Three weeks ago, four Charles H. Flowers High School girls’ volleyball players combined for a rather impressive stat line in the Jaguars’ season-opening 3-2 win over Bowie: 53 service points, 29 assists, 33 kills and 77 digs.
Yet more impressive than that box score is that, of that quartet, not a single one had ever played a match of competitive volleyball prior to entering the Springdale school. Dara Harris, who led the Jaguars with 26 service points that day, came to tryouts solely on her cousin’s recommendation. Katelin Canty, who posted a quadruple-double stat line in the win, had some fun playing the sport during physical education class as an eighth grader and figured it might not be a bad idea to come out. In short, Coach Byron Ware has turned a group of girls with little to no prior volleyball experience into arguably the strongest team in the county.
“We’ve really grown since last year,” said India Thompson, a junior who logged a career-high 33 digs against Bowie. “We’re working better as a team. We’re talking more as a team. Our passing is better and since our relationships are stronger we work better together.”
Even though Thompson and Canty were both quick to point out the myriad ways in which Flowers has improved from last year’s team — passing, in particular — Thompson was just as quick to note how surprised she was at how well they handed the typically powerful Bulldogs.
“I didn’t know I had that many [digs],” Thompson said. “It caught me by surprise because Bowie is always so good. I didn’t expect to get that many digs. That was the first game of the season, though, so we knew we wanted to start the season off with a win.”
Two more wins would follow and prior to Monday night’s match with always competitive High Point, Flowers had yet to drop a match. But then High Point topped the Jaguars 3-1, throwing things all out of order again. After all, Flowers beat Bowie, Bowie beat Roosevelt, High Point beat Flowers, Roosevelt beat High Point. By the transitive property, everybody has essentially beaten everybody, except for Crossland, which remains undefeated (6-0), but will not see any of the aforementioned 4A schools. Reigning county and region champion Eleanor Roosevelt awaits Flowers tonight. With wins over the Bulldogs and Roosevelt, does that make Flowers the de facto No. 1 in the county?
“It looks like it’s going to be that way, yes,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, Harris, a junior setter alongside Canty in Flowers’ dual-setter offense, provided the impetus for the victory over Bowie. The Bulldogs couldn’t get a handle on her float serve, which she said was as on target as it’s ever been, allowing her to pick her spots.
“I have almost zero issues with Dara,” Ware said. “She follows very well, she leads very well. She’s not very vocal so she leads by example. It’s just steady. She doesn’t miss a lot of serves. She puts the ball in play which is what I like. You got to make the defense work.
“Against Bowie, I didn’t even have to say anything. She just said, ‘I’m going to put it there until they can return it.’”
On the final set, it took nine tries for the Bulldogs to break Harris’ serve, by which point the match was all but decided. Meanwhile, if Harris’ serve is ever off, she has quite a supporting cast to fall back on in Canty, Thompson, and senior Chelsea Beaudion. Ware labeled Canty as “probably the best player in the county,” and said he believes the 5-foot-4 setter and the 5-foot-8 Beaudion have legitimate shots to play at the collegiate level.
“When [Chelsea] hits it, it’s kind of like, ‘Watch out, get the kids out of the way,’” Ware said. “There’s no way they’re returning it.”
Thus far, the few that have been able to return a Harris serve apparently have had some trouble returning a Beaudion spike. After Roosevelt today, Flowers will have seen the county’s strongest teams, and it’s all downhill from there until playoff time.
“I think it’s good that we played those teams so early in the season,” Canty said. “It’s good to start off with a win like that.”
“You want to build your resume,” Ware added. “And if you can go undefeated, that’s great. You try to limit your blemishes.”