Volleyball season officially started Wednesday as area schools held tryouts before preseason scrimmages began last weekend.
After February’s UIL realignment, the Killeen Independent School District’s four high schools and Copperas Cove are now part of a nine-team District 12-6A.
As Temple and Waco move into the district, the preseason is shortened and district competition starts before the official school year begins.
“It is a big district,” said Copperas Cove head coach Cari Lowery. “And with that many games, one game can be the difference between going to the district playoffs and second place.
“You can’t let anybody sneak up on you. You can’t pass anybody. You have to play every single game, every point and not over- or underestimate anybody, so it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.”
The Lady Roos enter the 2018 season with first-year head coach Crystal Bennett, who was an assistant girls basketball coach and coached volleyball four years ago.
A record 60 girls showed up for tryouts Wednesday but teams were decided by Friday morning.
“We’re very young,” said Bennett. “I only have three seniors on varsity.”
Last year, the team hit some trouble when it came to team chemistry, and although it may be too early to tell, Bennett saw her team already start to come together at the first practice.
“It just seems like fresh air,” she noted. “They’re happy, they’re ready, they’re motivated.”
While her girls are smaller, Bennett is excited to get the season started.
The Lady Roos open the season tonight at Lago Vista.
“I wish we had a week or two,” Bennett said. “But we literally don’t have even a week of practice to prepare or anything.
“It is a little nerve-racking but you have to roll with the punches, what else can we do?”
2017 RECORD: 7-26 overall, 0-12 district.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Meagan Henderson, Rhepsy Wyman.
The Lady Eagles enter the season having to fill key roles on the court after graduating nine seniors last year.
Head coach Sarah Stolley took notice of her senior leadership taking ownership of conditioning in the weight room over the summer.
“Which I think really helped us coming in with volleyball starting on a Wednesday,” Stolley said. “I think that’s going to help us.”
With conditioning taken care of, Ellison plans to use the early season to focus on sharpening its skills throughout the scheduled scrimmages and tournaments.
While some teams use the preseason to focus on building a team bond, Stolley isn’t worried about the Lady Eagles.
“This is a team-focused, team-first group of girls,” she said, noting she believes the team’s efforts to put conditioning first bonded them over the summer.
One key piece returning for the Lady Eagles is senior libero Jaraysia Hope, who shared district Defensive MVP honors last season. Senior setter Jakarta Hope also earned a spot on the all-district first team.
One team Ellison has taken note of as it moves into the district is Temple.
“Temple has been on the come-up,” Stolley added, noting that both the Wildcats and Waco are competitive programs. “They have a new coach this year but that’s a strong group that they have on varsity this year.
“A lot of them play club together so they all know each other, but that’s a very competitive program.”
2017 RECORD: 27-9, 7-5.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Semira Fields, Jaraysia Hope, Jakarta Hope.
First-time head coach Alina Wilder left her position as the junior varsity coach at Ellison to lead the Lady Knights this season.
Wilder is excited to get started with her new team with the group of returning players she inherited.
“I have quite a few seniors, so they’re ready to get on the court and play,” she said. “I have some young ones that I’ve chosen to be on the team as well.”
With a few freshman and sophomores added in the mix, Wilder has already seen the seniors pull together to take the young players under their wings.
Wilder is focused on growing the volleyball program in the years to come, which is why she went the route of selecting a team heavy on youth.
The main focus in the preseason is to help the younger athletes mentally prepare for the game at the varsity level.
“We’ve been constantly putting it in their heads that we don’t have a long time to fine-tune some things, so we need you to be mature and be ready to go,” Wilder said.
As they head into the season, the Lady Knights have one motto: Playoffs is the expectation, state is the goal.
“And that’s what we’re going for,” Wilder said.
2017 RECORD: 14-16, 3-9.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: McKayla Flowers, Catherine Bakken, Layla Yerry, Makayla Wiggins, Kayla Williams.
The Lady Grey Wolves enter the new district with a chip on their shoulders and looking for redemption.
“They know what’s at stake,” head coach Merdith Shaw-Moore said. “They understand where we left off. It didn’t leave a good taste in their mouth, and they’re just hungry.”
And while her returning group of varsity players is motivated to have a season different from last year, Moore knows that her team isn’t dwelling on the past.
“They did a lot of things over the summer to prepare for the season ahead,” she said. “I’m very confident in their ability to be ready to compete.”
That confidence in her players comes from the fact that even while away on summer vacation, her athletes made sure to let her know that they were putting their training and conditioning first.
“You can tell from over the summer that they didn’t like the way their season ended,” Moore said. “And they made sure that they took advantage of the summer to come into the season with a different mentality.”
Senior outside hitter Alexia Wilkinson earned a spot on the all-district first team last year.
2017 RECORD: 14-10, 3-9.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Nayeli Foreman-Ortiz, Nicole Pena. Tyra Williams, Emijah Spencer, Alexia Wilkinson, Alyssia Wilkinson.
Lowery is starting her 14th season with the Lady Bulldawgs, who have made the playoffs in each of her previous 12 years.
Cove went undefeated to take the district title last year. Lowery’s Lady Dawgs also won district titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Yet, in the 25 years as a head coach, this season is just a bit different for her.
“In my coaching career, this is the largest district I’ve ever been in,” she said. “But we’re excited about it.
“It’s going to be interesting to play a district game and then go play a tournament and come back and continue with district.”
Lowery isn’t worried about the Lady Dawgs as she has a solid group of returning players, led by returning district MVP Aidan Chace.
“They were young last year, we were all sophomores and juniors, so they’ve really worked hard this summer and this spring.”
On top of the offseason strength and conditioning her team did, Lowery believes the maturity she’s seen in her girls will help her team stay focused throughout the demanding, competitive schedule.
“You can’t make mistakes and learn as you go like you typically do in a preseason,” Lowery noted. “You have to fix it on the go, on the spot, because we’ve got Temple coming in about two weeks.”
2017 RECORD: 38-9, 12-0.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jada Close, Aidan Chace, Leah Powell, Kristen Wasiak