“I want them to understand how to bounce back and recover,” said Coach Chelsea Grear, “It’s about how you pull yourself up from defeat and develop resilience as individuals and as a group.” It may be strange to some that Coach Grear was discussing handling loss in the context of her Varsity Volleyball team entering the penultimate regular season game with only one loss so far this year. But in the context of sports at St. Catherine’s, it all makes sense.
St. Catherine’s is one of 52 schools in the Greater Houston Catholic Athletic Association (GHCAA) and participates in Soccer (Co-ed), Volleyball (Girls), Basketball (Girls and Boys teams), and Track. Students in their 5th-8th years from traditional schools are eligible, but because of St. Catherine’s non-traditional classroom structure, SCM students can join in their 4th year.
It’s not just the younger players that make St. Catherine’s stand out. “We have one of the smallest school populations, if not the smallest, to draw from,” said Coach Ken Ashcroft. Ashcroft was coaching at Houston Express Soccer Club, a premiere youth club that hires professional coaches from around the world, when an SCM parent contacted him to help the school’s teams. That was 12 years ago. “It was difficult at first,” said Coach Ashcroft of the adjustment from the “age appropriate” club kids to the mix of ages, 4th-8th grade at SCM. But he adjusted by aligning the sport to the Montessori approach of older children guiding the younger: “If you know the game, it’s always your responsibility to teach the game to the younger players.”
Also unusual are the sheer number of sibling pairs. “We have at least five sibling sets in Varsity soccer alone,” said Megan Monk, a Lower Elementary guide and Assistant Soccer Coach, “It’s amazing!” What’s it like to play with brothers and sisters? Umberto La Matta, a 9th grader in the Adolescent Community would know – his younger brother and sister both play. “We play a lot at home, so when we play on the actual field it’s a lot of fun because we know each other better.”
Younger players also mean smaller players. “This year we’re probably still the best in the league,” said Coach Ashcroft, “but as you go deeper in the playoffs and face bigger opposition…We’re going to play the best we can, and if we get to the semi-finals, it’s been a great year.”
SCM’s Varsity Soccer team is undefeated with only one regular season game left. The team made semi-finals last year, won 3rd place the year before that, and were the GHCAA “Undefeated” division champions in 2012-13. Varsity Volleyball enters the last regular season game with only one loss and an undefeated 2015-16 regular season. The team made it to 1st round playoffs before experiencing their first loss.
With a narrow pool from which to draw players, mixed ages, and players of smaller stature, St. Catherine’s sports record could seem a bit surprising. Perhaps even a lot surprising! The answer may lie, unsurprisingly, in the mix of parent dedication, sibling relationships, and coaching unique to SCM.
Parents Hadley Cogan and Courtney Lerch organize and coach a Saturday soccer program for approximately 20-30 Primary and Lower Elementary students. “Primary/Lower El soccer was founded many years ago by parents who wanted to get younger kids excited about soccer and sports at St. Catherine’s in an age-appropriate way” said Cogan. The children learn basic soccer skills and experience the enjoyment that comes with playing as a team. Some of the older AC players and even alumni students with younger siblings still attending school come on Saturday mornings to help out, much to the Primary/LE kids’ excitement, said Cogan, “They’re a big draw!”
“More than having a stellar record, I’m looking for them to develop a work ethic and confidence that will go with them far beyond their time here at St. Catherine’s,” said Coach Grear. “I always tell the team: ’“We went together, we lost together’.”
“It’s intimidating when other players are bigger,” admitted Varsity soccer player Umberto La Matta. “But Coach Ashcroft says size doesn’t matter in games. It’s skill and...your mind.”