Yet Coach Mehdi El Alaoui remained optimistic. He believed. He believed, both in himself and, most especially, his players. He knew that they were capable of better – and that, in time, they would improve. It was just that, a matter of time.
But, he also realized that it was not going to be easy.
Gone were eight seniors from a year ago, most especially middle hitters Sarah Cahill and Maureen Ready. Inexperience plagued his Knights early on, as he sought an answer for that vacated position – experimenting with his lineup and strategically attacking opponents in hopes of hiding his team’s deficiency across the frontline.
To an extent, it has worked as the DJO volleyball team has reeled off three straight wins – improving their overall record to 6-5 and their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference mark to 4-4.
And, in doing so, the Knights are once again emerging as a contender in the WCAC under El Alaoui’s leadership.
Earlier, he felt his players were playing not to lose. They were making the safe play, not taking risks. Fear of failure limited their abilities to perform as they were capable. He found himself working on their mental games, trying to reverse negative mind sets into positive ones. All the while teaching his girls that making mistakes was not a bad thing as long as we learned from those miscues. His encouragement and enthusiasm seems to have caught on, as his team is once again playing with an aggression not evidenced in the Knights’ first five games.
And, the result: five wins in their last six games. The most impressive of which came on Thursday evening at Bishop Ireton when the DJO contingent took down a good BI team (3-1), which was previously ranked 8th in a recent Washington Post Top 10 Poll for the DMV. And, they did so impressively: 25-23, 25-21, 24-26, 25-16.
It was during that encounter that El Alaoui may have found the missing ingredient as the DJO girls approach the mid-season point and the second half of the WCAC season. Enter sophomore Ingrid Bayer, and she came up big on the frontline manning the middle hitter slot. She was unstoppable, making her presence known up front with her blocking and hitting skills.
The Knights are coming off impressive back-to-back outings, blanking Bishop McNamara, 3-0, in addition to the 3-1 decision over BI. Keys to both those triumphs were the DJO girls’ service skills. When El Alaoui’s charges are on their game, they are tough to beat. He has six players who are really great servers.
There are six skills in volleyball: (1) server, (2) passer, (3) hitter, (4) setter, (5) digger and (6) blocker. Good players probably possess three or four of these skills, demonstrating good versatility almost anywhere on the court. Junior Maxine Friedman(pictured top) is the unique exception. She possesses all six of these skills, and is as good as it gets as a setter. As her stats would suggest (102 kills, 24 aces, 41 digs and 125 assists), Max is the complete player. Her instincts for the game make her the player that she truly is – one of the four or five best to ever play the game at DJO. Her experience and talent make her a special player. Volleyball is her game, and she is only getting better year-to-year.
Other standouts for the Knights are Katie Boehm (pictured above right), Lucie Drahozal (pictured above left), Olivia Giaquinto (pictured here)and Sarah Lawler (pictured below). Boehm is an important player, making sure that the ball is going correctly to Friedman and Drahozal. Friedman would not have those 102 kills without Drahozal, who is the most improved player on this year’s squad. She has 143 assists and is on The Washington Post Top 10 list for servers with 32 aces. She is doing a fantastic job. Lawler (93 kills, 20 aces) and Giaquinto (53 kills, 23 aces, 32 digs) are forces along the frontline and from the service line. Lawler is blossoming into a nice kill artist, while Giaquinto possesses a nice all-around game for the DJO contingent.
Under El Alaoui’s leadership, the O’Connell girls are only going to get better as their games grow, both individually and in team aspects. A former professional and international player himself, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with his teams. He is a tremendous teacher of the sport – and, most importantly, sharing his passion and love for the sport itself.
His visions for the program at O’Connell year-in and year-out include being a Top Four team in the WCAC and qualifying for the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) State Tournament playoffs each and every year. In that respect, he believes the 2015-16 edition will do both. He loves their competitive nature and desire to excel.
By season’s end, this promises to be a team to reckon with – one capable of some surprises come playoff time. They are just now finding themselves. Stay tuned!
This is Tommy Orndorff, and that was The Week That Was.
‘Tis the season. Fall is in the air. Another gridiron campaign is upon us. I love this time of year. Just love it! Especially so on the scholastic level.
