A few months ago, 17-year-old Victoria Safradin from Eastlake, Ohio, was doing homework in her room and refreshing her email when she heard a ping.

Safradin opened the new message in her inbox to find, in all capital letters, the message “CONGRATULATIONS.”

This was the moment she had been waiting for. With tears in her eyes, the 5-foot-11 goalkeeper ran down the stairs to deliver the news that she, the daughter of Croatian immigrants, was going to don the red, white and blue at the U17 Women’s World Cup in India.

Safradin’s family was just as ecstatic.

“For me, my big motivation is to make them proud,” Safradin says. “For me, everything I do is to make them not regret coming to the United States … to reassure them that everything they did isn’t a waste.”

On Oct. 11 in Bhubaneswar, India, Safradin took the pitch as the U.S. goalkeeper in front of 12,000 people. When the opening whistle sounded, Safradin’s nerves faded away as she settled in between the posts and focused on the task at hand. She recorded a clean sheet, ushering the U.S. to a commanding 8-0 victory over India in the group stage.

“I just had to take a minute to take in the moment and realize what I just did,” she says. “I just want to remain humble. I was trying to not take it for granted. I know there’s a lot of girls who would dream to be in the position like any of us on the national team.”

Safradin and the U.S. advanced to the World Cup quarterfinal, where they fell to Nigeria in penalty kicks after ending regulation in a 1-1 tie. It was the team’s second-best finish since the U17 tournament began in 2008 and a defining moment in Safradin’s own soccer journey after making two World Cup starts.

Safradin began playing soccer around the age of 5. By age 7, she found her calling through a process that started with a simple hand raise.

“I was in recreational soccer, and they needed a goalkeeper. I raised my hand,” she recalls. “The next thing you know, I played so great, my dad from then on was like, ‘She’s going to be a goalkeeper.’”

Around age 11, Safradin started to draw attention from elite club teams in Ohio. She joined Internationals Soccer Club after being identified as a top-tier talent by Zdravko Popovic, the club’s president and founder.

In the years since then, Safradin has not only developed physically and technically, but she’s also also improved her mental toughness. Once afraid of making mistakes, the Eastlake North High School senior has learned that failure can often be the only way to get better.

“She’s a great leader. She’s respected by her teammates,” Popovic says. “She’s a general in the back of the field. She’s my team captain.”

In the last two years, Safradin has really hit her stride, showcasing her evolving skill set against tougher competition and ultimately earning call-ups up to U.S. Soccer camps.

Last season, with Safradin in net, Internationals SC U17 went 19-1-5 and won the 2022 Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) Ohio Valley Conference. In May, Safradin was named the Best Goalkeeper in the U17 Concacaf W Championship after recording three clean sheets and allowing just one goal the entire tournament.

“That was my first big achievement. The hard part with the national team is you’re never guaranteed a spot,” Safradin says. “You never know. One mistake can cost you.”

From Concacaf to the World Cup, Safradin is trying to take every milestone one step at a time. Currently, she’s focused on her last season of club soccer before she joins the University of Virginia soccer team next fall.

For Safradin, committing to play for the Cavaliers was an easy choice. As soon as she stepped on campus in Charlottesville, she could hear Popovic’s voice.

“Always look at the picture in black and white. Don’t just look at the soccer piece. Act as if you weren’t a soccer player — would you still want to go there?” Popovic told her.

At UVA, the answer was an immediate yes. She plans to study healthcare management, combining her interests in healthcare and business, while playing for the university’s storied soccer program. The Cavaliers have made 28 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and four College Cups, with their best result a runner-up finish in 2014.

Safradin is intent on turning her journey into a professional soccer career, and in a few months, she’ll take the next big step toward her goal.

“I always tell myself I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to that level. But obviously, before pro comes college,” she says. “I want to do very good with my team there, go to the NCAA Tournament, possibly win a national championship.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

When Cathedral Catholic’s Julia Blyashov steps onto the court, she turns heads. At 6-foot-3, it’s hard to miss her. But during the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Open Division State Championship against Saint Francis on Nov. 19, she wasn’t on the court.

