Lady Pirate volleyball team

Members of the 2021 Rockport-Fulton High School Lady Pirate volleyball team are, back row, from left, Messiah Hernandez, Sophia Byrom, Lauren Moore, Kaylee Howell, Kaylie Skinner, and Kiley Kopp; front row, from left, Kelsey Polasek, Jessica Schibi, Payton Martinez, Alana Garcia, and Mikayla Molina.

The Rockport-Fulton High School (RFHS) Lady Pirate volleyball team is off to a hot start in the 2021 season.

They are currently 19-6 overall with a 3-0 district record.

Returning one of its more seasoned and experienced rosters in recent memory, RFHS is expected to compete for the District 26-4A title.

Currently, RFHS is in first place at 3-0, followed by Calhoun and Sinton with 2-1 district records. RFHS defeated Calhoun last week in four sets.

Other district opponents are Beeville, Miller, West Oso, and Ingleside.

While high expectations exist off the court, second year Head Volleyball Coach Mark Jeffery said he’s more worried about the team winning practice.

“I’m from the land of trying to live life one day at a time,” said Jeffery. “We try not to look to far into the future.

“We talk about long term goals, yeah. Winning district, that’s what the girls want to do, that’s what they deserve, so we treat every practice like it’s a district championship.

“I’m more worried about winning practice, winning this drill, and going one day at a time. If you think too far ahead of yourself, you’ll start to lose focus of what’s happening around you.”

With that focus in mind, RFHS is currently riding a six-game win streak after taking a tough loss to Calallen in late August. Learning from the losses, Jeffery said he’s put a strong emphasis on raising the team’s standard level of competition, and passing.

“If we can compete and pass well, we can beat anybody,” said Jeffery. “It’s just getting the ball control to be more consistent and the competition factor to be more apparent. They’re much more competitive this year than they were last year.”

The team is comprised of six seniors and five juniors.

Of the six seniors, four of them have been on varsity since they were sophomores. The four were also unanimously voted as team captains for the 2021 season: Kaylee Howell, Payton Martinez, Lauren Moore, and Mikayla Molina.

Jeffery, who used to be a middle school volleyball coach before taking over the varsity team, has coached this group of seniors since they were in seventh grade. He said the class has “single handedly changed the culture of Girls Athletics.”

“We were always good, but I think we’ve turned a corner to where you can go to Jourdanton for a softball game in the playoffs and people know who Rockport-Fulton is, as opposed to showing up to any other playoff game and they’re asking where Rockport is,” said Jeffery. “They’ve changed the culture, and made success an expectation here. We were always good, but now we’re on another level. We’re getting state recognition, and we talk a lot more about going to state in sports than we did before. It’s just a special group of kids.”

Howell is the lone senior who’s been on varsity since her freshman year. She’s garnered numerous postseason accolades and has been a stalwart in the middle of RFHS’ frontcourt as a middle blocker. She is also, without question, the heartbeat of the team.

“Obviously Kaylee is just a competitor, she refuses to lose, and she’s going to tell you if she doesn’t like something,” said Jeffery.

Martinez saw consistent minutes in the backcourt as a sophomore and flourished into one of the best libero’s in the Coastal Bend. Though nowhere near as vocal as Howell, Jeffery said Martinez’ leadership is an important piece to the makeup of the team.

“She’s a silent assassin,” said Jeffery. “She doesn’t really say much. She just goes about her business. But, she’s getting there in terms of being able to communicate on the floor and run our defense the way it needs to be run.”

Jeffery said Moore has gained a newfound confidence going into her senior year and loves the energy she brings to the team.

“She’s done an amazing job on the floor for us in terms of energy and an attitude,” said Jeffery.

He added Moore, an outside hitter, is also one of the most improved players on the team.

“She’s always been a good player, but this year she’s playing six rotations a lot for us, her passing’s come a long way, her defense. Offensively, she’s got a little more confidence; she’s much more aggressive, and you can tell by her stats,” Jeffery said.

Molina has rotated in as a starting setter since her sophomore year. Jeffery said he talked with Molina and Sophia Byrom before the season and charged them with running the offense effectively.

“They’ve taken hold of that. They’re ‘running’ our offense,” said Jeffery. “Before, there were a lot of times where we’d be in the middle of a rally and it looked like our hitters were lost because it was never communicated what they were supposed to be doing. But those two taking over the offense now, and really ‘running’ it, has helped a lot.”

Making up the rest of the senior class is Kaylie Skinner and Kelsey Polasek.

Skinner stepped up as a junior last season and teamed with Howell to form one of the best defensive fronts in the district. Jeffery said Skinner’s taken even bigger strides since last season.

“She’s really increased her play speed, which is necessary when you play middle blocker,” said Jeffery.

Jeffery said Polasek is a savvy veteran with a great court presence.

“She’s extremely smart. Her ability to be where she needs to be when she’s supposed to be there is pretty impressive,” said Jeffery.

Juniors are Byrom, Messiah Hernandez, Jessica Schibi, Alana Garcia, and Kiley Kopp.

Byrom tag teams with Molina in the middle as a starting setter and has only gotten better with experience.

“Her volleyball IQ is through the roof,” said Jeffery. “Just letting her do her thing, she’s come a long way.”

Hernandez has taken ownership as the team’s opposite hitter. Jeffery said she’s a do-it-all weapon for the team.

“She does a great job at the net for us,” said Jeffery. “She provides a phenomenal block on the right side, which is really important because you get a lot of attacks from the left side. It’s important to have a good right side blocker.”

Schibi was moved up at the start of the district season last year and saw some time rotating in the backcourt as a defensive specialist.

“Jessica is a phenomenal passer,” said Jeffery.

On the right side, Garcia’s athleticism and skill as a lefty provides another wildcard for other teams to account for. Freshman volleyball coach Jessica Clark, also a lefty, has helped Garcia evolve as a player.

“Coach Clark has given us some great insight in terms of how to make Alana more successful,” said Jeffery.

Kopp, the only rookie player on the varsity team, worked her way into a starting role as an outside hitter. Jeffery said Kopp took some time over the summer to learn the game and turned into another weapon for the team.

“Kiley is freakishly athletic. Her vertical is insane. She’s probably one of the best athletes in her class, and she depended on that athleticism,” said Jeffery. “This past year she played a little bit of club volleyball and learned the game a lot more. She’s come a long, long way.”

RFHS’ district season continues Tuesday, Sept. 28 at home versus Miller. Game time is 6 p.m.

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