Determined St. Pius, Duchesne teams set for new season

Two volleyball teams from Catholic schools in the archdiocese began their season's schedule against each other Aug. 25, showing the determination and resilience that could carry them far this season.

St. Pius X High School in Festus defeated Duchesne High School in St. Charles 25-14, 25-23. Afterward, players and coaches reflected on the faith that the teammates have in each other and their abilities and how coming from a Catholic school and having faith in God assists them as they make their way through a sports season.

Being at a Catholic school brings an understanding of "faith in Jesus, faith in each other and faith in yourself, understanding that it all ties together," said St. Pius coach Dustin Cutts. "It's all about believing in something higher than yourself. Believing in Jesus is paramount to anything else, but believing in yourself and believing in your teammates goes right along with that. It's a big part of who we are."

The Catholic school atmosphere helps, too, said St. Pius junior Jena Otec. "We look to God to give us the strength and courage. We thank Him for giving us this talent. We're so thankful for being able to play this game, and it's so awesome He put us here on earth so we can do what we love to do."

In the first set Aug. 25, St. Pius took an early lead, led by sophomore Emma Grimshaw and Otec. Duchesne came back full force after trailing 14-4. Several players contributed in cutting the lead to 14-11, including senior McKenzie Struckhoff, sophomore Rachel Briscoe, junior Natalie Schroeder and senior Corinne Stulce, who dove relentlessly to keep balls that seemd like sure points for St. Pius in play.

St. Pius came on strong, however, with six straight points before taking the set.

Duchesne led the second set 13-6 after another sparkling play by Struckhoff and still held on to a 16-9 lead before St. Pius began inching back, tying the game at 20-20 and again at 22-22 before pulling ahead for good.

Duchesne 'family'

Duchesne coach Mark Wilhite was impressed with his girls in their first game of the year. "We had a little bit of jitters there at the beginning, but this is going to be a heck of a team this year," he said.

"These are lifelong relationships they're building right now," Wilhite said, calling the team a "family" and citing the amount of time they spend with each other.

Coaching the team is fun, he added. "The coaching staff works hard to make sure that we are preparing the girls' mind, body and spirit, not only for our play on the court, but for life in general. These girls will be able to take the challenges of the world head-on because of the hard work and discipline they are used to putting into their everyday life. I am already extremely proud of this team and I look forward to facing the challenges this season has to offer with them."

Duchesne's Schroeder said "we came back and proved ourselves the second game. I just wish the outcome would have been different. We played hard, we fought back. It didn't go our way, but we'll get them next time."

She's looking forward to the season because "this is the best team I've ever played with. I couldn't ask for a better group of girls. We all work hard at practice, we work together and are all friends."

The team has "our own little prayer thing," she said. "Every game we play, I know He (God) is with me. I thank Him for my talent every day, and it's so nice knowing He gave that to me."

A Duchesne teammate, Stulce, cited the recovery from the slow start to the contest and said that "we can just push through anything," a strength built on that family concept and on prayer.

St. Pius strength

Otec said St. Pius isn't the tallest or strongest, but "being one team, playing together and for each other is a big part of our success."

The practices involve three-on-three and four-on-four match-ups, which adds to the success, Otec said. But it's not all the court action that builds the team.

Another St. Pius player, Shelby Meyer, said the team shows enthusiasm and a love for the game. "It's important to stay together as a team and support each other. That's a big reason we were so successful last year and hopefully this year."

Faith in God is a big part of it, she said. "He's the reason, the sole reason we are capable of doing what we're doing."

St. Pius won the Windsor Tournament the previous weekend, going 10-0. "The team came out ready to play and won the championship against a good Mehlville team," Cutts said of his squad.

His tight-knit team has a respect for each other off the court, their differences and athletic ability, he said. "They know that in order to be successful we have to be a team, the best we can be, every single one of them, for us to reach our goals. They understand their roles and their roles as a teammate."

The team leaders "definitely lift everybody up. They're positive, good teammates and good role models for the younger kids," the coach added.

Cutts said his team enjoyed the enthusiastic crowd on its opponent's court. Duchesne "has great spirit, great defensive play, great players, it's a fun match for us."

St. Pius won again the next night, Aug. 26, 25-18 and 25-22 against Lutheran South for a 7-0 start on the year.

Reasons for optimism

Both St. Pius X and Duchesne high schools are optimistic about the volleyball season.

St. Pius has played in the state finals four years in a row, finishing third in Class 3 last year and ending the season 34-5-2. The team this year won the preseason Windsor tournament. The Lancers are led by junior Jena Otec, chosen on the all-state team last year for Class 3 by the Missouri Volleyball Coaches Association.

Last year Duchesne was 13-6, winning the district championship for the fourth year in a row. The team from St. Charles had five players graduate, but it has plenty of replacements ready to prove themselves, led by five seniors. Duchesne's Corrinne Stulce, a senior who was first-team all conference last year, and Natalie Schroeder, a junior who was second-team all conference, are among the talented players on the team. 

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