Volleyball Player of the Year: James Wood’s Katie Houser
Posted: November 30, 2012
WINCHESTER — To say that Katie Houser had a pretty good freshman season last year would be like saying Robert Griffin III’s rookie campaign has been slightly above average.
Having only picked up the game of volleyball two years earlier, Houser became an integral part of the James Wood team almost the second she stepped onto the court. She won the starting outside hitter role and became the Colonels’ best offensive weapon, totaling a team-high 271 kills.
She earned first team All-Northwestern District honors, had a single-match high of 26 kills and was easily the best freshman in the area.
As it turns out, that was all just a preview of bigger things to come.
From her stats (an area-best 451 kills to go along with a team-high 84 aces and 220 digs) to her leadership on the court (she helped the Colonels advance to the Group AA state quarterfinals) and everything in between, Houser truly shined in her encore performance as a sophomore.
She was voted the Northwestern District Player of the Year, helped lead James Wood to a sweep of the district regular season and tournament titles and powered the Colonels to the Region II finals — all while not even being old enough to drive.
Because of all that Houser is The Winchester Star’s Volleyball Player of the Year.
“I’ll never forget my first interaction with Katie,” said James Wood coach Jill Couturiaux, who has coached Houser each of the last two years both in high school and for the Potomac Elite Volleyball Club.
“I saw her attempting to jump serve in seventh grade and I told her to try it a different way. Most kids need to be shown, but the first time I told her and gave her a verbal instruction, she went back and nailed it and I remember thinking, ‘This kid has got something here.’”
If Houser left any doubt as to whether Couturiaux was right last year, she certainly hammered home the point this season.
On a team that returned six seniors and made no secret about its desire to finally shed the second-place label that had haunted it in recent years, Houser was the driving force behind the potent Colonel attack.
James Wood went 7-1 in the district, losing only to Handley in the final match of the regular season. The Colonels would bounce back six days later, though, with a 3-1 win over the Judges (Houser totaled a match-best 21 kills) in a tiebreaker to secure the automatic Region II berth before beating Handley again, this time in five, in the district tournament championship behind 23 kills, 13 digs and 10 aces from Houser.
“Losing to Handley really woke us up,” Houser said. “After that it was like, ‘We can do better than this.’
“[When we beat them in the tiebreaker] I think that was the best we had played up to that point and that was just a big turning point for us.”
It was also a big turning point for Houser, who seemed to save her best volleyball for the biggest stage.
Hosting Powhatan in the Region II quarterfinals, the sophomore rattled off 25 kills to help the Colonels hold on in five, then followed that up with a school-record 35 kills over powerhouse Potomac Falls.
“That was a game nobody thought we could win,” said Houser, who also added a team-high 34 digs against the Panthers. “But everyone played so well and we just kept fighting. It’s what we had worked all season for, it was just an incredible feeling.”
Although the Colonels would go on to lose to Loudoun County in the Region II finals and then get swept by Jamestown in the Group AA quarterfinals, the fact that they qualified for the state tournament for the first time in a decade showed that hard work pays off — especially in the case of Houser.
Known for her hitting prowess as a freshman, she worked hard in the offseason to improve her passing and serving in order to become a more complete player.
“Katie’s improved her passing tremendously,” Couturiaux said. “Last year she was definitely a target in our serve receive that other teams would go after. But this year our attitude is go after her all you want, she’s going to give us a pass and we’re going to put the ball away.”
The same could be said for when she stepped to the service line this season.
A capable, if not a very potent server as a freshman, Houser sought out advice on how to improve her topspin jump serve and put it to good use.
Her 84 aces were 14 more than the next closest area player and far exceeded the 15 she totaled just a year earlier.
“Last year, say it was game point and I was serving, I just wanted to keep it in,” Houser said. “I would always get nervous thinking about missing it and I’d usually just float it.
“But during the summer I asked a lot of coaches about my topspin, how to keep it falling in, and now I can do it pretty consistently. Now it’s not a big deal to me and I topspin almost every time.”
That was the case against Sherando the first time the two teams clashed when she tallied 10 aces in a three-set sweep and again against Potomac Falls when Couturiaux said she had “18 or 20 topspin jump serves land in, which is a lot to have without one error.”
And what’s scary for James Wood opponents the next two years is Houser’s only going to get better.
She’s already gone from touching 9-4 on her vertical jump at the start at the start of her freshman year to hitting 10-01⁄2 this season, and having just turned 16 — the team wished her a happy birthday at midnight on the bus ride back from the Jamestown match on Nov. 14 — there’s time for her to add to her 5-foot-11 frame.
She’ll also have the benefit of playing for one of the top club teams around this offseason after she was invited to join the Metro American 18-team, an honor that has caught the attention of more than a few college programs already.
“There are a couple college coaches who have gotten wind that Metro has a sophomore playing for their 18’s team and the University of Tennessee is going to send someone to one of her practices in December,” Couturiaux said. “If they hear that Metro has a sophomore, they know she must be pretty good to be on the 18’s team.”
It’s an opportunity that Houser says will be “the coolest thing I’ve ever done for volleyball” and one she hopes will pay dividends next year for James Wood.
“I just want to improve myself so I can help the team go further,” Houser said. “We’ve got a group that’s been playing together since we were in seventh grade and we’re used to winning. I just hope we keep on improving so maybe next year we go back to states and then senior year maybe we’ll win states. You never know.”
After what she did as a freshman and a sophomore, is anyone willing to bet against her as a junior?
— Contact Kevin Trudgeon at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1