The senior outside hitter and future Stanford freshman suffered an ankle injury in Cathedral Catholic’s semifinal win, forcing her to miss the biggest game of the season. But if Blayshov was feeling cheated or frustrated by the situation, she didn’t show it.

“I wouldn’t have changed anything about that night,” she says.

Blyashov stayed active on the sidelines, offering guidance from her new vantage point as the team rolled to a straight-set victory and handed Saint Francis its first loss of the season.

“Even though I was out, I was still trying to contribute. I was cheering everyone on,” she says. “When I say all these girls are my best friends, they are. Being able to be there, and just being in that environment was awesome. I was so excited during, and especially after.”

Though she didn’t step foot on the court during the state title game, Blyashov made an indelible mark on the team during the season. Cathedral Catholic dropped one set all year on their way to a 42-0 record and the final No. 1 ranking in JWS’ season-long poll. Blayshov led the way from beginning to end, earning 2022 JWS Volleyball Player of the Year honors as a result.

“We got where we were because of Julia … she’d be the one terminating a lot of the plays,” Dons head coach Juliana Conn says. “We need a point, set — Julia.”

Blyashov led the team in kills this year and is often lauded for her powerful swings, but Conn is most impressed with Blyashov’s passing.

“Passing is the hardest skill in volleyball. Throughout the year, her ball control has increased tremendously,” Conn says. “People are going to give the most credit to the kids who are terminating plays. But Julia is more than that. She’s always been more than that.”

Cathedral Catholic had 10 seniors on the team this year, and each of them took on a different role. Blyashov, Conn says, is an approachable leader. Not known for being loud or seeking attention, Blyashov instead instilled confidence in her teammates through her calm demeanor and measured approach to the game.

Blyashov started playing volleyball around the age of 7, after a stint as a rhythmic gymnast. Even when she was young, Blyashov’s height set her apart.

“I realized I was a foot taller than everyone,” Blyashov says. “My parents were like, ‘I think it’s time to find another sport.’”

So they took her — against her wishes — to a volleyball camp. And while she wasn’t excited at first, the moment she felt her hands hit the ball, she knew volleyball was the sport for her.

In the decade since that first camp, Blyashov has amassed a laundry list of accomplishments. In addition to starring on Cathedral Catholic’s indoor and beach volleyball teams and WAVE, a premier club team in California, Blyashov has represented USA Volleyball at the highest youth levels.

In 2021, she won a bronze medal with the U.S. U18 team at the Federation Internationale De Volleyball (FIVB). This year, she went a step further, winning gold at the U19 Pan American Cup and tying for the most kills in the championship match with eight. With the victory, Team USA qualified for the world championships next year in the Netherlands.

“It’s such an honor to be on the team and represent the USA and red, white and blue,” Blyashov says.

With the Dons season over, she’ll turn her attention to WAVE, where Conn is also a coach. The two have known each other for six years now. When that season ends and Blyashov packs her bags to head to Stanford next fall, she jokes that she wouldn’t be surprised if Conn follows behind.

“I’m grateful for everything she’s taught me. She’s tough, but I like tough coaches,” Blyashov says. “I’m expecting her to be there. I love her, not only as a coach but as a person.”

Stanford has always been Blyashov’s dream school. For as long as she can remember, she’s been going to the campus to watch her brother’s water polo tournaments, and she has fond memories of watching two-time National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer win three national championships with the Cardinal.

“I was in love with the campus,” she says. “I just have chills talking about it right now.”

She says she’s looking forward to being challenged by the best teams in the country. With so many of her childhood dreams coming true, Blyashov has her sights set on new ones — a national championship and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’m definitely excited for baby Julia,” Blyashov says.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

Before Taylor Williams and her teammates at Saint Francis (Mountain View, Calif.) step onto the court, they dance, and the songs they choose run the gamut. From typical pump-up music to power ballads like High School Musical 2’s “Gotta Go My Own Way,” the Lancers let loose before every game.

It appears to be working.

