Teams that stand opposite the net from Blum’s volleyball team can’t miss Gentrye Munden. The senior is a human hang glider, not only the best player on Blum’s volleyball team but arguably the top all-around athlete at the school.
But one player can’t do it all herself. Midway through the Lady Bobcats’ district season, Blum coach Lauren McPherson sensed that the team was relying on the slender-shouldered Munden to tote far too heavy of a load. That led to what the coach called a “regrouping moment” for the Lady Bobcats.
“We discussed it, and we knew it we were going to go further we had to have other players step up and have an impact,” McPherson said. “You can’t do it with just one stud hitter. We had to have others step up. That’s something at we’ve worked on, trying not to be too one-dimensional, and we think that regrouping made us better.”
Just how much better? Well, consider that in the playoffs, Blum (32-15) has yet to drop a single set. The Lady Bobcats have attacked teams from all angles in winning four postseason matches in a row to make the UIL state tournament for the first time in school history.
“Payton Miller, one of our seniors, has been huge, especially in the regional final, where she had some big kills for us,” McPherson said. “Savannah (May) is another one who’s playing so well. She’s undersized to play in the middle. She’s only 5-6, and she’s always going up against taller players, but Savannah has really elevated her game.”
When Miller, May, back-row specialist Emma Rodriguez and others are on point, it makes Munden all the more potent. And she’s a player who can tattoo a match with her identity. A three-time Class 1A state qualifier in the high jump, Munden has flown to the rafters on her way to a team-best 559 kills this season.
But she’s not just a rally finisher at the net. Munden makes a significant impact from the service line (44 aces), as a neutralizer for opponents’ attacks (81 blocks) or scooping out a sizzling spike on the back row (232 digs).
“She leads us in most statistical categories,” McPherson said. “She’s an outstanding player, and we need her to play well in order to be successful.”
Blum came within two more Munden cross-court missiles of reaching state last year. In the regional final against Tioga in 2016, the Lady Bobcats hustled and hammered away but dropped a five-set thriller with a 17-15 loss in the final set.
The moment that match ended, Blum’s players started preparing for 2017. McPherson said that the team was careful not to put too much specific focus on Tioga – “Because you never know what’s going to happen,” she said – but rather on the process of getting better. That said, the Lady Bobcats weren’t exactly crestfallen when the regional final rolled around and Tioga was the one standing across the net again.
This time Blum was better. Better than the Blum team of 2016, and, as it turned out, significantly better than Tioga, as the Lady Bobcats powered to a three-set sweep.
“The girls were very excited (to see Tioga),” McPherson said. “They were ready. They woke up early that day, saw the scouting report, and really just started preparing for the moment. To play the way we did was great, but then to win it in three was even more sweet. We were anticipating another five-game battle, so to sweep was really big for us.”