TUESDAY, OCT. 13, 2009 Villa Duchesne volleyball coach Shane Weber talks to his players during Tuesday's win over host John Burroughs. (Photo by Don Adams Jr.)

Don Adams Jr.

Gray gets a bad rap. Millions of dollars are spent every year turning hair any other color but gray. Gray days are overcast and dreary. Who gets excited about gray? The Villa Duchesne volleyball team, that’s who. For the Saints, gray is great, gray is gorgeous, gray is right where Faith Rowles wants to be.

Rowles, the senior setter for the Saints, says the team has developed a motto this season. Villa Duchesne wants to find its gray area. When the Saints opened up the season, coach Shane Weber described their play as either black or white. Black meant the Saints were playing all out, every point. White meant they were just kind of going through the motions. Weber wanted his team to find the gray area. To play with a controlled intensity that would make them a miserable opponent for anyone on their schedule. “We finally found it at the middle of the season,” Rowles, 17, says. “It just took off from there.”

The gray area has led Villa Duchesne to a 33-5-1 record and a place it has been before. The Saints secured their spot at the state semifinals at the Show-Me Center in Cape Girardeau when they knocked off St. Francis Borgia Regional High School in the sectional match and Duchesne High School in the quarterfinal at home. It’s the second trip to state in the last three years for a program that had never been to state before Weber arrived four seasons ago. “My freshman year was the first year we won districts,” the 5-foot-11 Rowles says.

The next year the Saints headed off to state and returned with a runner-up plaque. Not a bad haul for a team that was carrying a handful of youngsters playing pivotal roles. Among them were Rowles and senior outside hitter Bridget Boyle, both varsity starters since their freshman seasons.

Last season the Saints took one look at that runner-up trophy and put their focus on improving on it. They rolled through an impressive regular season but were upended in district play by an excellent Westminster. Getting handed a district runner-up plaque was a rather painful parting gift for a group that was eyeing a state championship.

But that might have been the problem all along. Weber and Rowles admit they looked a little too far ahead last year. They vowed this season would be different. “Last year we put the cart before the horse,” Weber says. And Rowles indicates that now they’re not looking too far into the future. “We’re going to look at it one day at a time,” she says.

That means getting busy at practice. And Rowles knows how to get down at practice. It shows in her play. As the setter, she’s responsible for distributing the ball on the court and directing the Saints offense. She grew up playing all over the court, but when she arrived at Villa Duchesne she was handed the keys to the offense. She has yet to give them back. “Setting has a lot of different aspects to it,” she says. “It’s really complicated but once you get it, you’re good.”

The Saints are hoping for a good return trip from Cape Girardeau. Having been there and done that as sophomores, Rowles believes this senior class is prepared to show the newbies the ropes. At the top of her priority list is making sure everyone keeps playing the way they have to reach this point. “The first thing for us is to stay calm,” she says. “We need to treat this like it’s any other important game.”

That means finding the gray area, and there’s no bad rap in that.