Westlake volleyball team embracing 'next woman up' mentality navigating injuries

It’s a testament to Westlake’s depth to do what it has done this season and continued to do Tuesday.

Playing without senior outside hitter Caroline Pence — a key starter on last year’s squad — for the entire fall until she returned from injury Friday, the Chaps have still been a staple in the American-Statesman’s area Class 6A poll.

In fact, when you look at who Westlake has actually lost to, it’s a bit of a “who’s who” of Class 6A powers and private schools.

But as soon as the Chaps got Pence and fellow outside hitter Stephanie Collins back, sophomore outside hitter Lily Davis — a finalist for all-CenTex Newcomer of the Year last season — suffered an ankle injury and will now be out for an extended amount of time.

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These would be blows for any program, however, Westlake has done a good job with the “next woman up” mentality, and Tuesday it was senior Sophia Luo who highlighted a 25-23, 25-22, 25-20 road sweep of Johnson in a key District 26-6A matchup.

Westlake libero Reese Emerick reacts with joy after the Chaparrals score a point against Johnson during the team's win Tuesday at Johnson High School. Emerick had 27 digs in the key District 26-6A victory.
Westlake libero Reese Emerick reacts with joy after the Chaparrals score a point against Johnson during the team's win Tuesday at Johnson High School. Emerick had 27 digs in the key District 26-6A victory.

Luo has been a consistent member of the Chaps varsity rotation for three years and has had a very good season, but she fired a career-high 14 kills and played a part in Westlake’s active blocking game to lead the way against the Jaguars.

“Really exciting outcome today,” said Luo, an Emory University pledge. “We were really scrappy and I feel like our setter (Cameron Shelly) is killing it. She’s just so good — she knows where to place it and sets the path for our hitters. But with (Pence and Collins) back, she’s got a lot of options.”

Pence seems to be quickly finding her groove as she knocked down eight shots, while middles Caitlin Hefner and Claire Wernli combined for 13 kills.

Libero Reese Emerick had her usual outstanding game defensively with 27 digs, and Shelly finished with 36 assists, 14 saves and had three kills in what was an all-round impressive performance by Westlake (29-11, 9-2) against a Johnson team that seems poised to grab the district’s fourth playoff seed.

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“It was good we got (Pence and Collins) in there for the second time,” Westlake coach Miguel Saenz said. “I like the fact that Johnson played extremely well and we had to work through that. Sophia was unstoppable, our defense was good, our serving was excellent and we had to play really well to come out of here with the win.”

Johnson (25-14, 6-5), which is in its first year in Class 6A and is led by Louisiana-Monroe pledge Mackenzie Behl, has only lost in district play to the “big three” of Lake Travis, Dripping Springs and the Chaps.

Bell and Lana Tello combined for 21 kills, setters Brooklyn Myers and Lauren Tietz teamed up for 40 assists and Erin Madden made 40 saves in a hard-fought effort for the Jaguars, who have key contests with Austin High and Anderson coming up in the battle for the final postseason spot.

Johnson libero Rileigh Butler returns a ball during the team's match versus Westlake on Tuesday at Johnson High School. Johnson is 6-5 in District 26-6A play and in contention for the postseason.
Johnson libero Rileigh Butler returns a ball during the team's match versus Westlake on Tuesday at Johnson High School. Johnson is 6-5 in District 26-6A play and in contention for the postseason.

“Close match all the way around tonight, and I’m proud of the way our girls played,” said Johnson coach Thomas Kane. “We’re still on track (for the playoffs), but this is a super-tough district and it’s a match-by-match thing. You’re working really hard against teams like Westlake, and so now it’s realizing you got beat by a good team and moving on to Friday.”

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Westlake has rematches with Dripping Springs and Lake Travis on the horizon, and though it’s been hit with injuries all year, Saenz likes the makeup of his roster and how his players have handled everything.

“To me it still feels like we’re in the first quarter of the season sometimes with all the injuries,” he said. “But that’s why it was so good we came out of here with the sweep with some girls playing who are still learning what we’re wanting to do as a team.”

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Westlake volleyball defeats Johnson to remain in district title hunt