety Trevor Woods’ recruiting highlight tape are interceptions. All returned for touchdowns. All from one season.
“And a couple at key points, too,” Taylor coach Chad Simmons gushed over Woods’ heroics last season. “Real key points. Three in the playoffs. Like, what? Say what? You look at that tape and they’re the first four plays and you’re like, ‘Dang!’”
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Woods plays the “rover” in the Mustangs’ 4-2-5 defensive scheme. It’s basically the strong safety. For some other teams, it’s the nickelback. For Taylor, it’s its best tackler.
Simmons schemes his defense to “bounce the ball” toward Woods, allowing him to do what he does best—make plays and get it back for the offense. Last season, Woods did just that, compiling 165 total tackles with eight sacks, five interceptions, five fumbles caused and a fumble recovery for the Class 6A Division II state semifinalist Mustangs.
Colby Huerter is a two-time Class 6A all-state selection. A bruising, athletic 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety, he is a prolific stat-stuffer for Tompkins’ defense, averaging 6.2 tackles per game with 10 interceptions, a fumble recovery and a fumble caused in 26 games over the last two seasons.
Even more impressive than his physical ability, however, is his guile. One of my favorite plays—of any high school athlete I’ve covered in my 15 years in sportswriting—is this heads-up save during a game against Cinco Ranch two years ago.
“My approach to being a safety is to know your opponents better than they know themselves,” the incoming senior said. “So, when it comes to game time, there is not a lot of thinking on my part, just reacting. My mindset is to give maximum effort 100 percent of the time.”
Thoughts of frustration crossed Mayde Creek head football coach Brian Randle’s mind one late April afternoon as he sat on a couch in his house, beyond irritated with the day’s earlier events.
As it was, at the time then and now, the world was in a precarious state because of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, that halted schooling and postponed, and then eventually canceled, spring athletics. Mere days into his arrival at Mayde Creek, the new Rams coach needed a way to reach his new kids, for them to get to know him and him to get to know them. Zoom, a popular video conferencing tool, was thought to be the answer.
“My first Zoom with my kids got hacked, and it was all kinds of craziness,” Randle recalled. “A guy’s on there cussing … it was awful. After that, I told my guys, ‘Hey, we’re not doing that again. We’re not going to go through that.’”
Randle, who now uses Canvas as another method to do group meetings with his team, called Katy ISD athletic director Debbie Decker and expressed his discomfort.
“I had no control, the screen flipped over, I was trying to exit everything,” he said. “But I still needed to reach the kids. So, I thought I’d jump on social media and just use Twitter. I told the coaches to make sure all the kids are following me, and that way I can give them something positive.”
Jordan High School is Katy ISD’s ninth high school. Since 2013, the district has introduced three high schools: Tompkins (2013), Paetow (2017) and now Jordan. The Jordan campus, located in Fulshear, opens in August.
Because Jordan High is opening on an even year (2020) and beginning with freshmen and sophomores, Jordan’s individual sports will go varsity right away, but team sports will wait until the fall of 2021, when the school adds juniors. The only sport that is not able to be placed in realignment on the “middle” year, or halfway between the two-year realignment, is football.
Football for Jordan High won’t be realigned by the UIL until 2022, which will be Jordan’s first varsity football season. Until then, the district will try to mix and match schedules for Jordan to play football, just not under the UIL umbrella. The Warriors, whose colors are black and gold, will play a junior varsity schedule this year, with some varsity and sophomore team opponents mixed in.
The school will have an initial enrollment of almost 1,600.
On Tuesday afternoon, I was invited on a tour of the athletic facilities. Architecturally, the campus is very similar to that of Paetow High.