Thomas Johnson Middle School Volleyball Team Wins Conference Championship

| June 13, 2024 | 0 Comments

The Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School (TJEMS) middle school girls volleyball team, the Lions, won the CLN5 conference championship in volleyball this month. The Lions beat Lakeland Elementary/Middle School two sets to zero in the championship match and finished the season 10-0.

It’s been a quick ascend for the Lions volleyball team that was started this school year by school-parents-turned-coaches Kattie Rogers and Rob Wahl. The team played a schedule of games in the fall along with a tournament and was excited to get the team back together this spring on short notice when it was invited to play in the CLN5 spring volleyball league.

The team first originated when Rogers was passing through the school’s gym with her child in May 2023 and saw some girls casually playing volleyball. She spoke with the girls and told them she’d be willing to help them start a volleyball team if they were interested. They loved the idea and the planning began.

Rogers teamed up with Rob Wahl, father of Emma Wahl who was one of the students playing volleyball after school, to launch the TJEMS Volleyball team in Fall 2023. Wahl and Rogers began planning tryouts, fundraising for the team, and calling around to Baltimore City middle schools to find opponents.

TJEMS parents Keri Rosch, Rhiana Scholz, and Amy Shuster also joined the coaching staff.

A total of 18 girls joined the volleyball team at TJEMS, which resulted in the school having an A Team and B Team. The Lions returned in the spring with 17 girls on the roster which was comprised of 11 8th graders.

The spring roster featured Ava Simons, Livia Scholz, Calliah Grace O’Brien, Valerie Winter, Abby Huot, Francessca Basso, Amber Mitron, Jackson Jacobs, Iyanah Bell, Lilly Zollars, Evie Salazar, Emma Wahl, Esmé Sunday, Audrey Myers, Anaiah Myrick, Julianna Ludtke and Autumn Mack.

The spring season was an adventure for the Lions as gym time was a struggle to come by at TJEMS, and the semifinals and finals fell on the same night as the TJEMS 8th grade formal.

After playing and defeating Locust Point’s Francis Scott Key Elementary Middle School (FSK) early in the season, the FSK coaches were impressed by the Lions and the coaching staff, and invited them to have joint practices at FSK on Wednesdays. The Lions were “very appreciative” to have the gym space and helped teach the newly-formed FSK team volleyball fundamentals as well.

On the night of the finals, the TJEMS coaching staff allowed the students on the team to decide “what was more meaningful” between the game and the formal. Five players decided to prioritize the dance, but younger players were able to fill the void.

“We had a lot of strong 6th and 7th graders who became outstanding players,” said Rob Wahl.

The championship game was scheduled for 615pm at Calvin Rodwell Elementary/Middle School in Northwest Baltimore and the dance was scheduled from 630pm to 830pm at TJEMS after being pushed back a half an hour from its original start time. The Lions won both games in two sets and the 8th graders were able to get to the dance by 740pm. Players from the Lions volleyball team brought the trophy to the formal and were greeted with a winning song upon arrival.

While many teams in the CLN5 were focused on just hitting the ball over the net, the TJEMS coaches implemented a traditional volleyball system with passing and hitting. The Lions coaching staff set up setters, hitters, passing specialists, and blockers on the court.

“That type of volleyball will always beat pass-over-the-net volleyball,” said Rogers. “We got a lot of positive feedback from the other coaches and I think at least half of the coaches in this league are rethinking the ceiling of what is possible with these teams.”

“I would love to see our middle schools become a feeder for the high school teams,” said Rob Wahl. “I haven’t talked to a single 8th grader who is not thinking about trying out for a volleyball team next year. I think our girls are well positioned.”

Rogers and Wahl credited the “supportive” parents for helping to make volleyball a possibility at TJEMS on such short notice. They also thanked TJEMS Assistant Principal Katherine Scotti, TJEMS Principal Amanda Brown, and Physical Education Teacher Kyle Hughes for giving the team the support it needed.

Rob Wahl and Rogers would like to see volleyball accessible to more students throughout the city. The coaching staff is thinking about hosting a volleyball clinic this summer if they can make the logistics work.

The popularity of TJEMS volleyball has also translated to Baltimore Beach Volleyball at Rash Field. Chad Johnson, a neighborhood parent and Baltimore Beach volleyball player, worked with Baltimore Beach Owner Todd Webster to pilot a Juniors League in the sand this spring and summer.

“All the kids had a nice experience,” said Rob Wahl. “You can’t beat being in the sand in the summer and playing volleyball.”

Wahl and Rogers also started a club team, the SoBo Storm, that has been playing in various tournaments and getting the girls more experience.

Both Rogers and Rob Wahl look forward to coaching the Lions next year and keeping the volleyball momentum going.

Photos courtesy of the TJEMS volleyball team 

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