But Saturday was tough. Real tough. Devastating even.
To my estimation (and admittedly, I do not know all the intricacies of the game, or really care to... strictly just a fan), our DJO contingent outplayed Ireton in all aspects of the game only to lose a heartbreaker, 23-21, on a 51-yard field goal with just 54 seconds remaining on the clock. That’s right, 54 seconds left...a 51-yard field goal. And, it was legit! It would have been good from 61 yards. No exaggeration. Legit? He connected from 49 and 45 yards earlier in the game. Remember the name: David Cooper. He’s the best high school kicker that I have seen in my 31 years at O’Connell and 14 years prior as a sportswriter – and I have seen a lot of games during that span. That was quite an impressive performance by the BI kicker.
It was an excellent high school football game. Very evenly played, with momentum swinging back and forth throughout the entire game. There are a handful of plays in every football game that determine the outcome of the game. Probably as many as five to ten plays every game. Sloppy tackling early on led to one score, while a 3rd and 18 heave in the second period led to a first down en route to yet another scoring drive. That’s two of ‘em, off-hand.
Even in losing, I was impressed with a lot that I took in. On both sidelines, but, most especially, on our own DJO side of the ball.
Let’s start with the most important position in the game: QB. In coachspeak, DeJuan Ellis (pictured left) is the real deal. Love his game. He has a great feel for the game, an understanding of where defenders are around him...just so, so elusive. He came in with a lot of hype, and he is more than living up to it. He is as good as I have seen at the quarterback position in all my years here at O’Connell – and we have had some good ones. He has all the tools to be a great one when all is said and done. All the tools – and his instincts and feel for the game are amazing. He is the ultimate competitor. As long as he is under center, we are a threat to score from anywhere on the field. Just love his game!
He has a pair of outstanding wide-outs to throw to in Myles Hudzick and Brandon Magee.
Hudzick (pictured right) is the team’s most explosive playmaker on both sides of the ball and on special teams, whether he is in the slot hauling in Ellis’ aerials, picking off a pass on D from his free safety position or breaking one on a return. He is elusive, strong, runs great routes, possesses great speed, and, in truth, a game breaker any time the ball is in his hands. His competitive edge makes Myles a truly special player. Just love it when the ball is in his hands. He is an awesome talent.
Ditto for Magee, who does a great job when the ball is in the air. Give him an opportunity to make a play, and he will make it. Great hands! Also runs great routes and is a deep threat.
This outstanding one-two combo on the outside truly complement each other. So much so, that first-year Head Coach Colin Disch feels that, looking back, the Knights need to take more shots downfield – throwing the deep ball and creating more explosive plays. Count on Hudzick and Magee winning the 50/50 balls.
Toting the pigskin, the Knights featured four running backs on Saturday, each of which has their own strengths or unique abilities. Nick Shaw (pictured left) runs hard and is very active, keeping his feet moving. Ethan Bell is a small, compact back, who is very patient looking for openings and navigating himself well when the opportunity presents itself. Will Williams also runs hard...he is a bruiser, a punishing runner who wears defenses down. Williams was also a beast on defense, recording 12 tackles, eight of which were solo take-downs. Stacey Watts is the team’s best blocking back, utilized primarily in passing situations. Each has his niche and knows their role in the scheme of things. It is a group which has a great bond with each other and is excited for each other’s success and accomplishments.
Providing the protection upfront and opening those holes is an outstanding offensive line, led by UNC-bound Jay-Jay McCargo. At 6-4, 300 pounds, McCargo is as good as it gets in the trenches. He is a tremendous pass protector and he can collapse a side in the run game. His presence brings a lot of confidence, especially across an offensive front that featured four sophomores at times on Saturday. Coming off a knee injury, Jay-Jay is currently limited to just two quarters of play on game day.
Also, through the lens (specifically, my camera lens), sophomore guard Rudy Holland had a nice afternoon – to my estimation anyway. He was extremely active, and came up big time and time again – both on running plays and in pass protection. He’s going to be a good one, on both sides of the ball.
