Volleyball overcoming state championship losses

Westminster volleyball has been a consistent force in Georgia. Each of the last three
seasons the Cats have dominated their regular season opponents, before ultimately failing in the
state championship. In 2013, the Cats went 24-12 in the regular season, before losing to
Wesleyan in the state championship. In 2014, the Cats went 32-13 in the regular season, but lost
to Blessed Trinity in the state championship, while 2015, the Cats went 28-19 in the regular
season, but again, lost to Blessed Trinity in the state championship.

In 2014, the Cats went 32-13 in the regular season, but lost to Blessed Trinity in the state
championship, while 2015, the Cats went 28-19 in the regular season, but again, lost to Blessed
Trinity in the state championship.

Westminster aims to get back to the state championship, but 12 th year head coach Jona
Braden likes to take a more methodical approach. “I rarely talk about the state championship, to
be honest,” said Braden. “We talk about getting better every day. The players come into the gym
every day with the intention of getting better, not only improving themselves, but their team.”
Although the team tries to look ahead, losses in 3 consecutive state championships hurts
the players. “That’s in the past. No question it’s disappointing, but we put it all out on the court,”
said Braden. “We played an amazing team, it was a hard fought game, but we came up short.”
Sophomore Ansley McNeel, who first played volleyball in 5 th grade, thinks of each
season as a brand-new start. “We have to learn that the last season does not affect the new
season,” said McNeel. “Losing in the finals so many years in a row just makes us want the win
even more.”

The Cats have advanced their way to the state championship consistently through
building a balanced team and their difficult schedule. “Everyone brings something unique to the
team and we all play different positions,” said McNeel. “We try to think of our season as a team
effort. No player can single handedly lose or win a match.”

Sophomore Maggie McSwain agrees on the team balance. “Honestly, there is no best
player,” said McSwain. “We as a team make each other better, and no one person affects the
team any more than the rest. Each player brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the team.”
Teamwork and player development are Braden’s favorite parts about coaching high-
school volleyball. “The special thing about coaching high school volleyball is watching 14-18
year olds develop as young people, becoming independent thinkers, and working on teamwork,”
said Braden. “As a coach you want so much for players. As I’ve learned over the many years I
have coached is that you have to be patient as it pertains to the growth of the players. You want
so much so fast. You have to admit that you can’t control everything. It’s a good challenge.”
Braden is a big believer that playing the best teams prepares you for challenges. “Every
year, we try to play the best of the best in all classifications, we’ve done that for forever. That’s
just Westminster volleyball. We faced all the teams that will compete for state championships,
teams like Saint Pius, the number one ranked Walton, Marist, and Columbus,” said Braden.
“They all challenge us in different ways. Volleyball is a game of tempo, rhythm, ball location
and a variety of different factors. You need to figure out what that other teams’ strengths are and
neutralizing them, and finding their weakness and exploiting them.”
Due to tough scheduling and heartbreaking state championship losses, the Cats are no
stranger to adversity. Every year, Braden creates a ‘senior council.’ “I have a senior council, 6
seniors that bring a variety of strengths, if it is what they bring on the court, or how they connect
with people,” said Braden. “The team leans on these ladies, if needed.”

McSwain thinks very highly of the senior leaders. “Our team captains are all of the
seniors, Claire, Maya, Liz, Margaret, Mary, and Kayla. Being the oldest members on the team, I
think that they do a great job of leading the younger member, and teaching them about the
sport,” said McSwain. “The best part about volleyball is the friendships you make. I am so
grateful for all of the great people I have met through volleyball. A huge part about the sport is
trusting and relying on your teammates, so we tend to grow close together.”
Junior Alix Nail loves being a part of the Westminster volleyball community, and has
been since 5 th grade. “It’s a really supportive family. When you hang out for two and a half hours
every day, you grow close,” said Nail. “Figuring out how to work with everybody can be
challenging though. Being put into new positions is hard.”

McNeel agrees that their rare benefits and negatives of a big team. “I love having such a
big team. Whenever someone has a bad day at school, we know we have 16 people who will
always cheer us up,” said McNeel. “But honestly, the only thing that hurts us is that we have a
ton of personalities to balance. We haven’t had a problem this year though, which is awesome.”

McNeel relies on the team through challenging moments. “The hardest part of the game
is definitely the mental aspect. You have to forget your mistakes and know how to move on.
Sometimes I have a really hard time with this because I am a perfectionist,” said McNeel. “The
hardest part of the physical game are the long rallies. When the ball stays up in the air for a long
time, we have a lot of sprinting and jumping to do as a team. It can be exhausting, and as soon as
that point ends we have to start another one right then.”