Six-rotation outside hitter Ally (pronounced “A-lee”) Batenhorst, who led Seven Lakes to the Texas 6A championship match in 2017, is PrepVolleyball.com’s 2017 National Freshman of the Year. The Spartans’ leading attacker beat out perhaps the best freshman group ever to take home the honor.
Seven Lakes High School, out of Katy, Texas, came close in 2015 to reaching the Texas 6A state tournament for the first time in school history, but was foiled in the regional final because of a furious Game 5 comeback by Fort Bend Austin, which was then-coached by Amy Cataline. Less than two years later, after the retirement of longtime coach Farah Holder, Cataline accepted the job at Seven Lakes. One of her first orders of business was to take a trip to the junior high to see Batenhorst, who stood 6-4 and could play middle or outside.
“I was shocked to see her hit a quick on the 10-foot line more than once,” Cataline remembered. “I knew we would be getting a talented player, but was unsure of how great an impact she would make at the varsity level.”
Batenhorst, meanwhile, was getting ready for her high school debut by playing up, as an outside hitter and team captain, for Kara Pratt’s nationally-ranked Houston Juniors 15 Elite squad.
“Ally developed her game into the ability to play six rotations and is offensive both in the front row and back row,” Pratt observed. “Ally has the ability to take over a match at any point. Aside from Ally being a top player, Ally the person and teammate is what makes her so special. She is every coach’s dream with her work ethic and drive to get better every day in the gym.”
When high school practice began, Cataline thought Batenhorst would be a good fit in the middle and that her senior sister, Dani, a Gonzaga signee, would be the main offensive threat on the outside.
“After seeing how dominant she was on the outside, it became evident early in the season that we were a better team with her near the pin, where she could get set more,” said Cataline. “I was also taken aback by how well she passed in serve receive. It’s not often that you see a freshman, especially one so tall, pass with such ease. She helped our team in the back row as much as she did in the front row and was a threat in middle back.”
With Dani Batenhorst out injured for the first month of the season, Ally got her feet wet on the outside and the team did fine, compiling an 11-5 record without big sis in the lineup. Ally showed a glimpse of things to come on Aug. 12, when she had 26 kills in a four-set loss to A&M Consolidated; and five days later when she rammed home a career-high 33 kills in another loss, this time in five sets to Cy-Fair.
Batenhorst wasn’t just taking care of business on the offensive end as the Spartans’ go-to hitter, she also was shining in the back row. She finished second on the team in digs, averaging 2.4 per set, and was served a team-leading 711 times.
“She showed great maturity in pressure situations,” said Cataline. “Overall, she far exceeded my expectations in talent and composure.”
Dani Batenhorst returned to the court for District play following a more than three-week delay for Hurricane Harvey. In her first match, a five-set win over Katy, Dani had 16 kills. Ally had 20. It quickly became apparent that Seven Lakes would be a formidable foe with the sisters in the lineup.
Seven Lakes lost just twice more during the regular season and entered 6A tournament play determined to get to the state tournament. The Spartans had a difficult path to state and swept only their first-round opponent. Every other match was a dogfight. Thankfully, Seven Lakes’ top freshman was also a top dog.
“By the time we entered post season, she was confident and unstoppable,” said Cataline. “She thrived in big games and made plays when the team needed her to.”
In the second round, another tussle versus Cy-Fair, Ally Batenhorst had 29 kills and 11 digs in a four-set win. Uber-talented Ridge Point was next and the Spartans were equal to the task, winning in four tough sets as Batenhorst contributed 16 kills and 14 digs.
The freshman was at it again in a regional semifinal versus Dawson, compiling 22 kills and 18 digs as Seven Lakes rallied from down two sets to one to win in five. The next day, with a trip to state on the line versus Clear Falls, Batenhorst put up monster numbers – 25 kills, 23 digs and four aces – and unloaded with a tough shot down the line on match point to clinch a spot in the state semis. The team that had knocked on the door of the 6A final four in recent years had finally broken through!
