Knights Emerge as Top 10 Power

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago at this time, the Varsity Volleyball Team owned a 0-3 record – and were struggling in all aspects of the game. Coach Mehdi El Alaoui demonstrated tremendous resolve, recognizing that his team was much better than the early returns suggested. Despite their inexperience, he knew better days were ahead. He believed, both in himself and his players. He knew it was only a matter of time, and all would be fine.

His patience paid off as the Knights finished strong – posting an 18-14 mark overall and advancing to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Championship Tournament semi-finals and the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association State Tournament quarter-finals. All in all, a very nice season.

Twelve months later, the Volleyball Team is sitting atop the WCAC standings with an unblemished 3-0 record – having knocked off perennial powers Holy Cross (3-1) and Good Counsel (3-0) en route to an impressive 4-0 start to the 2016 campaign. By WCAC standards, a couple kingpins.

Suddenly (and to my knowledge, the first time ever), the Volleyball Team is ranked in The Washington Post Top 10 voting – 10th in last week's poll. The 2016 edition is also attracting national attention, with MaxPreps, AVCA and Prep Volleyball all inquiring about the Knights' success early on.

And, rightfully so!

A concern a year ago, experience and versatility are now staples of the program. With nine returning players, the Knights have a better understanding of Coach El Alaoui's expectations and what he is looking for. Since most of this contingent has played together three years now, team chemistry is also a plus. That familiarity means his team can run different systems and make in-game adjustments that few others do at the scholastic level. His players can play multiple positions, that versatility giving the Knights a tremendous advantage come game time.

Passing is the key. They pass well, they execute. They execute, they are going to be tough to beat.

The talent-laden team is led by a pair of senior stalwarts across the frontline, Maxine Friedman (pictured top) and Sarah Lawler (pictured right).

Friedman is an absolute stud. Her instincts for and knowledge of the game are beyond compare, despite transitioning into a new position and a new role this fall. The transition has not been easy, but she is still making the most of it. Formerly a setter, the outside hitter has more responsibilities – most especially passing and attacking when someone sets the ball to her. Through four games, "Max" has been awesome – registering 68 kills and 18 aces. She is on the Under Armour 2016 High School Watch List, which highlights the country's top senior volleyball players. Love her game!

Lawler is relatively new to the game, having been a gymnast before her arrival at O'Connell. Her first time touching a volleyball was at Coach El Alaoui's summer camp as an incoming freshman at DJO. She has since blossomed into one of the WCAC's top players, complementing Friedman on the frontline with her assertive kills and touch passing skills. Her off-season devotion to the sport has seen her game improve each and every year. So much so that Sarah has 52 kills with a .432 hitting percentage and 14 aces to date. Like Friedman, she's a big-time talent at the scholastic level.

Katie Boehm and Lucie Drahozal (pictured left) have evolved into the squad's defensive specialists. The "digging duo" are very consistent performers who provide a great deal of leadership both on and off the court not to mention possessing tremendous knowledge of their sport. Their support is immense, especially for newcomers to the program.

Sophomore Kelley Moriarty has emerged as the team's top setter, an all-important position in Coach El Alaoui's game planning game-to-game. She is a very strong setter capable of setting up her teammates from anywhere on the court. Kelley is a much-improved player from a year ago and has developed into one of the Knights' key performers, especially if the DJO girls are to fulfill their goals this fall.

Ingrid Bayer, Alexia McCants and Nora Stechshulte are also playing big roles at the net and contributing with their blocks – truly contributing to a formidable frontline for the Knights.

Top 10 status is just the beginning for the O'Connell volleyball program under the guidance of Coach El Alaoui. He and his girls want more, namely to still be playing when championships are on the line in the WCACs and the VISAAs come November. Participating in those title game matchups is the goal, winning 'em the dream. Those triumphs over Holy Cross and Good Counsel have only strengthened that resolve. The journey is just now beginning, but it looks so very, very promising. Enjoy the ride! Looks like it could be a good one!

This is Tommy Orndorff, and that was The Week That Was.

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