Positive energy

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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Berra

The St. Mary's High School varsity volleyball team went cold after taking a big lead against Bishop DuBourg High School March 29. Michael Berra helped put the Dragons back on track, jumping high at the net and spiking the ball into the corner. Later, he used a soft touch to put the volleyball out of the reach of an opposing player, and St. Mary's won the game.

Berra is one of the senior leaders on a team that went to the state championship game last year. St. Mary's jumped out to a 9-0 start this season and repeated as champions of the Southside Volleyball Tournament. Berra's presence is unmistakable, often smiling on the court and encouraging his athletically gifted teammates.

He's pleased with the play of underclassmen such as Andrew Albes, Tobias Hall and Kyle Merzweiler, who played lesser roles on the varsity last year. "They're really stepping up," Berra said, adding that Maximus Hibbeler, who played on the freshman team last year, adds a solid presence as well. "It's an all-team effort. We're not going to have any superstar, but we're all doing our part."

Berra, a four-year varsity player, is excited about the team this season and is shooting for a return to the state championship game.

He began playing volleyball in the third grade at St. Michael Parish in Shrewsbury, where he attended grade school, and he became enthralled with the sport because of the bonding necessary for a team to have success. "It doesn't have to do with talent all the time, it's about who works best together," Berra said of a winning formula. "That's what I love so much about it."

He was on the soccer team at St. Mary's, is vice president of the student council and is part of the leadership program that helps set up for Masses and organizes school events. "The brotherhood here is tremendous," he said. "We stand up for each other and we're always there for each other."

His advice to incoming freshmen is to "be yourself. We don't judge here."

At a recent lock-in for seniors, he learned new things about classmates as they opened up to each other, and he found it fascinating. "I wish I would have known that about them freshman year," Berra said.

He appreciates a pregame ritual in which the players grasp hands and pray the Hail Mary, ending with the Marianist doxology, a short prayer that celebrates the honor and glory Mary gives to the Holy Trinity. "It centers us as a team, helping us see that we play for St. Mary's, for Mary herself and for each other as well. That calms us down before games," Berra said.

He plans to study political science at the University of Missouri-Columbia with an eye toward law school. "I want to get into something to make a difference and make the world better," he said. "I'd like to defend people who need defending. That's always been noble to me."

Tony Dattoli, athletic director at St. Mary's, said the goal-oriented Berra exemplifies St. Mary's athletes. "He's a tremendous teammate who definitely leads by example," Dattoli said. "He's very jovial, always with a smile on his face."

Berra has many achievements athletically and academically, Dattoli said. "It's great to see his success on and off the court." 

>> A Marianist education

St. Mary's is a Catholic high school serving young men in the Marianist tradition.

Characteristics of Marianist education include:

• Educate for formation in faith

• Provide an integral, quality education

• Educate in family spirit

• Educate for service, justice and peace

• Educate for adaptation and change

St. Mary's provides many opportunities for leadership, including through campus ministry and the Marianist LIFE (Living in Faith Experience) program.

The school combined the Student Ambassador, Big Brother, and Student Council Programs into one unique four-year Student Leadership Program to provide students an opportunity to better develop and refine leadership skills. SLP combines retreat experiences, monthly seminars, Leadership I Course, Leadership II Course, and internship experiences. 

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