Moments after Our Lady of the Hills’ 52-2 drubbing of Victoria Faith last Friday night, the majority of its players jaunted over to senior Mason Sirianni’s home to celebrate the victory.
There, they relaxed in Sirianni’s hot tub, cracked jokes with each other and reminisced. They reminisced on some of their favorite plays from Friday’s contest — like the time when senior Hunter Taylor scooped up teammate Mike Chapman’s fumble and charged 20 yards for an OLH first down, or when Brian Casillas recovered a fumble for a touchdown — and on their 2018 season as a whole.
And what a season it’s been for the Hawks. With their win on Friday, they clinched their first berth in the postseason since 2014. They will try to improve their seeding in the playoffs this Friday when they travel to Waco Live Oak for the regular-season finale.
“For me, (making the playoffs) has been one of my goals during all of the years that I have played at OLH,” Sirianni said inside an OLH office on Monday. “Now that the team is able to get back into it. It’s very meaningful to me.”
And that’s why, in my opinion, OLH (6-3) returning to the playoffs was the biggest storyline to emerge from last Friday’s slate of games in the Hill Country. Two years ago, OLH was just another struggling program, going 1-9 in 2016. But this year’s current crop of seniors — Taylor, Sirianni and Triston Schubert — worked tirelessly to help resurrect Hawks football. They became stronger in the offseason through countless sessions in the weight room, and they led by example during the regular season.
Here’s an example of the seniors’ leadership: Before the start of fall camp, Taylor promised himself he was going to be the first to cross the finish line during every team conditioning exercise. In other words, he wasn’t going to let any underclassmen outwork him.
That type of leadership resonates with teammates, and it also helps ensure the future success of OLH football. Taylor, Sirianni and Schubert have set a standard for OLH’s talented underclassmen. Thanks to them, next year’s Hawks will be familiar with the work required to win at a high level. They, too, will be inspired to improve.
“These guys are three of the best kids to ever walk the hallways at OLH,” OLH coach Chris Ramirez said of his seniors. “They are well-rounded, great young men who come from good families. … They set the bar for how a senior class should conduct themselves. One of the things they do best is they have really connected with all their teammates. There is no division between upperclassmen and underclassmen. They know the job that needs to be done and they do it.
“I think they have a done great job in all that they do — in the athletic setting, in the academic setting. They are just well-rounded young men.”
And on Friday, the seniors guided the Hawks to a playoff berth while playing on OLH’s home field for the final time. That’s a pretty special moment, and it’s why all three seniors earned game balls from the Kerrville Daily Times this week.
1. Hunter Taylor, Mason Sirianni and Triston Schubert — OLH — football
Once again, Taylor coolly commanded OLH’s offense, allowing the Hawks to control the game. He averaged nine yards per attempt for 118 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 103 yards and two more touchdowns.
But the three seniors’ biggest contributions to Friday’s win came on the defensive side of the ball. Throughout the season, the three seniors have encouraged their teammates to embrace defense. It showed on Friday. Schubert led the team with 11 total tackles. Sophomore Luke Martinez snagged three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. And Casillas recorded 11 tackles and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
“You always hear that defenses win championships,” Taylor said. “Our offense has speed. We can throw; we can run and it’s unstoppable against many teams. But then, the other team can score, too. But if you have a strong defense, it keeps them score and it separates the two teams.”
What’s next for the three seniors? Helping the Hawks avoid complacency. If they can knock off Live Oak, they will finish third in the district standings, giving them a much more favorable path in the playoffs. That’s why Ramirez made it clear that his players can’t be satisfied with just making the playoffs.
“We still have work to do,” Ramirez said. “We have other goals we look to meet as well.”
2. Karson Valverde — Tivy — football
At this point, what else is there to say about Valverde? Besides stating the obvious fact that he is a terrific football player.
He entered last Friday’s game leading the Antlers is total yards (1,527) and yards per carry (8.2). Lockhart did nothing to slow his momentum. Tivy’s senior captain torched the Lions’ secondary for 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and victimized them on ground for 143 more yards and four touchdowns — averaging 10 yards per touch in Tivy’s 62-48 victory over Lockhart.
Perhaps his most valuable asset is his unselfishness. Last season, he was the Antlers’ starting quarterback. But this year, he hasn’t started at the position since Tivy’s 30-27 win over Boerne Champion on Sept. 21.
Instead of pouting over not playing his preferred position, Valverde has embraced his primary role as Tivy’s dominating all-purpose running back. In the passing game, he creates nightmarish mismatches for defenses. Opposing defensive backs often have to cover Tivy’s four talented receivers, leaving linebackers to try and contain Valverde. There aren’t too many linebackers who possess the credentials to keep up with Valverde.
He’s also an instinctual runner, often identifying running lanes. For example, late in the fourth quarter, Tivy called for Valverde to run up the middle. Valverde, instead, decided to bounce outside and sprint 45 yards down the right sideline for a game-sealing touchdown.
“If this team wants to win, then everyone has to do their job,” Valverde said earlier this season. “Sometimes, you have to go fill in somewhere else and get the job done.”
Those weren’t empty words, either. And it’s why Valverde earned a game ball this week.
3. Tyler Jenschke — Tivy — football
Jenschke is polite to almost a fault.
He smiles during every conversation and punctuates ever answer during interviews with “yes, sir” and “no sir.”
His everyday demeanor is ironic, given the way he’s played on the gridiron this season. Jenschke has been a force this year: leading the Antlers in sacks (10), tackles for loss (18) and forced fumbles (five). He turned in another sterling performance against Lockhart: recording 13 tackles and forcing a first-half fumble that swung the momentum in Tivy’s favor.
4. Bobbi Leitha — Center Point — Volleyball
Last Monday, Leitha expressed her desire to help the Lady Pirates make a deep playoff run, to be part of a team that is remembered in Center Point lore.
She might have secured her legacy with her performances last week. On Monday, she registered seven kills, 11 digs and 21 assists during the Lady Pirates’ three-set win over Sabinal in the bi-district round. On Friday, she stuffed her stat sheet again, finishing with three kills, 32 assists, 23 digs, three blocks and a serving ace in the Lady Pirates’ three-set (26-24, 27-25, 25-13) win over San Isidro in the area round.
Leitha will try to propel the Lady Pirates to the regional semifinals when they play Freer tonight in the regional quarterfinals at Medina Valley.
5. Cody Daily — Center Point — Football
Daily has posted some dizzying numbers during district play this season — savaging defenses for 479 yards and nine touchdowns on 57 carries in the Pirates’ four district games.
He impressed once again last Friday night against Sabinal: collecting 163 yards and two touchdowns during the Pirates’ 43-19 thrashing of the yellow jackets.
Daily earned the final game ball, as his performance helped the Pirates clinch a playoff spot for the third straight year.