A loud gym, teammates cheering each other on, balls flying everywhere, high-fives all around, and an echo that resounded with every ball that was slammed to the ground was the Clark Cougars just putting in work during their morning practice.
San Antonio Clark High School has been a force to be reckoned with in volleyball for quite some time. The Cougars have had multiple UIL State appearances, District Championships and ultimately they have earned two State Championship titles. The first championship came in 1990 and the second in 2003. The 2003 team won with a special member on the team- Melissa Thrailkill. Thrailkill, now married and known by the Cougars as Coach Miller, earned herself the coveted role as Varsity Head Coach in 2016. Miller said Clark is so special to her for many reasons- not only did she help the school earn a State Championship title, but she values the tradition and expectations that the school has always had for the volleyball program. “My favorite thing is that we still have so many former players that come back and feel like they are a part of it,” Miller said, “we even have a couple of players who’s moms played Clark Volleyball.” She said it is easier to carry on the tradition of high expectations when those types of things are happening. In fact, Miller even knows the pre-game chants the players do as they were the exact same from when she graduated in 2005.
The Cougars have advanced to the Regional finals the past two years, and continue to take one match, well one day, at a time to hopefully get back to that stage. Coach Miller said this season was really tough to lose the off season in the spring and pre-season this fall as the first match of the season was against Clark’s rival- Brandeis High School. The Broncos took the first district matchup against the Cougars in a clean sweep 3-0. “This was a year we really could have used an off season and a pre-season,” Miller said, with having three girls on the court that weren’t even on the Varsity roster last year. The team has worked to focus on its strengths and learned to adapt quickly. “We’re really athletic- we’re big- and we’re really athletic,” Miller pointed out as one of the biggest strengths this year. There is a lot of raw talent she said, and paired with athleticism and height it is now just a matter of fine-tuning those skills. Miller said the Cougars have spent a lot of time learning, studying film, and really just trying to improve their overall volleyball IQ.
“Really tall”, as Miller pointed out, is evidently clear when you spot the Cougars as they walk in the gym. With two players coming in over 6’2″, that alone has its advantages for volleyball. The roster is stacked with several other players at, or around, 6-feet tall. One of San Antonio’s number one players, and one of the tallest at 6’4″, is Clark’s own, Elise McGhee. McGhee is a Baylor University commit that has been on Varsity all four years. Tall and aggressive on offense, McGhee really works hard to own the net and has proven to be a versatile player for the Cougars.
Coach Miller pointed out that McGhee, setter Trinity Herrera, and hitter Kendall Harrington are all working hard to use their experience they have had on the court to help learn to lead the team to success. “They didn’t have to be in a leadership role last year,” Miller said, “they had 9 fantastic seniors last year that were great athletes and great leaders.” She went on to say the leadership skills these three have already picked up on in such a short amount of time is a huge testament to the recent 4 match winning streak. With only 2 losses on the season to Brandeis and Reagan, as the team moves into the second round of district Friday night against Brandeis, Miller is hopeful the leadership continues to shine.
Herrera, one of the two setters for the cougar starting line up, said one of her leadership roles and key focus points for her, is keeping her composure. She said it is important to keep her composure so the team can stay calm and can play their best. The senior setter, committed to Trinity University stands a foot shorter than McGhee at only 5’4″, but the bond between the two was undeniable. The two of them emphasized the importance of leading the team to a true bond, and real friendships. When asked what the team outside of the gym was like, Herrera immediately blurted, “Hilarious!!” as both the girls and coach started laughing. “We have so many different personalities, and everyone just compliments each other very well,” Herrera said. McGhee affirmed that was something so special about Clark Volleyball when she said, “that is one thing that has always been a value of Clark volleyball… the friendships…everyone I see as my best friends.”
Something else special to Clark Volleyball, and a bit unusual, is the teams “mascot”. The Cougar is the school mascot, but the team has it’s own special mascot and her name is “Queen Bee.” We are not talking Beyonce, but we are talking about one special bee. However, the girls say they are not even sure it actually is a bee, but it was found in the bleachers of their gym one day in 2016. Queen Bee has been passed down to a chosen senior every year since- there is even an initiation ceremony. The mascot was passed down to McGhee, and Queen Bee travels to all practices and games. The smiles, laughs and stories the girls had about this special mascot made it even more evident the Cougars care about volleyball, but are enjoying high school, the friendships, and the journey along the way.
As the team prepares for second round of district in what appears to be one of the most competitive districts in the state (6A Region IV District 28) the laughing and friendships will continue, but when game time comes they will be fighting for every point. Coach Miller said that in order to beat the best they will have to limit their errors. “We did a pretty poor job of that against Brandeis and Reagan,” she said, “those are great teams, they don’t need our help- they don’t need us to give away a lot of points on unforced errors.” McGhee and Herrera feel more confident going into round two saying their overall comfort level amongst the girls is much better. “We have gotten more used to each other and we really just click now,” Herrera said. There are sure to be a few nerves as Clark takes on Brandeis Friday night, but overall they said team feels ready and excited to continue on with the high expectations of the legacy of Clark Volleyball.
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