Anna Crittenden launches the ball past the middle blocker during the Lady Warriors win over Randolph on Friday.

After Ingram Tom Moore’s volleyball match with Fredericksburg on Aug. 30, junior middle blocker Anna Crittenden visited with her friend from Boerne who had attended the match.

Crittenden and the Lady Warriors lost to the Billies in three sets, only their fourth loss this season. Still, Crittenden’s friend left Ingram’s gym impressed. Why? She liked the way Ingram’s varsity’s players cheered for their junior varsity team.

During every junior varsity match, Ingram’s varsity players stand behind the team bench and celebrate every point as if their JV squad had just won the state championship. Sometimes their coach, Tony Vela, even has to remind them to tone down the cheering.

“We go ham for our JV team — we have some videos where we go all out,” Crittenden said. “(My friend) said that was very odd … other varsity teams don’t do that.”

Then again, Ingram isn’t a normal varsity team. The same energy the Lady Warriors show during junior varsity matches is the same energy that’s helped them throttle the majority of their competition this season. They simply love the game of volleyball, and that’s the chief reason they are currently ranked No. 6 in Class 3A. On Tuesday, they made their latest statement in a District 26-3A match against Randolph. Last season, the Ro-Hawks were the only team to sweep Ingram in district play. But on Tuesday, they couldn’t even win a set, as Ingram cruised to a 25-14, 25-15, 27-25 victory to win their eighth-consecutive match.

The Lady Warriors (26-0, 2-0), though, seem to have an almost nonchalant attitude about their success this season. Last year, every experience was new. They had the most wins (22) in school history, according to MaxPreps, and snapped a three-year playoff drought. This year, however, they expect to win every match.

“We are 26-4, ranked No. 6 in the state, but (the players) don’t brag about it,” Vela said. “They show up every day and want to get better. They don’t care who they play. They go out with the expectation that they are going to compete and get the win.

“They are just great kids. … I love being around them; they have become like family to me.”

Vela believes that’s the biggest reason for his team’s success this season: In just two years, his four team leaders (Crittenden, junior Karlie Bonam, sophomore Makenna Gelsone and senior Ansley Gelsone) have created a championship culture inside the program.

They all enjoy natural gifts (Bonam is 5”10 and touches 9”11), but they all possess the intangible qualities necessary to compete for championships.

All four players have older siblings, so they are naturally competitive. All four have at least one parent who coaches, so they have been taught to work hard their entire life. And they’re honest with each other, never hesitating to give constructive criticism to a teammate.

They’ve created a culture that demands the best effort from each individual.

“Usually in small schools, the best athletes never rise up because they have no one else to push them,” Crittenden said. “But we have that here. … If (Karlie) is doing better than me, I’m going to fight more to get to her level.

Perhaps most importantly, they take volleyball seriously, but haven’t forgotten that the sport is supposed to be fun. They prepare for matches by blasting Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.” (“That’s our song,” Crittenden said). And they host team dinners as often as possible.

“I don’t think there’s any player who feels left out,” Bonam said after Ingram’s win over Bandera on Sept. 17. “That’s how close we are.”

That joy ultimately helps the Lady Warriors handle the pressure of having a No. 6 ranking next to their name. Throughout this season, they have continually heard a variation of the question, “Are you all going to state?” They often respond to such inquiries with, “Just come watch us play.”

Honestly, they are enjoying the regular season too much to be worried about the playoffs. And they’re still focused on accomplishing their main goal this fall. During every practice, they can’t help but notice there isn’t a volleyball district championship banner hanging in their gym. They are hoping

that changes after this season.

They will try to remain undefeated in loop contention when they host Cole tonight.

“I want success for them more than anything,” Vela said. “They play selfless volleyball. If we can continue to do that, we can play volleyball for a long time this season.”

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