Episcopal’s skill, experience and drive have synchronized, and the Knights’ are 6-0 to start this season.
Episcopal added five-set wins over reigning Division IV state champions Newman and Class 5A Dutchtown to its résumé within the past week and solidified confidence within the team while confirming what coach Briget Melancon saw in the offseason.
“They needed this,” Melancon said. “They needed to know that they are capable. I think they’re finally starting to believe they can handle all these teams. As a coach, you see it in them in practice, and you wait for the moment it finally comes together.”
The team hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since Melancon, an Episcopal graduate, began her tenure as coach three years ago. But, one of the team’s 2014 goals is to get over that hump.
Senior Charlotte Russell, a 5-foot-3 setter and a 2013 Advocate All-Metro player, leads Episcopal. She tallied 420 assists and 120 digs last season. Russell comes from a volleyball family with her sister Bailey being her former teammate and her mother Beverly being her former coach.
Russell plays bigger than her height, and Melancon complimented Russell’s strength, vertical jump, speed and swing.
“She’s an all-around player that not only leads us as a setter, but is constantly doing something,” Melancon said. “She’s small, but she gets her blocks and kills in. It kind of fills the pieces. She very much a mold, a glue that keeps (the team) together.”
Episcopal’s District 6-2A competition includes rival University Lab, who made it to the 2013 state semifinals. It’s Melancon’s favorite game to coach because of what the rivalry brings out in her players.
“There’s always a lot of heart and a lot of passion, and that’s what coaches want to see,” Melancon said. “It’s more personal to them. And that’s what always makes it the best game. What I’m excited about this year is that (my players) see themselves differently.”
Throughout the next two weeks, the Knights will continue their tough schedule and travel to St. Joseph’s Tournament on Sept. 27 to compete against schools such as St. Joseph’s, St. Amant, Mount Carmel, Cabrini and U-High.
Melancon said she designed the schedule with the postseason in mind, not focusing on soaring to a perfect record. As long as her team competes, the numbers come second to the effort put out on the floor.
“I have no doubt in my mind that this year, wherever our season ends, they will have laid it all down and done everything they can do,” Melancon said. “They will have fought to the end. I’m hoping because of that they’ll be able to find a pride in that and be proud of themselves. They are going to go as far as they’re capable, and I’m excited to see where that is.”