Gatesville volleyball

Gatesville's Kayla McGiboney hits during a match against Belton in August. McGiboney was named District 8-3A Offensive co-MVP.

Rickey Phillips thought it was reasonable. He was wrong. 

Hoping to keep his players active during the offseason, Gatesville’s head volleyball coach began an accountability program, using various activities to account for “touches” — a common term for making contact with the ball.

The objective was to have the combined touches exceed a predetermined number.

“When it first started five or six years ago, I set the goal at 50,000,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know how to judge it.”

Turns out, he greatly underestimated his players.

The Lady Hornets easily surpassed the total, prompting Phillips to repeatedly raise the bar.

“It has grown every year,” he said. “And, thank goodness, we haven’t had a year yet that we didn’t reach our goal.”

For 2014, the target is set at 600,001 touches, and following the first week of open gym, more than 111,000 touches were recorded.

While activities involving volleyball, such as going to camps or doing drills, are extremely beneficial, almost anything active is encouraged. Everything from lifting weights to working out to running to playing other sports garners touches.

Since its inception, the program has become an asset to the Lady Hornets with the results speaking for themselves.

Gatesville has made the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons, winning four district championships and reaching the regional quarterfinals four times since 2008.

“It has been very valuable,” Gatesville senior and 2013 all-district co-offensive MVP Kayla McGiboney said. “Since we have that goal to meet, it means everybody has to do stuff during the summer.

“During two-a-days is when we need to practice our techniques and stuff like that, but you can’t do that and be getting in shape at the same time.”

Like all volleyball coaches, Phillips has an extremely small window to work with his players before their opening match. According to University Interscholastic League rules, teams cannot conduct practice until Aug. 4 with the season starting one week later.

“We don’t have much time to get ready,” Phillips said, “but most of our kids, especially our older and more experienced kids, know the importance of coming into the first day of practice ready to take off and sprint instead of jogging.”

So far, both Phillips and McGiboney have been pleased with the turnouts to open gym, which can earn up to 350 touches per hour.

“I’m really excited for the season,” the middle blocker said, “and with all the people coming to open gym, it shows that not only am I excited, but everyone else is excited too.”

While the program helps get players prepared, Phillips knows the Lady Hornets’ collective commitment allows the team to be a success.

“I can’t question the dedication of our kids through the years,” Phillips said. “We’ve been fortunate to have kids who see how valuable it is. While a lot of their schoolmates are still enjoying summer, they are up there working out, going to open gym, lifting weights, running and stuff like that.”

Although being physically fit for the season’s first practice is critical, Phillips feels the offseason is for more than just training.

“This program serves a purpose, but at the same time, we remind our players to be a kid, too, during the summer months,” he said. “We want them take some time off because a lot of our kids play multiple sports, so this might be the only time of year they get a break.”

Contact Clay Whittington at

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