WACO — The 45-minute drive from Gatesville to Waco Vanguard was all too familiar for Sydney Mundkowsky. As she walked into Vanguard’s athletic complex Saturday and warmed up for the match that was soon to take place, the 6-foot-2 Gatesville product felt as though her high school volleyball journey was coming full circle.
Mundkowsky received a number of private lessons on the wooden floors of Vanguard’s gym, which served as the location for the seventh annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Heart of Texas Super Centex Victory Bowl volleyball match Saturday, the first time it was held away from Waco University.
It seemed only fitting that Vanguard was the last place she competed as a high school athlete.
“I took privates here about four years ago when I was just starting, so I have a lot of memories of Vanguard,” said Mundkowsky, who plans to play volleyball for Angelo State. “It’s pretty cool that this is where I played my last high school match.”
Mundkowsky tallied a Victory Bowl-record 18 kills and was named the Red team’s most valuable player after the final point had been registered in its 26-24, 25-21, 24-26, 18-25, 15-12 win over Blue — the first time the match went the full five sets.
But for nearly every player who stepped on the court Saturday, the outcome, statistics and records were ultimately meaningless. After nearly three months of inactivity because of the coronavirus pandemic that brought on the suspension of sports on all levels, players on both teams were just happy to get one more chance to compete.
“Looking back, I think we all really appreciate getting to get our senior volleyball seasons in before all this started happening,” said Academy’s Aubrey Fossett, who helped lead Blue back from a 2-0 deficit and force the deciding set. “I have a lot of friends who play softball who didn’t get to finish. I was very thankful that my volleyball and basketball seasons finished because not everyone was that lucky.”
Troy’s Savannah Sebek, Copperas Cove’s Leah Powell and Mundkowsky were the area’s representatives for Red, while Salado’s Landry Rogers, Rosebud-Lott’s Erakah Easley, Buckholts’ Lizzi Trdy and Fossett competed for Blue in a contest that included 24 girls from 22 Central Texas high schools.
All were relieved that the match was still scheduled after FCA officials were skeptical last week that competitions could commence while maintaining proper social distancing and health protocol standards. The baseball, softball and volleyball events were briefly altered to practice sessions before Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday announced the third phase of his plan to reopen the state, which allowed the contests to take place as normal.
Well, as normal as expected with hand sanitizing stations, temperature checks and the lack of fans.
“I was excited when it got switched back to a game,” Mundkowsky said. “I really missed out on live game scenarios. I’ve been practicing, but it’s just not the same as keeping score and playing.”
Even though the players did not practice together before Saturday, the competition was still fierce. Red opened the match by taking the first two sets, before Blue rallied to claim the third and fourth. Red held a 12-11 lead in the fifth and got the last three kills from Crawford’s Anne Williams to make it back-to-back wins for Red, which won in a three-set sweep last year.
“I’m sad we didn’t get the full week together like it usually is because there’s no telling how good this game could have been with that, and it was already pretty good,” said Sebek, who had 13 assists and will play volleyball for Blinn. “Ultimately, I’m just glad we got to play. It’s been so long since I’ve been on an actual court, so this was really good.”
Williams finished with 13 kills and 10 digs, Whitney’s Delaney Woodell added 13 assists and 12 digs, and China Spring’s Jenna Kuligowski recorded a Victory Bowl-record 19 digs for Red.
For Blue, Fairfield’s Braden Bossier was named team MVP with 14 kills, seven digs, five blocks and five assists. Fossett had 12 kills and eight digs, Rogers chipped in 10 kills and seven digs, and Blum’s Emma Rodriguez finished with 14 digs.