Confidence is a key for standout St. Mary’s team

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The confidence of the volleyball team at St. Mary's High School is easy to see.

When St. Mary's battled a tough Duchesne team to a 25-20, 25-22 victory April 10 to improve its record to 9-1 on the season, the players focused calmly on the task ahead. "We thrive on confidence," junior setter Justin Bridges said after the game.

The team's defense is stellar and the offense is improving each game, Bridges said. Against Duchesne, the aim was to contain Duchesne's hitters and, as the game went along, to do "a much better job blocking and playing defense on them," he said.

St. Mary's coach John Chittakhone agreed that the defense was a key, adding that "we served tough on them."

Chittakhone describes his team as having a quick offense, running down the ball when it looks as if they may not get to it. "We control the ball as much as possible on our side of the court," he said.

To start the season, St. Mary's defeated Lindbergh to win the championship of the inaugural Southside Classic Tournament at Webster Groves High School. Chittakhone has served as volleyball coach at St. Mary's since 1997. During his tenure, the team has won five state championships (including a three-peat from 2006-2008), placed second three times and finished in third place once.

Bridges, who began playing volleyball in the third grade at St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Parish, enjoys the competition the sport provides. "It's a battle each night," he said. "They come to play, and we come to play. It's fun."

Senior outside hitter Kyle Miller has an increased leadership role this year. Last year he was a captain along with then-seniors Joe Peek, Will Merzweiler and Jon Flowers. "This year it's definitely different, having to step up when the game's close and there's extra pressure," Miller said.

When "crunch time" comes in a game, he said, "obviously the nerves come out because you don't want to be the guy to mess up the point or make an error. But you have to be willing to make the mistake in order to grow and mature so that when 'crunch time' comes in a big game you have the confidence to do it."

The team's bond shows on the court "where when someone gets down, all five other guys are picking him back up, telling him he's got the next one and moving forward," Miller said.

Praying before the game has a calming effect on the team. "We just get in a zone. It's something special," he said.

The Catholic faith is about service, Chittakhone said. "We help each other out as much as possible," he said. "It's not about us, it's about helping others."

After each game, win or lose, the team applauds parents and fans in attendance.

Duchesne

Duchesne played St. Mary's close, especially in the second set. "They have a big heart. They never give up," said Duchesne coach Megan Durham.

She has a positive outlook on her team, which entered the St. Mary's game with a 4-1 record. "The sky is absolutely the limit," Durham said. "Nothing is impossible. The fact that they mesh really well — get along on and off the court — helps them succeed as a team." 

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