Stephanie Dillard feels the hardest part is over.

It did not take long for Harker Heights’ first-year head volleyball coach to put any doubts to rest about her new team after the Lady Knights opened their season with a pair of victories Tuesday.

While the wins against China Spring and Academy were important, the outcomes paled in comparison to the way the sweep was accomplished.

After taking the first match against the Lady Cougars 25-13, 26-24, 19-25, 25-19, Harker Heights had a hiccup, losing the first two sets before rallying for a five-set victory, and the effort left Dillard feeling the team hurdled a major obstacle.

“I have goosebumps just talking about it,” she said, “because as a coach, one of the most difficult things to teach is how to be a competitor. So, to see that I already have that in this group of girls is so reassuring.

“For them to already buy into that mentality and be hungry shows huge strides have been made in the short time we’ve been working together.”

Playing in consecutive matches, the Lady Knights were unable to carry over the momentum from their win, but behind strong offensive showings from Jendayah Robertson and Aliyah Lockett, Harker Heights rebounded to earn a 21-25, 17-25, 25-14, 25-19, 15-7 win against Academy.

Robertson and Lockett combined for 12 kills, recording six apiece, while junior Haley Brown contributed three blocks.

Individual statistics, however, are inconsequential to Dillard.

“The thing I was most proud of was the girls’ ability to find a way to come back,” she said. “They found it within themselves to do better, and they wanted to win.

“They just showed a lot of grit and fight, and they did not give up.”

In Harker Heights’ first match of the night, Brown finished with eight kills, Lockett posted seven kills, and Cynaye Bobbitt and Robertson had five blocks each.

“Overall,” Dillard said, “I was extremely proud of the girls, because we played two very tough matches, and I give those teams lots of credit. We had some really good competition.

“But my girls stepped off the bus on fire and ready to play, and they were excited even though they hit a couple lulls.”

The Lady Knights will attempt to continue collecting victories when they resume play at the Austin ISD Jason Landers Invitational today. Harker Heights opened the three-day tournament Thursday with pool-play matches against Hutto, Austin McCallum and Smithville.

While emerging with a championship trophy would be ideal, Dillard hopes to return home with something else.

“Camaraderie, team unity and bonding is huge,” she said, “and that is one of the things tournaments are great for, because they get to get away and just hang out.

“I’m also excited for them to get a lot of touches on the ball and playing against different skill levels and offenses they’ve never seen before. Just increasing their court awareness is a big thing.”

Contact Clay Whittington at clayw@kdhnews.com

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