After falling short in three previous appearances in the volleyball regional finals, O’Connor earned its first berth in the state tournament by sweeping highly regarded Reagan on Saturday in the Region IV-6A title match.
The Rattlers finished 44-2, with both losses coming against O’Connor (45-4). Reagan was No. 1 in the MaxPreps Top 25, which ranks teams nationally each week, and had won 25 consecutive matches before being derailed by the Panthers.
O'Connor's first regional championship comes in its 20th season. Yami Garcia has been there from the beginning as head coach.
"There are a lot of people out there that through the years have been rooting for us to win," Garcia said Sunday night. "The support that we have has been amazing. I had a feeling at the beginning of the game we were going to win. I went to my kids and I was like, 'We're winning today.' There was no doubt.
"Sure enough, we came out and played super aggressive and went for it. It was awesome. We just have a team of kids that never get rattled. This team has amazing team chemistry. They feed off each other and they're accepting of each other's success, which is sometimes hard to get that message to kids. If they're winning, that's what they care about. I love that about this team."
O’Connor plays Katy Seven Lakes (26-7) in the Class 6A state semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday at the Culwell Center in Garland. Conroe The Woodlands (38-2) meets Lewisville Hebron (39-7) in the other 6A semifinal at 5 p.m. Friday.
The winners play for the championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Culwell Center. Katy Seven Lakes is also making its first trip to the state tournament.
O'Connor and D'Hanis are the only San Antonio-area teams in the state tournament.
D’Hanis (28-13) faces Bronte (28-12) in the Class A semifinals Wednesday at 3 p.m. D’Hanis beat McMullen County 3-2 on Saturday to earn its first trip to the state tournament. Bronte lost to Tioga in last year’s state final, and is making its 14th appearance in the state tournament.
Trinidad (26-10) plays Blum (32-15) in the other Class A semifinal Wednesday at 1 p.m. The Class A final is at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Garcia, 48, was an assistant coach at Clark under Kirby Jameson for five seasons before starting the program at O'Connor when the Northside ISD school opened in 1998.
"I've had so many people in my realm help me and support me," Garcia said. "You never do it alone. I've had my mother, who coached me at Harlandale, and my father, who also was an educator. They're always at our matches. I can't tell you what it means to me that they were there (Saturday), and how blessed I am to have them be able to witness that. It's been amazing."
Garcia played for her mother, Ninfa Garcia, for four seasons in high school and went on to play at Angelo State after graduating from Harlandale in 1987. She lauded Kirby Jameson, one of best coaches in San Antonio high school volleyball history, and Kathleen Brasfield, who coached Garcia at Angelo State, for their powerful influence on her life and career.
"I have been super, super blessed by every experience from my club, to my high school and college by all the mentors that have been in my life," Garcia said.
O’Connor swept McAllen Memorial in the regional semifinals on Friday in McAllen, and beat Reagan 25-16, 25-22, 25-22 to punch its ticket to the state tournament. The Panthers had lost in the regional final in 2001, 2009, 2015.
O'Connor, which won the District 28-6A championship, has won eight matches in a row since losing to Clark on Oct. 17. The Panthers finished 17-1 in district.
Reagan hadn’t lost since falling to O’Connor in the final of the Fraulin Volleyfest in New Braunfels on Aug. 19, rolling to sweeps in 22 of the 25 matches they won consecutively. The regional final was the last match at Reagan for longtime coach Mike Carter, who is retiring.