After winning four of the past five LHSAA Division II state volleyball championships, including the last three, it’s difficult to comprehend St. Thomas More improving vastly from last season to this year, but that’s exactly what’s happening.
After the first month of this season, the Cougars have gotten off to one of the best starts in program history, winning all 17 of its contests and losing just six total sets in the process.
“This is definitely the best start we’ve had since my first season here in 2010,” St. Thomas More coach Jessica Burke said. “I don’t have any holes really at any position. This year’s team, when we’re healthy, we don’t have a hole anywhere. That’s very rare to have.”
If improvement is what the Cougars were looking for, they hit the nail on the head. They have yet to even play a district game and have already earned sweep victories against 13 of their 17 opponents.
St. Thomas More volleyball program is no stranger to success, earning four state championships in the past five years. But the Cougars’ 17-win streak wasn’t something that even Burke expected.
“One of the biggest reasons we’ve had such a great start is because we have such a complete team.” Burke said. “We have a really strong junior class that was able to get a lot of good experiences as sophomores. We also have a couple strong freshmen from last season. Mix that with a couple seniors we have, and it has come together nicely.”
While it may seem fortunate that the Cougars can start experienced upperclassmen at every position, luck has little to do with it.
Since arriving at St. Thomas More in 2010, Burke has built a powerhouse program that rarely falters, especially in the postseason.
She has taken the Cougars to the LHSAA Division II state championship game every year since she took the helm, and the seeds she has been planting since her arrival have culminated in her most complete team to date.
“My past players really built our foundation, for sure,” Burke said. “It all started my first year at STM. That 2010 team won state, we’ve been in the state championship game every year since then, so I really give a lot of credit to that first group that I had for breaking through and showing St. Thomas More that we could do that, that we could win.”
Not only has she cultivated a talented group, but one with great chemistry as well. Most of the Cougars’ starting lineup is made up of juniors and seniors who have been playing together for at least three years.
This experience has allowed them to build a rapport that has gone way in helping St. Thomas More build this early-season undefeated streak.
“The chemistry is the intangible,” Burke said. “It’s something that every coach wants, but it doesn’t always happen. My starting lineup has, for lack of a better term, sick chemistry.”
St. Thomas More has two more nondistrict contests before playing its first district opponent of the season in LaGrange on Oct. 8.
But the Cougars aren’t looking ahead. Instead, they’re focusing on the task directly in front of them.
“We’re just taking it game-by-game. It’s not necessarily a goal of ours to go undefeated. Our goal is just to get better every time we play,” Burke said.