Two Catholic schools from the archdiocese made the finals of the Missouri Boys Volleyball State Tournament, with St. Louis University High School completing an undefeated season in Class 4 and St. Mary’s High School falling just short of a state title in Class 3.
SLUH defeated Lafayette 25-22 and 25-16 May 24 at Webster Groves High School to win the title. The win was the Junior Billikens’ third championship in four years and ninth since 1997. SLUH lost in three sets to Lafayette last year.
After Lafayette tied the first set 19-19, SLUH pulled away for the win. In the second set, Lafayette tied the set at 7-7 before the Junior Billikens surged ahead, gaining confidence after key points scored by Andrew Cross, Nathan Langhauser and Matt Coplen.
A joyous SLUH coach Jeff Cheak said it felt good to watch his players succeed and their hunger to regain the championship title. He praised Lafayette as an outstanding competitor.
Cheak said he tried to be a calming influence as his players dealt with the emotions of a big set. He let them work their way out of jams rather than call timeouts, showing them the confidence he has in them. “This team is mentally strong,” he said. “What they did all year is what they did tonight. They stepped up big in some big spots.”
The seniors are leaders on and off the court. Included are the student council president and student council members as well as “guys with crazy-high GPAs,” their coach said.
Pregame and in practices they talk about their faith, he said. “It intertwines very well.”
Ryan Whealen, who had 18 assists, two kills, four blocks and two aces, showed his athleticism and a calm demeanor in steady play. The championship and remaining undefeated means much to the seniors, he said. “We had a lot of games where we started down and fought back. But at the end we were able to pull it off.”
Another senior, Kyle Cohan, said: “We wanted to win this for each other because we worked so hard. We just make sure we have each other’s backs so we can all be on the same page and trust each other.”
The coaches help the players see that the sport provides lessons that relate to life, Cohan added. Above all, he said, “we are thankful we are able to play this game. We enjoy it and have fun. We are brothers together, win and lose together. We do it for our school, SLUH, and for the greater glory of God.”
St. Mary’s battled hard before falling to a resilient Parkway Central team 25-20, 27-25. The first set had several lead changes until Parkway Central pulled ahead 13-12, keeping the lead for the rest of the set. In the second set, St. Mary’s and Parkway Central traded leads again, with St. Mary’s having a chance for the win when they gained a 25-24 lead.
“They gave it their all and laid it on the line,” St. Mary’s coach Johnny Chittakhone said after the game. “That’s really how I want them to play – go, go go until win or lose.”
The Parkway South Colts played well and his Dragons played well also, Chittakhone said. “It’s just like last year – somebody had to win.”
The second-place finish was a repeat from last season, and the year before St. Mary’s lost in the semifinals, both years falling to Parkway Central.
The season was successful, the coach said, pointing out that St. Mary’s won the Southside Volleyball Tournament early in the season, finished second in another and won the silver division in a third tournament. “I’m really proud of them and looking forward to what the next season will bring us.”
He cited the determination of his team this season. “They definitely fight. They don’t give up.”
The Dragons have a strong moral character and they support one another, Chittakhone said. It’s bolstered by prayer before games, he added.
Yua Rasas, a senior with 11 kills, scored points at several keys points, spiking the ball with authority. He gave credit to Parkway Central. “They played hard, we played hard but they were able to repeat,” Rasas said.
He also praised his team’s leaders for inspiring everyone to stay focused. “My team picks me up. I feed off their energy. After we score, everybody’s happy.”
The word that describes the season for him is fun. “These boys are special – kind, generous and pick up anyone. That’s what made it so easy to play with them”
St. Mary’s players reflect their Catholic, Marianist values, he said. “We respect one another and treat each other as Jesus would treat you.”