“The team was so close the last three seasons making it to the Regional Tournament [and no farther],” said Cataline. “However, there were so many hurdles and unknowns starting the season: new leadership, only two starters returning — one of them rehabbing an injury at the start of season — that it left room for doubt. I think it was steady rise in talent, chemistry, and confidence for the team and Ally that allowed us to peak at the right time.”
One week later, Seven Lakes stepped onto the floor for a state tournament match for the first time in the school’s existence. If the team’s youngest player had any nerves, she sure didn’t show it. In four sets versus nationally-ranked O’Connor, Batenhorst had 29 kills, just four short of a state tournament record for kills in a match, as Seven Lakes pulled the upset to make the championship match.
The next day, versus two-time reigning state champion Hebron, things didn’t go so swell. Seven Lakes scored just 46 points and was swept. Batenhorst, however, was stellar. She had 18 of her team’s 31 total kills over the three sets and scored 39% of her team’s points in the match. To get an idea of how impressive this is, consider that in Gatorade National Player of the Year Thayer Hall’s last match, a four-set state-title win over Wando in South Carolina, she had a whopping 32 kills but scored “only” 32% of her team’s points.
On the season, in addition to Batenhorst’s passing and digging numbers, the long-limbed freshman amassed 584 kills (4.7 per set) and added more than 40 aces and 50 blocks. Her incredible season was recognized locally, as Batenhorst was named All-Greater Houston Newcomer of the Year and All-VYPE Public School Player of the Year. Statewide, Batenhorst was named Newcomer of the Year by LoneStarVolleyball.com and the Texas Association of Volleyball Coaches. She was named to the TGCA All-State team in Class 6A and was made a First Team All-State 6A outside hitter by the Texas Sportswriters Association.
“Ally is a dynamic, 6-rotation outside hitter,” said Cataline. “She is as poised as she is talented. This season she led our team in kills and was second in digs behind our libero. She has an incredible reach, keen court awareness and is one of the most humble athletes you’ll ever meet.”
“Here is volleyball’s next ‘it’ girl in Houston,” the Houston Chronicle wrote.
Despite Batenhorst’s stellar numbers and massive impact while playing in arguably the most competitive classification in the country, she was hardly a slam dunk for this award, only because so many other dynamic and explosive freshmen also made their collective presence felt this past fall. Kennedi Orr is a ridiculously good setter/hitter, probably the best player in Minnesota regardless of class, and was so good that she started on varsity for two years before her freshman year and won two large-class state titles! Lindsay Krause was named Nebraska Class B Player of the Year and to the All-Nebraska team after leading “rebuilding” Omaha Skutt to its third straight state title. Mabrey Shaffmaster, together with her sophomore sister, Melani, were twin towers of terror for Indiana 3A champion New Castle. And Kami Miner practically carried injury-challenged Redondo Union to the state’s Open quarterfinals with her phenomenal setting, hitting and blocking.
I can stop there, but I won’t, because the state of Georgia had four freshmen, Jacque Boney, Kalissa Greene, Ngozi Iloh and Erykah Lovett, who starred in state championship runs. Mississippi had a freshman, Parker Bracken, who was a state champion and a top five talent regardless of class. In any other year, this quintet would have merited serious consideration for the top spot, but in 2017 they fall in the second tier of amazing freshmen staring up at Batenhorst.
With so many great youngsters, why Batenhorst? It is true that she did not lead her team to a state title, but that is all she did not do. Seven Lakes had never been to state before this year and she led the Spartans all the way to second place in Class 6A, the toughest class in the state by far. And she did work in all six rotations. All of those factors, taken together, put her slightly ahead of the competition in our view in what was a wrenching decision.
One of the most highly-sought after 2021 recruits in the country, and deservedly so, Ally Batenhorst is PrepVolleyball.com’s 2017 National Freshman of the Year!