Stratford bounces back, makes late playoff push

Story Reprinted from Chron.com

Article written by: Jeff Jenkins

 

A few weeks ago, a trip to the Class 5A volleyball playoffs seemed to be a stretch for Stratford.

But the resilient Spartans have inched close to the .500 mark (15-16). More importantly, they began the week in fourth place in District 19-5A at 6-5 after sweeping Waller 25-20, 25-9, 25-23 and Spring Woods 25-15, 25-11, 25-15.

“We’re playing well, but I didn’t think it would take us this long,” said Stratford head coach Becky Palermo. “We lost some close ones during the first half of district, a couple of them in four sets. We’re finally winning those matches.”

Talent hasn’t been the issue for the Spartans. It’s been a matter of finding the right rotation to challenge the top teams in District 19-5A – Tomball, Magnolia, Magnolia West and Tomball Memorial.

“We have some outstanding players, but we’ve been trying to fill those last two (starting) positions,” Palermo said.

Senior Ashley Fritcher, a 6-foot-2 right side hitter, has lived up to lofty expectations. The Baylor University commit is Stratford’s go-to player when the Spartans need to win a big point.

“Everyone knows how good Ashley is, but she’s not out there for herself,” Palermo said. “She’s a great team player.”

Senior Jamison Duck, a 5-9 outside hitter, is another one of Stratford’s veterans.

“Jamison is a smart player and is our other ‘go-to’ hitter. She sees the floor so well,” Palermo said. “She is terrific on defense and is our best all-around player.”

Several other players have split time at the other outside hitter spot – 5-6 sophomore Maddie Bryant, 5-9 junior Parker Udsteun and 5-10 sophomore Grace Shea-han, who recently moved up from the junior varsity.

The middle blockers are 5-10 juniors Mirella Brocklehurst and Kate Thomas, both of whom have been key contributors.

“It is the first year for Mirella at Stratford, but she’s really helped us. She lays down a nice block,” Palermo said. “Kate is one of our most consistent kids. She’s very coachable and is a vocal leader.”

Stratford has a new starting setter in 5-10 junior Jaclyn Swanson, who continues to improve every match.

The Spartans also have relied heavily on the defensive prowess of 5-5 senior Grace Whitmire at libero.

“Grace is our other setter and plays a lot bigger than 5-5,” Palermo said. “She is a six-rotation player at libero, which is where we need her the most.”

Giving Stratford a boost off the bench is 5-5 junior defensive specialist Hannah Lee.

Palermo said the Spartans must finish strong during their final district matches to keep their postseason hopes alive. Stratford will host Tomball Memorial at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24.