Bears Dig Their Defense, Rattle Taller Opponents

Physical intimidation isn’t part of the game plan for Ursuline. In fact, the Bears hope you underestimate them because of their size.

They will just keep digging and blocking and finding other ways to rattle taller and more athletic opponents on the volleyball court, winning matches using a strategy that relies more on defense and less on powerful hitters.

(ABOVE: The defensive tandem of Isa Lopez and Mackenzie Morris (in red jersey) has helped Ursuline improve this season. Photo: Chris McGathey)

“It’s historically been our strongest suit,” said Ursuline head coach Jason Sears. “We’re usually not a big team, so we try to frustrate the other teams and their big hitters. It all starts with that defense.”

The bulk of that responsibility falls to a pair of junior standouts in the back row — libero Mackenzie Morris and defensive specialist Isa Lopez.

“Defense is a very big part of volleyball,” said Lopez, who’s also one of the team leaders in service aces. “A good dig or a good pass can pick up the whole team.”

It might seem like a thankless job sometimes, but that’s not the case at Ursuline, where Sears and his players recognize the value of their defenders and their multifaceted roles. For example, Lopez won the team’s Bear Award as a sophomore recognizing her spirited role in getting her squad fired up.

“Sometimes our position is overlooked, but it’s one of the most vital parts of the team,” said Morris, who has verbally committed to play college volleyball at Kansas State.

Morris and Lopez combined for 91 digs earlier this season against top competition at a tournament in Justin, where Ursuline won the bronze division title.

Sears said the Bears emphasize defensive skills for all of their players in practice, ranging from communication and movement on the court to blocking at the net.

“It’s the tenacity they have on every single ball,” Sears said. “It’s helped everyone step up their game.”

Junior setter Natalia Walls is the court leader for the Bears, and said team chemistry would continue to be critical as the Bears approach the TAPPS playoffs.

“It’s not only about skills but also about passion,” Lopez said. “Once they see us working well together as a team, we’re better than we look sometimes.”

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