Coming off back-to-back bi-district championship campaigns, the Brownwood Lady Lions volleyball program looks to continue its resurgence under new head coach Jessica Withrow.
Though the Lady Lions have conducted just two days of practice and competed in a few weekend scrimmages, the season opener is straight ahead with a Tuesday trip to Sweetwater on the docket.
Though in the infancy of the season, Withrow — who has eight years of coaching experience with stops at Sweetwater, Lubbock Coronado, and Marble Falls — has identified the team’s strengths along with areas that need the most attention.
“I’m most impressed by how coachable they are,” Withrow said. “They’ve responded to me very well and they’re very respectful. They turn and look at me, they want to know what they’re doing wrong and when I tell them they immediately try and fix it.
“I’ve also been very impressed with our hitters, they want the ball and they’re hungry for it. They’re going to call a set and try and put it away. Also, our spot serving has been really good. We miss a couple here and there but they’re trying to hit the spots I’m telling them.”
As for the areas of concern at the moment, defense tops the list.
“We probably need to work a little on our defense,” Withrow said. “The girls are learning a new defense with me being a new coach, so they’re earning where to go, the correct spot. We also need to get better at reading the other team, seeing what kind of offense they’re running, where the ball is going and reacting just a little bit faster. That will definitely come with time as these girls learn to trust each other and play together. We’re going to get a lot better at that.”
The Lady Lions are anchored by senior outside hitter Torrey Miller, who is coming off back-to-back district offensive player of the year honors and is bound for West Texas A&M, according to Withrow.
“You can tell on the court Torrey’s a leader,” Withrow said. “She’s a senior this year and the girls respond to her. She’s everywhere, she always hustles and gives you 100 percent.
Other seniors on the roster include Annie Gillispie, Davalynn Monroe and Lakyn Ratliff, who will see most of their time on the back row.
“Annie, Davalynn and Lakyn are also very good leaders and the girls respond to them,” Withrow said. “I’m very excited about having them on the team.”
New additions include freshmen Olivia Fowler and Gracie Boswell, who will likely assist Miller along the front line.
“I’ve pulled up two freshmen so far and they’re doing a great job and learning very quickly,” Withrow said.
Following Tuesday’s opener at Sweetwater, the rest of the Lady Lions’ pre-district slate features the Abilene Bev Ball Classic on Friday and Saturday, the home opener against Cleburne (Aug. 14), the Granbury tournament (Aug. 16-18), a trip to Graham (Aug. 24), a home match with Abilene High (Aug. 28), a road game at San Angelo Central (Aug. 31), a visit from Abilene Cooper (Sept. 4), and trips to Abilene Wylie (Sept. 7), Llano (Sept. 14) and Eastland (Sept. 18).
“We really need to find a rotation for us that’s going to work in district,” Withrow said of the pre-district goals. “We want to know who we want our setters to be, get that set in stone, and where we want each girl to play in the hitting positions. We need to be better, react to each other and talk — that’s a big thing, talking to each other and keeping the energy. In pre-district that’s what we’re going to be trying to do, working through a lot of rotations and seeing what is the best for us.”
Brownwood is in an entirely new volleyball district, as 7-4A consists of No. 2 Glen Rose — who ended the Lady Lions’ postseason run a year ago – along with rival Stephenville, Mineral Wells and Godley. League games begin Sept. 21 when Mineral Wells comes calling.
“Glen Rose is definitely going to be our fiercest competition, they went to the state tournament last year,” Withrow said. “We got to see them in a scrimmage and they look very good, but they’re have some holes and our job is make sure to scout, watch film properly and find their holes and utilize that. Stephenville will probably be some good competition for us, but I feel if we play on our A game and we give it our best we’ll be able to take them. Godley and Mineral Wells, we don’t ever want to taken anyone for granted, but kind of the same with Stephenville, if we show up ready to play and take care of business I feel confident that we’re going to be pretty good in district.”
In terms to how successful Brownwood can be in 2018, Withrow stated the sooner the Lady Lions pick up the new system the greater the likelihood on a lengthy campaign.
“The talent is just amazing, but they have to learn things very fast,” Withrow said. “A new team with freshmen on it, a new coach, new drills, a new program, it’s just going to come down to how fast they learn things and how willing they’re going to be to put in the effort it takes. I think they want it, they’re just not used to being pushed. They’re getting used to the changes and if we can get that taken care of quickly in pre-district, the potential can be out of this world and we could go far in the playoffs.”