The first time I ever saw Mariana Becerra was four years ago. She was an 85-pound freshman and our middle daughter Katelyn was her first-year coach at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, located near Miller Park. The Trailblazers had won a grand total of 3 games the previous 2 years so Mariana and Coach Katelyn had nothing but space to grow together, win together, and forge a bond you don’t see much in high school sports today. Personally, I remember exactly what I said to my wife as we watched that initial team try to find a way to be competitive. “I know G is high on that freshman,” I said, “but I sure don’t see it…I mean, she’s a little girl”. And she was. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t missing the bigger picture…I was.
Fast forward to today, 4 years later. Cristo Rey is FAR from a guaranteed W on your schedule. They are a charter school powerhouse in volleyball and are the current defending Milwaukee Lake City Conference champs and conference tournament champs. This season they are tied atop the conference at 10-1 with an overall record of 14-5 and are once again poised to do well in the conference tournament and receive another “highest seed in the playoffs in school history”…something that has happened EVERY YEAR Mariana and Coach Katelyn have been a part of the program. Those results and records are indisputable facts that show remarkable progress in 4 short years. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the real story.
These two women have transformed a program. Mariana has matured. She has gone from a quiet, unassuming freshman, on a team struggling to form an identity, to an absolute leader of a program that no one in their conference is happy to see on the schedule. This young lady, who more or less could disappear on the court her first year, now has all of her teammates open up that floor to give her room as a setter to get them the ball. And she does, essentially every time. A volleyball setter has to be every bit as smart as she is talented. Mariana Becerra’s smarts come from her coach.
Coach Katelyn has always been three steps ahead of everyone in terms of knowing the flow of a volleyball game. It is without question her greatest asset as a coach and the cornerstone reason she has won literally everywhere she has been. Coach Katelyn saw in Mariana what she lived herself. You can max out your talent and you can still bridge gaps and be more than your talent allows by knowing more than your opponent…by making great decisions in huge moments of a game…and by accepting and excelling at the responsibility of leadership. Neither one of these ladies leads with “I’m in charge”…it is not inherent in either’s personality. But when the Trailblazers take the court, Coach Katelyn is in complete control, and there is zero question that she trusts her leader to manage the game.
And now their final season together is half over. It is hard to imagine what one will do without the other and there is no way of knowing who will miss who more…they are that connected. It is possible, if not probable that they will do well in the conference and conference tournament once again and will be looking at another bump in seeding to try and get that first win ever in the state tournament. It has been an amazing journey to watch. And when Coach Katelyn asked me to write this, she asked for it as a “thank you” to a small, quiet freshman who has blossomed into a bonafide high school volleyball star. You simply can’t do what Katelyn has done with that program unless you got one kid on the inside that has 100% belief in what you are trying to accomplish. Mariana Becerra was and is that one kid. And the results speak for themselves.
So much love and respect to our daughter…Coach Katelyn..watching you do what you do so well is amazing. Equal love and respect to #1, Mariana Becerra, there is no way your coach could have done what she did with that program without you on the floor making it happen. This past week I saw a game and Cristo Rey was well ahead and an upperclassman came into the game late to some hearty cheers. The FIRST PLAY Mariana got her hands on the ball, she made sure she set the gal who had just entered the game. It was absolutely the right thing to do in a game where the outcome was never in question. I mentioned that to Coach Katelyn after the game….she smiled and said “I know, it’s like literally watching me out there”. And the beauty part of it is, she wasn’t lying nor was she bragging, she was simply stating a fact. Coach Katelyn and Mariana have a bond few have experienced, props to you both for believing in one another. Together, you have built a winner…by continually building each other into a better version of yourselves.