This year’s team will consistently face off against competitive teams.
“There’s a lot of talent this year, unlike past years where it’s kinda been us and Lafayette, and then everyone else a tier down,” said head coach Jeff Cheak. “There’s probably about four or five other teams that are going to be really good: Vianney, De Smet, Kirkwood, Pattonville. So some new schools that are always in that second tier are now in the first tier, so we’re gonna have our hands full for about half of our schedule.”
Although without six players who graduated last year, the team features six seniors and two juniors from last year’s squad. The experienced seniors will take the lead this year with knowledge, and thirst for another title.
“We know what it takes to win, and we know what we have to do this year, and we want it again. We’re not gonna be satisfied with only one,” said senior Brian Venhaus.
“It’ll be good to have so many returning players because that experience is invaluable for them to understand what it takes to get back there. It’s a different makeup of guys, so every year it’s about figuring out the group of guys, and then figuring out how to get to the State Championship, but the benefit of having half the team back from last year is nice,” said Cheak.
Unlike the seniors from last year, this year’s seniors don’t have the same type of physicality and skill as their elders. To compensate, the team is trying to work around that setback by using their SLUH brains to play smarter and create a stronger chemistry.
“With this group, I don’t think we’re as physical as we’ve been in the past, where we’ve had a lot of power, a lot of height,” said Cheak. “I think this team is going to have to work smart to beat a lot of teams, and being from SLUH, I think we have that already instilled with a lot of these guys. I think it’s going to be a lot of building the chemistry, and then really working every point to win each point, not looking too far ahead but to focus on one point at a time.”
The seniors discussed amongst themselves how to step up to bring the team together more as leaders.
“The seniors last year were very talented and their enthusiasm I believe is what led us to State,” said senior Joe Manion. “This year, the other seniors and I are looking to bring the same energy and perseverance that last year’s team had and translate it into becoming a unified and successful team.”
Two of the senior leaders, Venhaus and Dalton Ennis, who are on the same club team, put in a lot of effort to have open gym sessions in the offseason to get players more involved, especially freshmen.
Along with the six seniors, the team brings in four underclassmen—two juniors, one sophomore, and one freshman. More younger players will likely be called up as the season progresses, but as of right now, the current underclassmen look promising.
“The underclassmen this year are all going to have a great season,” said sophomore Peter Quinn. “Almost all of us have a pre-existing experience with volleyball, and that shows how much depth our program really has.”
The team’s goal is to focus more on improving by small amounts every day through consistent practices and workouts.
“Our goal during the year is to get better every day, with the ultimate goal of winning State. That’s a goal we’ll never shy away from, that’s something that we drive this program to expect that we’re always in the final two, and I don’t expect that to be much different this time around,” said Cheak.
“Our team has been striving to be one to two percent better every day, putting in our best effort from the beginning of the week, even though we’ve only been playing together for a few days,” said Quinn. “I can see a bright future ahead of us for this season.”
After an undefeated season capped by a State Championship victory, the 2019 team stands in the shadow of a great team, knowing they’ll have to work for the back-to-back title.
“Nothing is guaranteed this year,” said Manion. “We need to always give it 100 percent in practices and treat every play like the season depends on it. I’m optimistic about this team, but we’re going to need to work in order to get to the level we want to be at.”