Shoeless Gabe

Sam Chambers
St. John’s Mavericks Boys’ Varsity Volleyball (11-7, 1-0) squared off against 610 rival Episcopal for their second counter match of the season.   The Mavericks defeated the Knights 3-0 two weeks prior, giving St. John’s a head start to take the SPC South title for the fourth year in a row.  A win at Episcopal’s Crum Field House would put the Mavericks at 2-0 in the division with home and away matches against St. Mary’s Hall and Kinkaid left to finish out the regular season.
In order to have best chance to advance in the SPC playoffs, which begin on November 6th at Dallas Greenhill School, taking care of the SPC South is the first priority for the Mavericks.
“Success is about improvement during the season,” said Head Coach Chaz Hulett.  “Specifically, we are serving with more confidence now.”
In preparation for the Tuesday counter at Episcopal, the team practiced on Monday sporting their black uniforms in a scrimmage against an array of area talent.
“We have good players compete against the team to help push us and make us work,” said Hulett.  “Episcopal is a good rival for us.  They want to beat us and we have to work hard every time.  It is  always a great match, and we need to be prepared.”
Episcopal jumped out to a 7-3 lead in set one, and despite a late rally sparked by the serving of Billy Guo ’15,  kills by Hunter Hasley ’16, Joseph Hanson ’16, and Guo, plus the footwork of Brandon Alston ’15, the Mavericks could not keep up with the Knights, losing 25-21. 
St. John’s won the first six points in set two and pulled away for a 25-18 win to even the set count to 1-1.  Paul Labanowski ’16 had 2 kills in the first two sets and 10 in the last two.  He also won 7 service points in set two.
“We just came out flat in game one and as the match went on we got in sync with better timed passing and setting,” said Labanowski.   “We got more confident and looser, and were able to start dominating the game.”
The Mavericks meshed even more in game three.  With a 7-4 lead Marcus Manca ’16 stepped on the heel of Gabe Malek ’16 causing Gabe to lose his shoe.   As the point continued, Malek tossed the loose shoe to the bench and helped finish the point for an 8-4 advantage.   Later in the game Malek, with both shoes on, dove wide to get his hand on ball, sending it parallel the net cord to libero John Armstrong ’15, who tapped it over for the point. 
“They thought the play was done and watched it hit and that totally got us in the game,” said Gabe.   “We took it from there.”
Cameron Crain ’15 had one of his better performances in the second and third sets winning 10/14 service points and tallying 7 kills.
“Gabe just kept finding me in the right spots,” said Crain.  “It was one of my better games.  I came out with something to prove.  I like  being hidden and coming off the bench with a chip on my shoulder.”
“Crain played one of his best games of the season,” said Hulett.  “He was strong in hitting by keeping the ball way in front of him, and he played some surprisingly good defense that we don’t always see from him.”
Malek kept the Maverick mojo going in set four with a service run of 5 points including an ace.   Manca also found his groove with 8 out of his game leading 14 kills in the last two sets. 
“It’s about placement and getting hyped when it is important to get some points,” said Manca.  “You got to put it away.”
The Mavericks travel to San Antonio on Saturday to take on St. Mary’s Hall for another SPC counter match.   With a few players out, Hulett will rely on a bench to get the job done.  
“The luxury for out team is that we have players who can step in at any moment, “ said Hulett.  “A lot of juniors, including James Southwick ’16 and Alex Gajewski ’16, that I have coached since they were in 8th grade, have done the work with me, and that has helped build a good relationship where they are comfortable coming in cold and ready to go.

Coming in hot, cold, with a chip on their shoulder, shoes on or off, the Mavericks are meshing with confidence to give them a chance to advance in the SPC playoffs.
Sam Chambers- Athletic News