The C.S. Lewis Academy volleyball team evolves from league cellar dweller to state playoff team over the course of one magical season

From the start, first-year C.S. Lewis Academy volleyball coach Vince Swagerty believed his team had a legitimate shot to make the state playoffs.

The conventional wisdom, however, was against the Watchmen, as they had never qualified for the district tournament in program history, let alone the state playoffs.

Swagerty was hopeful not only because he would have the services of 6-foot-2 standout middle blocker Mikaela Raudsepp, but because he saw enough talent in the gym to build a solid team, not just a supporting cast, around the Division-I prospect.

At the same time, Swagerty knew that it would be a long road and that many things would have to fall in place for the team to reach its full potential by the end of the season.

C.S. Lewis lost two of its first four games while Raudsepp recovered from a wrist injury. By the time she was back to full strength, the Watchmen had lost twice more, but things were about to turn around.

Powered by Raudsepp’s enthusiasm, intensity and ability to get kills from any position on the court, the Watchmen ripped off seven consecutive victories during a weak stretch in their schedule.

By the time C.S. Lewis squared off against Veritas for the second time, the rest of the team, including seniors Lana Friedrich, Halah Grobey and twin sisters Hannah and Hope Schmeltzer, had become solid fundamentally, making the Watchmen much tougher to defend.

The team extended its winning streak to eight by sweeping Veritas 3-0, marking the first time C.S. Lewis had beaten the rival Vanguard.

The win announced the Watchmen as contenders to make the district tournament and a dominating 3-0 win over St. Paul (also a program first) in the next game put the rest of the league on notice.

C.S. Lewis went on to beat Country Christian for the first time ever and battled through a tough closing stretch of the season to qualify for the district tournament.

The Watchmen eliminated the Vanguard in the first round, then outlasted Perrydale in an epic 3-2 battle, marking the fourth time during the season it had bested a league opponent for the first time in program history, while simultaneously earning its first ever bid to the state playoffs.

“It takes all the little things and the girls understood that every game that we played, every point that we played mattered and they played like it mattered,” Raudsepp said. “That’s what ultimately got us to the end.”

Swagerty’s squad dispatched Mckenzie 3-1 to pick up the program’s first playoff win, but ran into unbeaten powerhouse Imbler in the second round.

Although the Panthers won 25-20, 25-15, 25-18, to end their dream season, the Watchmen held their heads high knowing they were beaten by a better team, one which went on to win the 1A state title.

“The girls absolutely stepped up,” Raudsepp said. “We loved each other and pushed each other to get where we wanted to go.”

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