The No. 11 Lancers are 34-0 after beating Archbishop Mitty 3-1 (25-20, 25-20, 16-25, 25-22) on Tuesday to win the California Interscholastic Federation NorCal title. Williams scored the match-winning point that advanced the Lancers to the state title game, finishing with 22 kills, three blocks and three aces and earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“I think we were all very nervous going into that game. We knew it was such an important game to win,” said Williams, a junior outside hitter. “We were confident. We played them so many times. I think everyone did their job. I think it’s some of the best level we’ve ever played.”

The matchup felt familiar to Saint Francis. On their home court, the team beat Archbishop Mitty for the sixth time this season. While Saint Francis might make it look easy, staying undefeated has been quite the challenge.

“A lot of people will take a look at our record and just assume it’s been a super smooth ride and that we’ve beat up on teams, but we’ve been pushed a lot this year,” Lancers coach Lake Merchen said. “It seems like every time the team across the net finds a way to get the advantage on us, they start pushing us really hard.

“We do a great job of maintaining our calm and responding really aggressively.”

Williams stepped up as a breakout star at the end of last season, filling the shoes of an injured senior, and she hasn’t relinquished the role since then. Prior to the start of the CIF Open Division tournament, Williams recorded 343 kills, 191 digs, 34 aces and 28 blocks, and while her stats are impressive, it’s her quiet leadership that emanates on the court.

“She’s learned how to support the people around her,” Merchen said. “I think she’s now the player everyone looks to in big moments, not just for big swings and big blocks, but someone who can be their rock. If Taylor looks good, if Taylor looks confident, we can be confident.”

Williams started playing volleyball when she was 8 years old. She was introduced to the game by her friend and current teammate, junior setter Hannah Maguire.

“Her mom played volleyball in college, so I think I was just best friends with her daughter. I thought it would be a fun thing to go and start playing volleyball,” Williams said. “I kind of just loved it ever since.”

In seventh grade, Williams decided to take volleyball more seriously. At the time, she was also playing basketball, so she quit and devoted nearly all her time and attention to volleyball, with the intention of someday playing at the Division I level. And it worked.

In September, Williams committed to Duke, a school known for both great athletics and academics.

For now, Williams is focused on what’s right in front of her, a state championship matchup against Cathedral Catholic, the No. 1 team in the country in the final JWS volleyball team rankings.

“We’re so ready to do it. Just for our last game of the season, we’re just super motivated,” Williams said. “We want to play our best. We want to play as a team. We want to be able to represent our school at state.

“I think we’re really excited to be there and compete against the best team in the nation.”

And on Saturday, before stepping onto the state championship stage, the Lancers will dance one last time.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

On the way home from Georgia’s Class 7A volleyball state championship, the Buford Wolves were silent. They had just become three-time state champions, yet a quiet reflective spirit enveloped the bus.

In five sets, Buford defeated Lambert 3-2 (22-25, 25-18, 25-15, 23-25, 19-17), and it was no easy feat. They dropped the first and fourth set, setting up a dramatic final set.

Even as pressure mounted, senior outside hitter Ashley Sturzoiu kept her composure, scoring the match-winning point from the back row. While leading the Wolves to victory, she recorded 22 kills, 11 digs and three aces, earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“It was 18-17 for us, and that one point was a great representation of the entire game,” Sturzoiu said. “We really fought for it, and I had the opportunity to get the game-winning point, gave it my all and scored.”

This season, the 6-foot senior led the team in six categories: kills (487), kills per set (4.4), digs (302), digs per set (2.7), receptions (374) and aces (71).

“She’s very confident in her ability,” coach Christina Lecoeuvre said. “Just watching her, I’m thinking of her being able to rally her teammates and give them constructive criticism. She’s not afraid to help critique little things in the middle of the game that has helped us win. It’s not necessarily the physical things, but the intangible stuff.”

Volleyball caught Sturzoiu’s eye at a young age. She remembers watching her parents play in a park nearby. At age 9, she begged them to let her play, and she was persistent.

“Eventually, my dad was like ‘OK, you wanna play so bad. I’ll teach you,’” she said.

So they signed her up for volleyball lessons at a local recreation center. And from there, her love for volleyball exploded. Even as a young player, those around her knew she was destined for greatness. The center’s director told Sturzoiu’s mother to “call him back when her daughter makes it big.”

