Hous­ton Chris­tian hop­ing to set up suc­cess­ful SPC cam­paign

Houston Chronicle - - SPORTS - By Jeff Jenk­ins

Hous­ton Chris­tian coach Kris Lar­tigue ad­mit­ted it wasn’t much fun watch­ing last year’s South­west Prepara­tory Con­fer­ence girls vol­ley­ball fi­nals.

“See­ing Austin St. Stephen’s play John Cooper was painful,” said Lar­tigue of the Mus­tangs’ two South Zone ri­vals. “We beat them dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and I thought we were the bet­ter team. I re­ally felt we de­served to be there.”

In­stead, Hous­ton Chris­tian, which was knocked out by John Cooper in the semi­fi­nals, set­tled for third place.

Lar­tigue, who has led the Mus­tangs to SPC Fi­nal Four ap­pear­ances two of the past three years, is hop­ing for a dif­fer­ent out­come this sea­son.

“We want to make it back and win the whole tour­na­ment,” Lar­tigue said, “but we have to be fun­da­men­tally sound and take ad­van­tage of our op­por­tu­ni­ties when they’re there.”

Hous­ton Chris­tian’s re­sults have been solid so far this sea­son, with sev­eral wins over qual­ity teams.

The Mus­tangs placed 15th out of 88 teams at Pear­land’s Adi­das Vol­ley­ball In­vi­ta­tional, notch­ing vic­to­ries over Austin West­lake, Dal­las Ur­su­line and Mag­no­lia.

Hous­ton Chris­tian also won the Hous­ton Open hosted by the Hous­ton Skyline Ju­niors, knock­ing off Dal­las Green­hill in the semi­fi­nals and Vic­to­ria St. Joseph in the fi­nals. The Mus­tangs also picked up non-con­fer­ence wins over West­side and Fort Bend Chris­tian, last year’s Texas As­so­ci­a­tion of Pri­vate and Parochial Schools Class 4A state run­ner-up.

More re­cently, Hous­ton Chris­tian swept Lutheran South 25-15, 25-20, 25-12 to run its record to 13-5.

Ever the per­fec­tion­ist, Lar­tigue ac­knowl­edges that he pushes his play­ers ex­tremely hard.

“When we were play­ing Lutheran South, the coaches and I were jot­ting down all the things the girls were do­ing wrong,” Lar­tigue said. “Then I looked up at the score­board and we’re ahead 20-9 in one of the sets. We’re ob­vi­ously do­ing a lot of things right.”

But Lar­tigue makes no apol­ogy for driv­ing his team to reach its im­mense po­ten­tial.

Hous­ton Chris­tian re­turns a pair of all-SPC per­form­ers – se­niors Claire Karsten and Bree Perry.

Karsten, a 5-foot-9 out­side hitter, al­ready has com­mit­ted to Texas A&M Univer­sity-Cor­pus Christi. She is the Mus­tangs’ leader in kills, rack­ing up 13 against Lutheran South.

“Claire isn’t afraid to swing big, but we’re teach­ing her to mix things up. It’s not all about power,” Lar­tigue said. “Claire is be­com­ing a more well­rounded player.”

The 5-9 ½ Perry is one of the con­fer­ence’s finest set­ters. Perry is an early com­mit to St. Mary’s Univer­sity.

“Bree not only di­rects the ball well, but she plays ex­cel­lent back-row de­fense,” Lar­tigue said.

Other se­niors in­clude 5-8 libero Caitlin Clarke and 6-1 mid­dle blocker/ right side hitter Lau­ren Skro­bar­cyzk. Clarke and Skro­bar­czyk inked with Wake For­est Univer­sity and Trin­ity Univer­sity, re­spec­tively.

Also in the main ro­ta­tion are fresh­man Kayla Daly, a 6-1 mid­dle blocker, and sopho­more Sa­man­tha Lev­erenz, a 5-9 out­side hitter.

Next up for the Mus­tangs is a road match against Fort Bend Chris­tian at 6 p.m. Mon­day.

But Lar­tigue’s main goal is get­ting Hous­ton Chris­tian ready for its first South Zone con­test against San An­to­nio St. Mary’s Hall later this month. The Mus­tangs will be among the fa­vorites along with de­fend­ing SPC champ Austin St. Stephen’s and John Cooper.

“That’s when it re­ally counts,” Lar­tigue said of the con­fer­ence opener.

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