The volleyball teams at Saint Louis University High School and Chaminade College Preparatory High School won state titles in both classifications.
Saint Louis University High School’s players never lost sight of their goal of a state championship, said Joe Manion, an outside hitter on the team.
“Every ball that gets up, we have this state game in the back of our minds,” Manion said after winning the Class 4 Missouri Boys State Volleyball championship May 23, the school’s 10th title since 1997. “We’ve had this vision, and every practice we’ve been working hard just to get right here where we are. It’s just the best, just a dream.”
SLUH defeated St. John Vianney High School, 26-24, 25-23, to end the season at 31-1.
Jeff Cheak, SLUH’s coach, praised Vianney’s team. “The match as a whole was one of the most high-level matches I’ve seen in high school in a long time,” he said.
SLUH’s players worked hard mentally and physically this season, the coach explained, adding that they are dedicated to their schoolwork, community service and faith life. “We push them quite a bit when it comes to our expectations. And they meet and exceed them every time,” he said.
Watching his players smile at the end of the finals, “that’s what makes it all worth it,” Cheak said.
Manion, a senior this season, said he gets especially enthused when the playoffs start. “It’s that spirit we get right when districts start,” he said. “That’s when we really came together as a team, not letting anything pull us apart. That’s when it really gets fun for this team.”
As a student at a Catholic, Jesuit school, he said, “I know God’s behind it all, and I thank Him every day for that.”
SLUH defeated Vianney twice earlier in the season and defeated Pattonville, 25-22, 25-16, in the semifinals May 21.
Chaminade won the Class 3 championship, 25-21, 23-25 and 25-23, vs. Mehlville. It’s the second volleyball title for the school, which also won in 2009. Three seniors were named to the all-state team: Bryan Carter, Jimmy Mullen and Owen Thomassen.
“They were the driving force,” said Tom Fernandez, athletic director at Chaminade.
The team was “one of the teams to watch” all season with big-game and tournament wins, Fernandez said. The coach, Brandon Carter, kept reminding players they could do better, he said.
Chaminade, 28-6, lost earlier to Mehlville, disappointed only because they didn’t play well, Fernandez said.
He noted that Mehlville was tough to defeat. “We had to play at the top of our game to beat them, and we did that,” Fernandez said.
Assistant coach Eric Burdge said the team had a strong family spirit and overcame any obstacles.
The players are involved in service work and in faith-related activities, which shows they know their priorities, he said. “It’s not always athletics first, and we as coaches know that,” Burdge said.
In the semifinal game, Chaminade won vs. Lutheran South 25-17, 25-18.
Vianney’s Jacob Craig said the Vianney players are talented, but “I give a lot of credit to our coach. He works us hard in practice and knows all these tricks with the lineup.”
Craig, a junior this season, started playing volleyball as a freshman at Vianney, then started playing club volleyball. With natural talent and height, he’s thrived in the sport.
He earlier played basketball but found volleyball to be a better fit. “There’s something about jumping as high as you can and banging the ball down on the court,” he said.
Craig said he enjoys the culture of the St. Louis volleyball community. “Everyone knows each other,” he said, noting that he plays for High Performance volleyball club along with players from other high schools.
Vianney’s players spend time together outside the court as well, which helped their close ties, he said.
Craig’s talent isn’t limited to sports. For example, he was one of the Annual Catholic Appeal High School Essay contest from the Archdiocese of St. Louis. And his faith is important to him, too. “We can’t do any of this without God,” he said. “He gave us this day. He gave us this game. We always pray before every match. He plays a huge role in all our lives.”
Vianney’s coach, Jeff Gabbert, said he was disappointed with falling short of the team’s goal, but “SLUH’s a great team.” Vianney had talented players with dedication, a belief in themselves, a love for the game and strong in their faith, Gabbert added.
Vianney, 26-8-1, advanced to the finals with a 25-18, 25-20 win vs. Francis Howell North.