“My mom was like, ‘You just want my money, but thank you,’” Sturzoiu said with a laugh.

At age 13, Sturzoiu discovered her secret weapon on the court — goggles. After breaking her glasses in a tournament, she went into an optical store where she found Oakley sunglasses.They were for outdoor sports, which gave Sturzoiu an idea. Instead of using the traditional tint, she asked to make them with clear lenses. They didn’t just help her eyes on the court. They helped shape her persona as a volleyball player, and now she’s known as “Goggles.”

“A lot of it is part of her swag,” Lecoeuvre said. “She’s a standout player in general, and I think at a young age, she said, ‘I’m just going to ride these goggles out. I’m going to embrace it.’”

On Wednesday, in front of the school, Sturzoiu made her college decision official when she signed her National Letter of Intent to play for Mississippi State, and in January, she will begin her career as a Bulldog. She’s graduating early in part to acclimate to life as a Division I student-athlete.

“I think going early gives you a buffer zone to take your time to, A, get prepared and, B, just living in college, getting used to being there and learning how to manage your time,” Sturzoiu said.

In the meantime, she’s soaking up the little time she has left with her classmates and teammates. She’ll leave behind quite the legacy at Buford. She recorded 1,027 career digs and 1,368 kills and is a three-time state champion and a four-time all-state, all-region and all-county player.

“It’s obviously an end. It’s sad. I’m going to have to make new friends, but in terms of volleyball, this is just kickstarting the rest of my career.” Sturzoiu said.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

When Kennedy Phelan and the Fayetteville volleyball team walked into Bank Ozk Arena in Hot Springs, Ark., they felt at home. The stage for the Class 6A state championship was just how they left it.

On Saturday, the two-time defending state champions set out to defend their title, and with Phelan at the helm, the Bulldogs won 3-0 (25-19, 25-21, 25-18) against Southside for their third title in a row. Phelan was once again named state tournament MVP after registering 37 assists, 18 digs and seven kills.

“The last two years, it was kind of a dog fight. We didn’t know who was going to win,” said the senior setter, who was also named JWS Player of the Week in the aftermath of the state title. “This year, we’ve kind of had a target on your back. It was a different kind of pressure when you’re the seniors, you’re undefeated, you’re supposed to win this game. There were a little bit of nerves.”

The Bulldogs have quite the impressive resume, crossing off every goal they set at the start of the season. The team was consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally, most recently landing at No. 7 in the JWS volleyball team rankings.

Fayetteville was undefeated against Arkansas teams, taking home the third-place trophy in the Durango Fall Classic, one of the nation’s premier volleyball tournaments. And on Saturday, they capped it off with another state title.

As the team succeeded, so did Phelan. She led the team with 977 assists and 80 aces while finishing third in digs (277) and hitting percentage (.334), recording 217 kills. With 3,972 career assists, she walks away as the Bulldogs’ all-time assists leader.

Phelan has been a Bulldog all her life. Her mom and head coach, Jessica Phelan, began coaching at Fayetteville while pregnant with Kennedy.

“I know for her, being a Bulldog and being a part of Fayetteville volleyball was important. Long before she put that jersey on, she was a part of the team,” Jessica said. “I think for her, it’s been a culmination of her childhood.”

Kennedy became accustomed to the mother-daughter, coach-player dynamic at a young age.

“In practice, she’s Coach. She’s Phelan. She’s not mom,” she said. “It’s been that way for a long time. That’s made it easy.”

Jessica is a volleyball legend in Arkansas — more specifically, a Southeastern Conference legend. She was a middle blocker at the University of Arkansas and the most decorated volleyball player in the program.

“I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit her height,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “She’s 6-foot-1. I’m 5-foot-7.”

Kennedy says it’s easy to be overlooked as an undersized player, but she’s used it to her advantage, focusing on what she could be in the absence of height.

“I was going to try to run my offense perfectly,” Kennedy said. “I was going to make it up in every other area.”

Now, with Kennedy’s storied high school career over, she turns her attention to the club season, which will prepare her to become a Florida State Seminole. She’ll play both indoor and beach volleyball for FSU.

