The St. Joseph’s Academy volleyball team finished the 2023 season with a hard-fought loss to East Ascension in the bi-district round of the LHSAA playoffs. The team clinched the district title with a 5-0 record and ended the year at 18-18.
Coach Sivi Miller said the year was marked by growth and hard work against a tough schedule, injuries and illness. “Throughout the year, we kept reminding the girls that we were playing a demanding schedule, and although we were not seeing the wins roll in at times, we were seeing levels of excellence against the most competitive teams in the state,” she said. “We pinpointed ways for the girls to grow as individuals and as a team and encouraged them to bottle those moments up and use them in the following practice or match.”
Ending the season in the first round of the playoffs was a bitter disappointment for the coaching staff and the team, Miller said. Following the match, the group summarized the game and discussed how to bounce back and prepare for next year. “It’s always sad to see the season end but more difficult to see it end for our seniors,” Miller said.
Senior Abby Francise, a team captain, said she will miss the excitement and atmosphere of game days and being on the court with her teammates. While the early departure from the playoffs was disappointing, she knows the team will work to maintain a consistent level of play moving forward. “We had highs, and we had lows,” she said. “When we would have highs, we struggled transitioning to the next game and keeping that high. We definitely did not play to our potential versus EA, but conversations after the game included working hard in the offseason to come back next year to win a state championship.”
Returning varsity players will be joined by members of the freshman and JV teams, who also played competitive schedules and experienced growth. Miller said the coaching staff is excited to plug into the potential of their younger athletes in the coming season.
Junior Molly Perry, a team captain, said losing the entire starting lineup from 2022 to graduation resulted in a young and inexperienced squad. “I think that was definitely a big struggle throughout the season,” she said. “Even though it was a tough year in the wins and losses columns, we still battled. We kept pushing some of the best teams in the state to four and five sets. I think that our team did a very good job of always playing for and with each other. I think that although this was not the ending we wanted, it will give us more drive for next season. I think that everyone is really ready to get back to work so that we can win state next year.”
Sophomore Emmy Neumann said she enjoyed forming connections with her teammates and becoming like a family. While the early playoff loss was tough, she said she dealt with it by getting back into the gym to prepare for next season. “I am looking forward to being really connected with my setters and getting to meet the new talent coming to the team next year,” she said.
Sophomore Caroline Burkhalter said she enjoyed the bonds and memories that were made during the year. She said that while 2023 was something of a rollercoaster ride, the team endured. “It was made easier knowing that it wasn’t just you and that we were all in it together,” she said. “The early departure from playoffs was obviously not the ending we expected, but I’m still proud of the way we fought all the way to the end.”
Senior Addie Uter said she enjoyed the journey with her teammates. She will look back on her senior season with fond memories. “My teammates are awesome,” she said. “Even though we didn’t make it as far as we wanted, we had a lot of fun. I know we played hard, and I can go on from here knowing that we tried our best to succeed this season.”
Junior Kaylie McKinney said she and her teammates will build on both the mistakes and successes of the past season and move forward with positive energy. “This year, I played with the people I love and enjoy playing the sport with,” she said. “I also enjoyed growing as a team and as a person because the people I spend every day with changed me into a better player and person.”
Miller said she is excited to see players return from a competitive club season and offseason and begin the process of creating a lineup. “The balance is found when the more experienced players take the young players under their wings,” she said. “Strong leadership from experienced players and a solid, competitive drive from the team as a whole make it easy for us, as coaches, to put the pieces together. Our program has always placed sisterhood, hard work and skill improvement at the top of our to-do list, and we have a great group of players returning next season to do just that.”
Mindy Brodhead Averitt