In a team setting, everyone must work together to achieve success.
The Gonzales volleyball team knows this, especially the six seniors on the team’s eight-man roster. Lindsey Akers, Carly Bozka, Kiley Braune, Allison Raley, Morgan Simper and Shayla Simper have played together off and on in various sports since elementary school, and the chemistry among the six players in inevitable.
“Playing together for so long really helps,” Bozka said. “We have the chemistry, we know each other, we get along, and we have a strong bond with no drama.”
All six seniors either start for the Lady Apaches or receive significant playing time. Not only are these seniors good athletes, they also excel in the classroom.
Each member of the Gonzales volleyball senior class is ranked in the top 25 of their graduating class, including two in the Top 10. Bozka (10th), Shayla Simper (7th), Braune (4th) and Morgan Simper (1st) are the four seniors ranked in the Top 10, while Raley is 19th and Akers is 25th.
Morgan Simper is enjoying her final year in high school, although it can be stressful at times. She also enjoys being at the head of the class, but knows she still has to work hard to finish at the top.
“It’s been a little chaotic keeping up with school work and volleyball,” Morgan said. “But I know what I want [to be Valedictorian], and I’m willing to work and do what it takes to achieve that goal.”
In addition to volleyball, Morgan also is the head cheerleader on the Gonzales cheerleading squad and the starting catcher for Lady Apache softball team. On the volleyball court, she is a defensive specialist.
While Morgan is heavily involved in a trio of extra-curricular activities, she plans to just focus on school when she reaches college. Morgan wishes to attend Baylor, Notre Dame or Texas to major in pre-med.
“I hope to be an obstetrician one day,” she said.
Each senior volleyball player is a three-year letterman except for Shayla Simper. She is a four-year letterman.
Shayla is a starting hitter, but rarely leaves the court. Her versatility not only allows her to stay on the court nearly the entire match, but also allows her to be as dangerous on the back row as she is on the front row.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team,” Shayla said. “If I need to step up on the front row, I will. If I’m needed in the back row, I’ll step up there.”
Being the only four-year letterman on the varsity, Shayla is coming to grips with the fact that this is her last volleyball season. It’s a little surreal to her at times.
“I can’t believe I’m a senior now,” Shayla said. “It’s been fun and a little chaotic, but as long as I put my grades and sports first, I’ll be fine.”
Shayla also is a four-year letterman in softball. Shayla and Morgan Simper, Bozka and Akers will all earn their fourth varsity letters in softball this year.
On the diamond, Shayla starts at third base, but also pitches when needed. A year ago, she pitched a perfect game and a no-hitter, and also was named the District 28-3A Most Valuable Utility Player.
Softball is the sport of choice for Shayla as she hopes to play in college. Texas State and Texas are both desired schools for Shayla, but she is keeping her options open if a better offer comes along.
If there is one person Shayla credits to her success, it’s Gonzales volleyball coach Kim Payne. Payne has coached the Lady Apaches for four years – when this group of seniors was freshmen.
“Coach Payne is like a second mom to me,” Shayla said. “She’s always there for you when you need her.”
While she is undecided on a college of choice, Shayla already has a major selected. She will major in kinesiology with the intention of becoming a coach.
When Shayla does not pitch in softball, Akers does. After two years of coming off the bench in volleyball, Akers has worked her way up to the starting lineup as a hitter.
“I stepped up this year and am trying to do better at my position,” Akers said.
If there is one area where Akers has improved in it is serving. She averages three aces per match.
“I worked a lot on getting my serve lower and more consistent,” Akers said.
Last week, Akers was crowned Gonzales High School’s homecoming queen. She enjoyed the moment, but admitted that it was a different experience watching an entire football game in a formal dress.
“It was pretty hot (watching the game in a dress),” Akers said.
Like Shayla, Akers hopes to play softball in college. She is currently undecided on where she wants to go.
With Akers on one side of the front row and Shayla on the other, Raley is the force in the middle. Raley was a first team all-district selection a year ago, and has picked up where she left off this season.
“I tried to keep the ball in my hands all year and stay mentally prepared as well,” Raley said.
Raley is among the team leaders in kills, blocks, aces and digs. Despite her versatility, she does not plan to play volleyball in college.
“I want to go to Texas A&M and become a physical therapist,” Raley said.
Texas A&M will be the home of Braune for the next four years following her graduation from Gonzales. She was accepted into the school two weeks ago, where she will major in nutritional science with aspirations of becoming a nutritionist.
A reserve for two years, Braune worked her way into the starting lineup as a setter. She takes her role on the team very seriously.
“I have to click with everyone on the court,” Braune said. “I can’t slack off at all, especially as the match progresses.”
Braune participated in cheerleading throughout high school, but chose to give that up this year. She believes forgoing her spot on the cheer squad has helped her improvement on the volleyball court.
“I can focus more on volleyball now,” Braune said. “Instead of having to play a volleyball match and then rush to the football game to cheer, I can just play volleyball and spend all of my time and energy that way.”
On the softball field, Bozka plays shortstop. In volleyball, she is the libero.
The libero is the one position in volleyball who has unlimited substitutions, but it is a back row position. Bozka is often the last line of defense for the Lady Apaches as well as the team leader in digs and one of the team leaders in aces.
In 2011, Gonzales finished in a third-place tie with Cuero and Pleasanton before beating both teams in playoff play-in matches to claim a playoff spot. It was just the Lady Apaches third trip to the playoffs since the volleyball program began in 1996.
In each of Gonzales’ three playoff trips – 2002, 2007, 2011 – the Lady Apaches lost in the first round. Bozka hopes this year’s team can buck the trend by becoming the first to win a playoff match.
“It’ll take a lot of work to not only win a playoff match, but also to get in the playoffs,” Bozka said. “We can’t slack off. If we do the little things right, we can go farther than ever before.”
They’re all in this together.