When she takes the court in Tallahassee, she’ll feel at home with head coach Chris Poole, the former volleyball coach at the University of Arkansas.

But for now, as the mother and daughter take time to bask in their third consecutive state title, it’s a bittersweet moment.

“It’s definitely something I’ve waited a long time for,” Kennedy said. “Not everyone gets to share the court with their best friends and their mom. I’m definitely going to miss it.”

“As a mom, I’m really proud of the career she’s had and the leader she is and the relationship she’s had with her teammates,” Jessica added. “Now I get to be her fan, so that’s fun, too.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

Avery Hobson’s senior volleyball season didn’t begin as anticipated after Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.) dropped its first match of the year to reigning Class 4A state champion McCutcheon.

Hobson is the team’s lone senior, and on Saturday, when the Royals squared off against McCutcheon again in the regional final, the 6-foot-1 outside hitter had that defeat in the back of her mind. She led her squad to a stunning 3-1 victory, recording 14 kills and 16 digs and earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

“It was a battle the whole time. It was a lot of fun because the whole team was having fun,” Hobson said. “As a team, we knew what we were going against, and we knew how we played before. We just knew that if we played our best and gave it all we had, we just stuck with that.”

Fun, she says, is what sets the Royals apart. It’s what head coach Jason Young has emphasized all season for Hamilton Southeastern, which has won 32 straight matches since that season-opening loss to the Mavericks and is ranked No. 5 in this week’s JWS volleyball team rankings.

“I told the kids at the beginning of the year, ‘Our number one goal this year is to have fun,’” Young said. “When you participate in athletics, it’s supposed to be fun. Obviously, winning is fun, but there’s a lot of other things that go into it.”

Young met Hobson when she was in eighth grade, just a few years after she began playing volleyball. Young says she’s always been a very good attacker, but she’s made other standout improvements throughout her career.

“She’s probably one of the most effective out-of-system hitters that I’ve had at Hamilton Southeastern,” he said. “She’s turned into a six-rotation player. She doesn’t come off the floor.”

The senior leads the team with 405 kills, averaging 4.1 per set. She’s second on the team in hitting percentage (.365), blocks (93) and digs per set (2.5), and third on the team in aces (30).

Naturally quiet, Hobson leads by example, and her teammates have embraced her style. On senior night against Noblesville, the Royals surprised Hobson before the JV match, donning T-shirts with her face on it.

“I was really surprised. It was a lot knowing that they cared so much to put the time and effort into planning that,” she said. “I’ll definitely miss the team aspect. Playing with our team one last time will be special.”

As for next year’s plans, Hobson is committed to play at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa. But before then, she hopes to lead the Royals to a regal finish, with just two matches left to win to be crowned a state champion.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

At Tompkins High School in Katy, Texas, volleyball is a community affair. In a packed gymnasium, the home crowd knows the cheers — the volleyball team calls, and the crowd responds.

For star hitter Cindy Tchouangwa, the gym booms with enthusiasm.

“When I say big, you say Rice. ‘Big,’” the team shouts. “Rice,” the crowd echoes.

Standing at 6-foot, the Rice University commit isn’t even the tallest on the Falcons’ 34-3 team, but it’s hard to miss her.

In the team’s last two matches, the senior outside hitter recorded 27 kills with a hitting percentage of .725. She also had five aces and 14 digs, earning JWS Player of the Week honors.

Tchouangwa leads the team in kills (448) and hitting percentage (.404), and she’s second on the team in digs (385). In tonight’s match against district opponent Jordan (22-18), Tchouangwa is approaching another milestone.

“Cindy has five kills to become our Tompkins career kill leader,” coach Allison Merrell said.

While it’s a huge accomplishment, Tchouangwa isn’t one to obsess over her stats.

“Honestly, it slipped my mind,” she said with a laugh.

“She’s just pretty awesome. She’s going to leave a legacy,” Merrell said. “That’s what we’ve talked about all season, what these seniors leave behind.”

