For head coach William De Gracia, the reason for excitement within the Ellison volleyball program is simple.
The Lady Eagles are coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007 and returning 10 players with varsity experience.
And, when De Gracia looks to the Metroplex powerhouses north of Killeen, he finally sees a similarity between the teams that have dominated volleyball at the state level and his own.
“Their (programs are) solid in the sense that they’ve been having travel ball for a long time,” De Gracia said. “And that’s the difference between what we have.
“We started with travel ball, and it’s showing right now — we’re going to the playoffs and competing.”
Heading into his fourth season as head coach at Ellison, De Gracia said that in the past, his team might have one girl who played club volleyball.
That was, obviously, problematic.
“You can’t win with one player,” De Gracia said, “you can’t.”
But for Ellison, the problem went deeper than a lack of depth once the season started.
The true problem began when the season ended.
“The season ends in November. If you don’t touch the ball anymore you’re (going backward),” De Gracia said. “And then you’re going to play in this open gym and you’re going to keep up with the bad habits and we can’t coach them.”
De Gracia doesn’t have that problem anymore.
Ellison has 11 girls in its program who play travel volleyball, just two fewer players than it carried on its varsity team last year.
All but one of the girls play for the Killeen Junior Volleyball Club, which began in 2008 with one team.
The program now has eight teams, and Ellison is just one of the local schools reaping the benefits of having players who play competitive volleyball year-round.
“We need them to play and get somebody to teach them the game or just work with them and keep on guiding them and have similar ideas to the way we coach,” De Gracia said.
For De Gracia, the Lady Eagles’ improvement on the court in the regular season is a direct result of their chance to play on it in the offseason.
And while he can’t wait for Ellison to take aim at a deep playoff run this season, De Gracia is confident the Lady Eagles will have that chance for years to come.
“Ellison is going to be looking good for a while,” he said, “because we have young kids who are playing ball.”