HARKER HEIGHTS — It is a new roster, but not a new team.
Last season, Harker Heights had a wealth of experience with nine seniors guiding the program, but inevitably, graduation subtracted each from the squad, opening the door for an influx of unfamiliar faces.
Although the drastic turnover might alarm some, Lady Knights newcomer Catherine Iosefo was not one of them.
“This is the closest I’ve ever been with a team,” the senior said. “They’re like my second family, but it’s not a surprise, because most of us were on junior varsity together, and we created that cohesion then.
“So, by all of us moving up together, it’s just already there.”
Harker Heights displayed its harmony on the court Tuesday, opening its season with a pair of straight-set victories against Little River-Academy and Lampasas in a home dual match.
Like her teammate, Elena Russey believes the Lady Knights are undergoing a seamless transition.
“It felt amazing on the court today,” she said. “All of us are new to the team except four, but the chemistry is already great.
“You can tell that we all have heart, and we love the game, so it feels great to put it all out on the floor for each other.”
In its first match, Harker Heights broke a 15-15 tie by scoring 10 of the final 11 points of the opening set against Academy before beginning the second set with a 10-2 outburst. The Lady Knights controlled the duration of the contest en route to a 25-16, 25-15, 25-18 win.
Then, Harker Heights returned to the court and cruised to a 25-9, 25-15, 25-19 win, trailing only once in the match during a brief stretch early in the second set.
Lady Knights second-year head coach Alina Wilder believes the outcomes are glimpses of the team’s potential.
“Things went really well,” she said. “The main thing is we started with energy, because we want to come out with fire. That’s how we practice, and that’s how we want to play.
“We feel like this is our year, so we’re saying that playoffs are the expectation and state is the goal.”
The Lady Badgers also have high hopes for the season after splitting their first two games.
Under new head coach Whitney Doyen, Lampasas needed five sets to capture a season-opening 25-17, 22-25, 25-20, 14-25, 16-14 victory, rallying from a 14-12 deficit to claim the final set.
While the season is still in its infancy, the performance is reassuring.
“There is no better feeling as a coach than knowing you have kids who want to play for you,” Doyen said. “They wanted to go down to the wire, and they gave the final effort and drive to put the game away.
“They turned things around by believing in themselves, their abilities and each other.”
It was an ideal way to begin Doyen’s career, but the match took a toll.
Forced to turn around and immediately play Harker Heights with only a warm-up separating the contests, the Lady Badgers could not maintain their level of play.
And the Lady Knights, who sat idle during Lampasas’ match, were aware.
“We knew we had to jump on them early,” Russey said. “Between the two games, they were probably playing for like two hours, and in volleyball, that gets tiring.
“So, we used that to our advantage and made it hard for them to catch us.”
Now, Harker Heights will look to maintain its undefeated streak at the three-day, 48-team Austin ISD Jason Landers Invitational, beginning Thursday.
Although the Lady Knights displayed cohesion on the court to begin the season, Wilder is not content.
“We have to look at the chemistry between our hitters,” she said, “and we have to clean up our blocks.
“We have to solidify our defense and get it where it needs to be.”
TUESDAY’S HIGH SCHOOL SCORES
- Austin Bowie def. Belton 22-25, 25-17, 25-22, 25-10
- Austin McCallum def. Shoemaker 25-18, 26-24, 25-14
Ellison def. Joshua 3-0
Granger def. Florence 25-17, 25-5, 25-16
- Harker Heights def. Academy 25-16, 25-15, 25-18
- Harker Heights def. Lampasas 25-9, 25-15, 25-19
- Lampasas def. Academy 25-17, 22-25, 25-20, 14-25, 16-14
- Round Rock Stony Point def. Belton 25-22, 25-21, 18-25, 25-16