The Falcons, who are ranked No. 13 in the latest Just Women’s Sports volleyball team rankings, have already eclipsed several milestones, starting off the season by winning the Katy/Cy-Fair Volleyball tournament. But the Tompkins seniors hope to leave with more, namely a state title.

There’s a reminder in the Falcons’ locker room that’s hard to miss, and every home game, they hit it for good measure. It’s a sign that reads “State” emblazoned with the school’s red, white and blue colors.

“We’re definitely going to win state this year. I want to leave the girls on the team with something to work for again,” Tchouangwa said. “If we bring our energy all the way up and bring the intensity, we’ll definitely win.”

Next year, she’ll go from playing volleyball in the Houston suburbs to playing in the city at Rice University, where she’ll see familiar faces — family, friends and former teammates — in the crowd.

“When I told [my family], they were jumping up and down,” Tchouwanga said. “I think they’ll go to every game.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

When the Fayetteville (Texas) Lions take the court, they’re rarely the bigger school.

A small but mighty force, the Class 1A team is fierce, and leading the pack stands Brooklyn Jaeger, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter who has claimed the nation’s top spot in kills.

In Tuesday’s match against Round Top-Carmine, Jaeger added a season-high 50 kills, bringing her total to 769. That’s nearly 100 more than the nation’s second highest leader in 2022, according to MaxPreps.com, and in last Friday’s win against Mumford, Jaeger passed 3,000 career kills. Currently, it stands at 3,055.

“At first, thinking about it, it was crazy. But now, it feels like nothing special. It’s just a number,” said Jaeger, whose accomplishments earned her JWS Player of the Week honors. “I’m not going to let that get to my head.”

Lions coach Clint Jaeger, also Brooklyn’s father, says while she might not take note of it, everybody else does.

“Everybody notices it. It’s a big number. She has 3,055 career kills. That’s unheard of,” he said. “She doesn’t get as much credit for her passing, her back row. … The kills get most of the attention, but I think the back row, and the amount of digs she has, she has as many digs as some liberos.”

So far this season, Brooklyn leads the team in digs (447) and blocks (32) and has also tallied 85 aces, the third highest on the team.

Brooklyn started officially playing volleyball in sixth grade, but she started playing around when she was in pre-kindergarten.

“When I was little, it wasn’t my favorite thing. I loved basketball,” Brooklyn said.

When Brooklyn started playing, coach Jaeger started learning. Fayetteville needed a volleyball coach, and Clint, who was already coaching baseball, stepped up.

As Brooklyn grew to love volleyball, so did Clint. They’ve become quite the dynamic duo. Last year, the father-daughter pairing helped lead Fayetteville (46-2) to its first state championship in volleyball.

This season, they hope to do the same, as the Lions are first in their district (4-1) with four matches remaining in the regular season.

“We’ve been talking about it all year. We only lost two players last year,” Brooklyn said. “We got a setter this year, but from the beginning of the year, our chemistry is still there.”

Next year, Brooklyn will take her talents south to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. The campus is already somewhat familiar to Brooklyn, as her uncle went there, and she remembers taking trips down to visit. She says she’d always fill out recruiting forms, and then, one day, they reached out to her.

“They don’t just care about you as a player, but they care about you as a person,” she said.

That sentiment echoes Brookyln’s personal life. Despite her record-breaking stats, she doesn’t want it to be her sole legacy at Fayetteville. She’s the only one on the team who plays club volleyball, and she uses her experience to help her teammates grow on and off the court.

“They’re hitting the right shots,” Brooklyn said. “Just seeing that makes me feel better because knowing I helped somebody out and helped them reach a goal they’ve always wanted is nice.”

They’re not just stats. She’s fostering a culture at Fayetteville.

“We’ve got little girls here who are bumping, and they’re loving the court,” Clint said. “The girls here now love volleyball.”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

On a hot, sunny day last weekend in Phoenix, Nayeli Gonzalez slipped on headphones to line dance in a gymnasium packed for a premier high school volleyball tournament.

“Everyone looks at us,” Gonzalez said. “We do it every tournament.”

