Head Coach Of National No. 2 Reagan Got Into Volleyball 'By Default'

Head Coach Of National No. 2 Reagan Got Into Volleyball 'By Default'
Photo: Reagan High School Athletics
Mike Carter wanted to be a football coach, but the universe had other ideas for him.

After getting turned down for a football coaching position, an athletic director at a small high school in Texas asked him if he knew anything about volleyball.

"I said, 'Well, I just played in a little tournament this weekend,'" Carter recalled more than 26 years later. "It was a grass [tournament]; it wasn't anything serious. But he brought me in for an interview, hired me as a head coach."

In reality, Carter had never sat through a full competitive volleyball match. Had never attended a practice.

Today, Carter is in his 19th season as the head coach of the Reagan High School girls' volleyball team. The Rattlers are 28-1 and ranked second in FloVolleyball's national girls' high school volleyball rankings.

The almost-perfect first month of the season didn't surprise Carter, whose team is led by Camryn Ennis, a Kansas-committed setter/opposite, and Georgetown-bound outside hitter Elissa Barbosa, two of 12 seniors on the Reagan roster.

"We had a great season last year, and we returned nine seniors," he said. "They had a great offseason, so I'm not surprised by the start. And I don't mean that arrogantly. I just expected them to have this type of start to the season."

The Rattlers really flexed their muscles at the John Turner Volleyball Classic, the largest high school volleyball tournament in the country, which features all the top teams from Texas. In the championship match, Reagan faced Hebron, the tournament's No. 1 seed and reigning 6A state champion, led by Minnesota-bound outside hitter Adanna Rollins. The Rattlers won 25-22, 25-21.

The one-two punch of Barbosa and Ennis is a big part of Reagan success, although with 29 matches in the first month of the season, Carter has given each of his 18 varsity players plenty of playing time.

Barbosa leads the team with 225 kills, hitting .231, and is second on the team with 267 digs.

"[Elissa is] just a workaholic. She and [senior libero] Lydia Niebla are probably best friends and they are both 100 percent in every drill, every game, everything you do," Carter said. "There's no 50, no 75 percent warm-up. They are 100 percenters."

In the 2016 state semifinals, Barbosa landed wrong in hitting lines and broke her pinky toe.

"She tried to go seven or eight points, but she hopped around like a flamingo," Carter remembered. "I pulled her out of the front row and then she's asking, 'Can I play back row?' That's her, she's just a competitor.

"[Elissa's] an outside hitter, go-to in the front, go-to in the back, if she has three errors, it doesn't stop her from taking a big girl swing on the next ball. There is no fear in her."

Ennis ranks second on the team with 182 kills, hitting .263, leads the team with 20 aces, and has 455 assists from her three rotations in the back row when she serves as the team's setter.

"[Camryn's] driven. She listens, she executes what you ask," Carter said. "She knows what the team needs. She's very mature. Highly skilled. And she gets along with everybody, so everyone wants to play with her and for her."

Libero Niebla (398 digs), 6-foot-2 senior twins Nika and Kaja Burja, Mater Dei transfer middle Kyla Waiters (37 blocks), and sophomore setter Nadia Manitzas (220 assists) combine with Ennis and Barbosa to build a core of starters that has so far only been bested by one team this fall.

That sole loss came at the hands of O'Connor of Helotes, Texas. Reagan won the first set and was up 19-10 and then 24-19 in the second.

"They went on a flawless run, and they stole momentum," Carter said. "You know, you get aced, you get aced, you get blocked, you hit out, and all of a sudden you lose the set. And at that point when you've played 20 matches in less than two weeks, we weren't able to flip the switch back on."

With school in session and all the preseason tournaments in the past, things are slowing down significantly for the Rattlers. They have 12 more matches in two months to wrap up the regular season, and then they'll turn their attention to the district tournament and then state.

Whether Reagan wins its 12th district championship and/or its first state championship or not this fall, it will be Carter's last run at it. As the owner of Alamo Volleyball Club, he'll stay heavily involved in the sport, but he said he just felt it was time to leave the high school game.

"I just feel like there's a phase in my life that I want to do while I still have the energy and desire to build something," he said. "And I want to find out what that is."
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