Coach Julie Green searches for words that will help define her high school volleyball teams.
This season, it is Hokaheh, a Sioux word for "clear the path."
In 2011, it was the Greek word for "compete." Or "One who competes for a prize."
Compete they did, as her team won a state title.
In 2010, it was the Chinese symbol for change. After falling short of its 2009 goal of defending its state title, her team made the necessary changes and won state.
"They (the words) usually are not clear to anybody but our team," said Green, who has coached back-to-back 5A Texas state volleyball championships. "I'm looking for words that will work for our team."
Hokaheh fits well for her 2012 Coppell (Texas)
squad, currently ranked among the nation's top prep volleyball teams with a record of 44-3 and seeking to defend its 2011 5A Texas state title.
"We're not defined by the things that happen, but how we react to those things," said Green, who in 2010 coached Lake Travis (Austin) to a state title. "Hokaheh is a Native American word that means ‘clears the path.' It's been used when a chief leads his men into battle. It's a very active word and a very purposeful word. What we want is on the other side and we all have to work together to get what we want. We must prepare for we want in order to get it."
Green said her team has learned "to take control of ourselves. That is all we can control.
"We're not surprising anyone," she said. "Everyone is ready for us. They know who we are. We must always have a clear vision to reach our goals."
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In only her second season at Coppell, Green is 84-12 and counting. Prior Coppell, she was at Travis Lake and won 49 games each in 2009 and 2010. Her 2010 Travis Lake team also has a state championship trophy, giving Green three in four years. Her record at Travis Lake was a daunting 132-17.
But more importantly, Hokaheh has also played an important role in helping her team overcome the losses of two senior classmates in recent weeks. A popular student drowned, another committed suicide.
"The deaths have shaken our school, our community and our team," said Green. "It's been tough to work through."
As a result, Green shortened practices, gave players time off and went through the motions (of a few practices) to give them a sense of a normal routine.
"We certainly weren't playing at the level of our normal quality and that's understandable. The grief showed, but the kids took care of each other," said Green. "Everyone was affected. We've said over and over, ‘You're either affected or you're next to someone who is affected. So, you either need to support someone or be supported by someone.'
"It's been difficult to step out on the court and compete when mourning, but it's been impressive the way the team handled it. To win as many as we have recently is impressive," said Green, who is Coppell's girls athletic coordinator. "It's been difficult to put volleyball in proper perspective."
Since losing their classmates in early October, the Cowgirls have won 12 straight and opened the first round of playoffs with an overwhelming sweep of Grapevine. The Mustangs scored just 22 points combined in the three games.
"After our district-opening win over Grapevine, I'd say our chances (of repeating) are very good," said senior Chiaka Ogbogu
. "Beating Grapevine was the first time that we all decided we played well together as a team. It's very exciting to see. It's kind of like last year as this was where we picked it up from last year."
For Ogbogu, who is rated by PrepVolleyball as No. 6 among its top 100 Senior Aces, it's been an especially difficult year.
"I was the closest person on the team to the boy who drowned," she said. "Jacob (Logan) was one of my best friends. He drowned on a Sunday, and we played on Tuesday. The person that he was is driving us through the rest of the season. He was an excellent individual and a standout athlete.
"Last week was the week I realized he would want us to show up for every game. Not only are we doing it for ourselves, it's for school, for our community."
And for Jacob.
Ogbogu, who was the MVP of the Pearland Tournament and All-Tournament at Allen and Duncanville, said every sport in the school has dedicated its seasons to him.
"We found out that repeating was going to be a lot more difficult than we originally thought," said Ogbogu. "We lost in the championship in two tournaments and we realized we have a big target on our back."
Their three losses this season have come against Carroll, Reagan and Hebron, who own a combined 2012 total of 113 wins. Both Carroll and Reagan are ranked in MaxPreps Xcellent Top 25 National Volleyball Rankings presented by the Army National Guard.
Coppell has won 112 of 130 games this season with eight of those 18 game defeats coming in the last few weeks.
Though Green calls her team young, it is loaded with talent as five players have committed to Division I schools, including Ogbogu (Texas), 6-foot Cassidy Pickrell
(UC Irvine), 6-foot Erica Bohannon
(Tulsa), Laura Beaty
(Ole Miss) and 6-1 Mary-Kate Marshall
(Oregon). Marshall is a junior.
Green said the strength of this team is ball control, but it has the size to dominate a game offensively.
"We knew coming in we had four players to replace (from 2011), but players have stepped up in key positions," said Green. "We've had some nice surprises and our passing has been very good."
When Coppell defeated Boyd (McKinney) last year, Green became the first volleyball coach to win Texas state titles in back-to-back seasons at different schools.
So, while Coppell goes to repeat, Green is seeking a third-straight state title.
"We openly talk about going for a repeat. You have to have a clear vision to reach your goals," said Green, who was a multi-sport standout at Howard Payne University. "We are very goal-oriented. We didn't get all of our preseason goals, so we're pushing our goals to get better and ultimately win a state title. If we have a good practice, we say ‘This is how a state champion does it.' If not, we're clearly aware that our practice is not up to caliber for a state champion."
Green said her team stays in the moment and sees the big picture.
"They are clearly aware and know our next match is the most important thing."
Perhaps, it's Hokaheh clearing a path for the Cowgirls. Both in terms of healing and winning.Watch more videos of Coppell volleyball