There were no post-season championships, which were goals this fall and achieved in recent seasons, but winning 31 volleyball matches still qualified as a highly successful campaign in the minds of the Bishop O’Connell Knights.
The girls high-school team finished the 2023 season with a 31-8 overall record, including a 17-0 home mark, and finished second in two big playoff tournaments against top-ranked teams in different polls, one with an undefeated record.
“We still had a great season and we played some really good teams,” said longtime O’Connell coach Mehdi El Alaoui, who has some 275 wins in 13 seasons. “We lost only one senior from the last season and we had a lot of experience. We knew we would be strong again. We made a lot of improvement as the season went on.”
O’Connell lost in tournament-championship matches of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (to undefeated Holy Cross) and the Division I private-school Virgina state tourney (to top seed Flint Hill). The Knights, seeded second in each, lost both finals by 3-1 scores, winning the first set against Holy Cross and the third versus Flint Hill.
“Certain things did work out as well for us after we won that first set against Holy Cross,” El Alaoui said.
In the state final, O’Connell led in the first set before losing, 25-19.
“That was a very high-level match, college-level play,” El Alaoui said of the state final.
The Knights were 2-1 in the state tourney, winning their two matches by 3-0 scores over lower seeds.
O’Connell entered the postseason as the two-time defending champion in the WCAC tourney and last won the state in 2016, with multiple runner-up finishes since that year.
“It’s always a good thing to be there in the finals of those two tournaments,” El Alaoui said.
O’Connell began the season playing six matches in two days against top teams in a national Nike tournament. The Knights lost five of those matches, but the coach said the competition made the team better.
Two of O’Connell’s top players were seniors Madison Bowser and Erin Debiec. Each were chosen first team all-WCAC and all-state, along with first team All-Americans by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. They were the first O’Connell players in program history chosen first-team by the Coaches Association.
Both will play Division I college volleyball, Bowser at Vanderbilt University and Debiec at Colorado State University.
For the season, Debiec had 877 assists, 111 kills and 62 blocks. Bowser had 332 kills and 70 blocks.
Also chosen first-team all-state from O’Connell were Alice Holoubek, who will play in college at the University of Mary Washington, Jocelyn Pye and Teodora Stamenkovic. Holoubek had 134 kills and 64 blocks, Pye had 364 kills and 27 blocks and Stamenkovic 145 kills and 69 blocks.
Hannah Kotb made second-team all-state. She had 391 digs.
Other top players for O’Connell were Ellyson Miller (130 kills), Grace Faughman (56 kills), Emily Reyburn (167 assists) and Cara Nearpass.
NOTE: O’Connell’s 31 wins were its third most in a season in El Alaoui’s 13 years as coach. The most wins were 35 and the second most 32.