It may bewilder opponents, but the warmup works. The Cornerstone Christian (Texas) Warriors, who are ranked No. 3 in the latest Just Women’s Sports volleyball team rankings, won the tournament, defeating Mira Costa 2-1 (25-23, 26-28, 15-8) in the championship match. Gonzalez, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter, finished with 65 kills and 21 blocks, earning JWS Player of the Week honors along the way.

So far this season, she’s recorded 533 kills, averaging 4.4 per set, with a kill percentage of 51.6 and a hitting percentage of .380.

“She’s a security blanket. You know what you’re going to get,” Cornerstone Christian coach Mike Carter said. “You know she’s going to deliver, along with her teammates, and give us an opportunity to be successful in every match.”

Gonzalez started volleyball in sixth grade at the request of her older sister.

“She made me practice,” Gonzalez said about her sister. “I actually struggled a lot with passing. I’d get upset with her. I’d tell her I don’t want to play. She’d tell me, ‘You have to do it.’”

In two short years, things started to change. Gonzalez moved to a bigger club, realizing volleyball was her sport. One year later, she envisioned herself as a Division I college athlete.

Next year, she’ll make her childhood dream a reality. She has committed to play at Iowa State University. Gonzalez has a big family, and when she began searching for the right college program, she wanted a family-like atmosphere. Early in the recruiting process, the Iowa State volleyball staff welcomed the Gonzalez family with open arms.

“They took such good care of my siblings,” Gonzalez said. “They were sweet and patient with them. They’re just loving, and I felt I would be at home there.”

In just two weeks, Gonzalez’ high school career will end. On Oct. 8, she’ll take the court one last time as a Warrior, and in the time she has left, she hopes to leave a legacy that extends beyond the boundaries of the court.

“I want to finish it off with everyone knowing I love them, and I had the best four years of my life here,” Gonzalez said. “As soon as that game finishes, I hope they think of me and be like, ‘Hey, she was the one who helped me through this. She had that energy, she had that spunk, she had the mentality for us to keep going.’”

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.

At the end of the match, Savannah Skopal looks at her stats, hoping to see a certain number — 57. The star setter at Rouse High School (Texas) is hoping to beat the single-match assists record held by her older sister, Kaliegh Skopal, and when she gets close, she sends a friendly sibling rivalry text.

“Watch out, I’m coming for you.”

In last Friday’s match against Liberty Hill, she was just three shy with 54 assists. Add in her 42 assists in Tuesday’s match against Glenn, and Skopal is JWS Player of the Week.

“She can make it so every ball is a deliverable ball. She’s not very predictable as far as setting,” Rouse coach Jacob Thompson said. “She’s a big servant leader. She’s someone you want your own kids to follow.”

The 6-foot junior not only leads the team in assists (1,151), averaging 11.8 assists per set, but she is also tied for second on the team in aces (33). She also holds a record of her own — most career assists (3,482) — and at Rouse, the team is playing for something special.

“We’re playing for the high school I go to, which is named after a couple. They still come to every single one of our games. Rouse, as a whole, they take pride in it. Being able to represent them, that’s a big thing,” Skopal said. “In club, you play for your teammates, but you don’t play for Mr. and Mrs. Rouse.”

Rouse (28-8), a perennial powerhouse in Class 5A, has lofty goals this season. The Raiders are competing for a seventh straight district championship. The team hasn’t missed the playoffs in eight years, but they were eliminated in the third round of the playoffs the last two seasons, losing to the same team both years.

Skopal is confident they can clear that hurdle.

“Coach Thompson talks about our effort and attitude, those are things in our control. That really helps us execute on our side of the net,” she said. “Just taking it one game at a time, no matter the level of competition.”

Off the court, Skopal finds other ways to lead. While math and anatomy are her favorite traditional classes, her favorite class overall is Unified PE. The class partners athletes with students with disabilities.

“She’s a great human. She wants to always help everyone, wants to be there,” Thompson said. “Her legacy isn’t just tied to volleyball. She’s leaving marks in other avenues on this campus.”

After high school, Skopal wants to play in college. She hasn’t committed anywhere yet, but she says she’ll know when it’s time. In the meantime, she’s got a record to beat.

Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.