Coach Disch’s challenge is to make this team more cohesive, more together. There are pockets of camaraderie, but not enough, and, to an extent, isolated. He needs his charges to get excited for one another, his 55-man roster pulling together for each other with one goal in mind: winning.
In a manner of speaking, changing “the culture” through hard work, competition in practice, conditioning, and, in doing so, putting them in uncomfortable situations, where they need each other. And, at the end of the day, moving people off the football and tackling well. Doing the little things and playing for each other for 48 minutes.
All for one, one for all.
This is Tommy Orndorff and that was The Week That Was.
Athletic Director, Coach Joe Wootten sat down with our boys tennis coach, Mark Borgiasz, to reflect on this spring season and the WCAC championship:
Q: Coach Borgiasz, what a year! You told me before the year started that you thought this team had a chance to win the title and they did exactly that...WCAC CHAMPIONS! What made you feel prior to the season that you could win it?
Coach Borgiasz: I felt that we were going to have a strong team that could compete up and down the lineup. I knew that we had players that were going to be pushing our top guys all year and that is what led to our improvement throughout the season. We were able to have guys step in at the end of the season and win critical matches when some players went down with injuries. Being able to trust in the other guys to still get the job done was huge for us this year.
Q: What did you have to do during the season to reach the lofty goal you set?
Coach Borgiasz: The team had to compete every day. We have had a series of 3rd place finishes in the WCAC and Coach Parson and I knew that in order achieve our goals we had to push our players in practice and matches. We scheduled tough out of conference matches which helped to show our players that we can play with the best teams and players in the state.
Q: Who were the key contributors to the rise of team?
Coach Borgiasz:The key contributors this year were our two senior captains Patrick Hughes and Kevin Shepard as well as sophomores Luke Brinkmann and Gianni Snidle. Hughes and Shepard, long time doubles partners, were split up this year in favor of using their leadership to groom younger players in doubles. Hughes was paired with freshman phenom Erick Rivas and Shepard was paired with Brinkmann, Snidle was paired with another freshman standout Shaun Freeman. All three doubles teams won their championship matches in the WCAC to carry Knights to victory.
Q: We lost to Gonzaga in a tough match late in the season...even at that match you commented that we could win it all..what gave you that confidence?
Coach Borgiasz: I think I knew we could win it all during our post match talk. I had never seen a team so determined to prove themselves after that loss. We were coming off of spring break and right into the most difficult section of our schedule, the team really learned a lot about themselves during that stretch.
Q: The doubles came through! We were down heading into the doubles matches and we won all 3 to clinch the crown. How are double different in terms of strategy? Do you coach them differently? Were doubles a strength of this year’s teams?
Coach Borgiasz: Our doubles teams were our strength all year. They all came out and showed the competition why they were the best. We coach them differently than the singles. We want our doubles teams to get pumped up and play with enthusiasm and attack their opponent at all times, we play O'Connell doubles.
Q: Now that the team has the first WCAC title since 1982 under their belt, where do you go from here? What are your goals for the team moving forward? How good can DJO Tennis be in the future?
Coach Borgiasz: The team will look forward to another successful year in 2016. We are extremely young and our young players have had great examples from our leaders. The talent on this team is outstanding. They can do pretty much whatever they set their minds to and work as a team.
Q: Mark Borgiasz and Eric Parson make up a great coaching combo at DJO. Coach Parson leads the Lady Knights in the fall and you lead the boys in the spring. What strengths do each of you bring to the table...and it is evident that you both work well together...what makes the combination so good?
Coach Borgiasz: We have been coaching together for almost ten years at many different levels of tennis. What makes us work is the ying and the yang, Coach Parson likes to joke with me that I am like the drill sergeant and he is always calm cool and collected. He always brings a new perspective and calming influence to the players which they appreciate. We both feed off of each other in practice and matches. Coach Parson is a teacher, he is not just a tennis coach he teaches lessons every time he addresses you, and you just have to listen for them.
Q: Any closing words?
Coach Borgiasz: This was a magical year for Knights tennis. It has been a long time since the Knights have been on top in the WCAC and we plan to make sure that we stay at the top.
This is Joe Wootten and that is The Week That Was!