VolleyCats claim state championship title at the end of an unusual season


Photo credit Kasey Newkirk

Westminster varsity volleyball players pose for a photo. Left to Right: Elena Karas ‘21, Caroline Dickey ‘22, Mary Emily Morgan ‘21, Ruthie Hay ‘22, and Anna Chen ‘22.

Ranked eighth in the state and 82nd in the nation, the Westminster varsity volleyball team has yet again proven its dominance in the arena by bringing home a state championship title on Nov. 7. It was one of the team’s many state appearances, but they had previously lost the title to rival Pace Academy for the past three years. This year, they defeated Pace early in the season and were left to battle Morgan County (36-6) for the AAA state title, as Pace is no longer a AAA school, thanks to regional realignments. The Cats defeated Morgan County in straight sets (25-16, 25-11, 25-10) for the 2020 title.

This isn’t Westminster’s first state championship in the trophy case for varsity volleyball, but it was a first for everyone on the team. This is also Catherine Monroe’s first title as Westminster head coach. 

For Westminster fall athletes, sports looked a little different this year, and with the 2020 volleyball season officially over, not everyone can say they expected the season to last as long as it did. The massive nationwide spike of coronavirus this past summer left some students doubtful of fall sports taking place at all, but the Westminster athletic department facilitated a successful fall season with the aid of COVID-19 safety protocols based upon the Georgia High School Association’s guidelines. 

While safety regulations differed among sports, the school is doing everything it can to keep sports alive on campus by creating a safe and protected environment. For the JV and varsity volleyball teams, this included wearing masks at all times. Between practice, conditioning, and gameplay, the VolleyCats have been compliant with the strict and effective policies. In addition to social distancing and mask wearing, limiting the players’ exposure to others was another key to the teams remaining safe throughout the season. 

“The Well has become our designated lunch spot to avoid interactions with other students without masks,” said junior Anna Chen. 

Though the safety precautions were a disruption to how the players are used to playing, 2019 Class AAA Player of the Year and senior captain Mary Emily Morgan said there was something positive to come from it. 

“We have really bonded more in the face of the virus and surrounding obstacles, so the team feels much more in tune with one another and on the same page at all times,” said Morgan. “Our biggest weapon [is] our consistency. We have a core starting group that puts up consistent statistics each game, which keeps us always moving forward.” 

The Cats had the perfect end to a strange season, and their hard work, team bond, and consistent practices were reflected by their ability to dominate on the court. Morgan, who has been playing Westminster volleyball since seventh grade, was excited for the opportunity to play for a state title one last time as a Westminster Wildcat. 

“Throughout the chaos, I am beyond grateful to be able to have my senior season,” said Morgan. “Even without fans, and a modified no-sibling senior night, I am still so happy I’ve gotten the chance to finish out my career at Westminster.” 

Another big change for volleyball players this year was the lack of fan support. Even though students could live-stream games via WCAT, fans were restricted from physically attending all games up until the state championship. Whether at the high school, collegiate, or professional level, a crowd can impact players and how they perform. Thankfully, this didn’t seem to negatively affect the team as they were able to maintain an impressive record with major victories over rival schools like Blessed Trinity. 

“This team is very close and leans on each other for motivation,” said Monroe. “I have not noticed that the lack of fans has impacted their ability to stay focused during hard matches or when we are losing. They are competitors and have been able to ‘dig deep’ when the game seemed like it was not going our way.”

Monroe knew there was going to be a lot of stress on her players heading into Saturday’s game. Not only were they the favorite, but most of the team’s starters had already ended multiple high school seasons with a second-place showing, so there was even more pressure to bring home a championship. Putting trust in each other is a core value for both varsity and JV players. 

“The biggest strength on the JV team was our unity,” said sophomore Carleigh Franklin. “We got close during the season and became really good friends with everyone; this unity and teamwork really helped us in games.” 

The JV team’s season wasn’t as long as varsity’s and ended in September, which is just one difference between the two programs.

“I think that a major difference is how close the team is to each other, but this is solely because of how long the seasons are,” said sophomore Chen. “Since the varsity season lasts for about two and a half months, there is lots of time for the team to bond.” 

Fluid team chemistry is just one component of a winning team and undoubtedly contributed to their success. Preparing for any big game can be nerve-racking, but the state championship adds another level of intensity for any athlete. 

“It’s key to have control of your nerves and not allow them to get out of hand,” said Morgan. “The majority of our team has been here before, the seniors have three times at least, so it’s helpful to just remember we couldn’t be at this point if we didn’t play well enough to deserve it.” 

In addition to mental preparation, it was important for the coaches to make sure their players were as healthy as possible before game day.

 “The week before state, we have focused on our health,” said Monroe. “This group is talented and has had a successful season against a range of competitors, and therefore we were not planning on making any drastic changes. We reduced practice time and focused on discipline touches and communication.” 

Keeping players healthy and COVID-free allowed the team to concentrate on playing their best, without the worry of filling in for sick teammates. This plan paid off, as the Cats secured the elusive state title and look to follow it up with another championship run in 2021.