Villa Duchesne's calm presence prevails in volleyball

Eric Danko

The volleyball season came to a close Oct. 31 in Cape Girardeau with Villa Duchesne coming out on top in Class 3. The team defeated St. Pius X of Festus 25-17, 25-10 for its second title in the sport, winning the school's first in 2011.

The team remained calm and never got flustered, said Villa Duchesne's coach, Sean Weber. "They just played. Their perseverance and resilience was exceptional. There's no doubt in my mind that's how we were able to win it all. We had our back up against the wall several times this year, and they always came through," Weber said.

St. Pius was a worthy opponent, with more than 30 wins and having defeated Villa twice this season.

The first meeting between the teams came in the fourth game of the season, and the second was in pool play in the tournament. "We had a lot of errors (in that game), and our first contact wasn't good. When we met on Saturday, we knew we had to correct that," Weber said, explaining that the first touch of the ball needs to be placed correctly to set up an attack.

In a space as small as a volleyball court, the players have to let go of any mistakes quickly, the coach noted: "You don't have time to dwell on things, because if you do, the next thing you know you're down by 10."

Villa Duchesne's team, 33-7-1, benefitted from good leadership, including junior Elizabeth Orf, seniors Meghan Donovan and Lauren Wacker and freshman Ashley Federer, who finished the season with almost 600 digs. Donovan, a setter, shattered the state record for assists with more than 3,400 in her career.

Villa Duchesne's teams represent the school well, Weber said. "We make sure we consistently thank all those around us. It's tradition to thank the officials after the game, win or loss."

Even if it's perceived that the officials made a bad call, the players extend their thanks because, as Weber said, "they're human, too, and they make mistakes. It's important to be thankful for what we have. As a matter of fact, that's what we talked about on Saturday. Appreciating the opportunity to be blessed to be where we were and enjoy the moment we were in, regardless of the outcome."

His players "always have something to lean on, someone to go to on a higher level" because of their faith, he explained. They have a team prayer that the players know by heart. "We pray and give thanks before we take the court every match," he said.

Donovan said the team had a lot of adversity. Only a few players are well known from playing on club teams, so the team was underestimated from the beginning. "That made us fight more, and it led to a state championship," Donovan said. "We were very competitive and all had the drive to win. We all knew the end goal could be what we achieved."

Villa's players worked hard at practice, with game scenarios, and took it seriously, as if it were a game, Donovan noted.

The team had a plan for every game, and though it wasn't executed the first two times against St. Pius, it was implemented in the championship, she noted. "They were a great team with a lot of great players," she said of St. Pius, a talented squad led by Jena Otec.

Donovan, a University of Georgia recruit, enjoys the energy and momentum of volleyball: "It's not just scoring once, and you're done. ... It's very team-oriented. You need every player to win."

The championship has meaning for her. "I never won a championship, and I think it's great to bring home a championship for Villa," Donovan said.

As a Catholic athlete, she tries to pay attention to what God has in store for her. "I would visualize and pray before most games, and I think that helps," noted the parishioner of Immacolata in Richmond Heights.

Orf, who has committed to play volleyball at Marquette University, said that the assumption before the season started was that the team wouldn't be as good because many seniors graduated. "We all knew that we could attain the goal that we set. We worked really hard to achieve that."

The team had good team chemistry, she added. It was a struggle somewhat at the beginning of the season to mesh, Orf recalled, but "toward the end of the year we realized this is a team effort and we were all working together really, really well." In the championship game, Orf said, "we played like the true Villa team, and that's what got us through."

Volleyball is a sport that's easy to enjoy, she said. "It's such a team game and a game of momentum shifts, and I love that."

Field hockey

Villa Duchesne's state-championship volleyball team isn't the only team at the school this fall that found success.

The field hockey team finished second in the Midwest Field Hockey Tournament Oct. 31, losing to Mary Intitute-Country Day School 2-1 in Fenton. MICDS has won the title three years in a row, defeating Cor Jesu 2-1 last year.

Villa ended the season at 21-2-2. Earlier this year, the team ended MICDS' 52-game unbeaten streak.

Morgan Hudspeth had the goal for Villa Duchesne in the championship game.

To get to the championship, Villa Duchesne won 2-0 over Cor Jesu. Goals were scored by Allie Christopher and Brooke Cytron. Goalie Emma Deines nailed her 18th shutout on the year.

Earlier this year, Villa coach Kate Graft described her players as unselfish on the field. Cor Jesu coach Audrey Ploesser cited her team as a hardworking and fun group, noting that all the players work well with each other. 

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