With three consecutive trips to the postseason to their credit, the Brownwood Lady Lions volleyball team will be looking to extend their streak with almost an entirely new roster.
Only three players with varsity experience — right side hitter Ta’Kenda Cotton, middle blocker Julie Kennedy and setter Alex Williams — return from last year’s 13-15 bi-district finalist team. But Lady Lions head coach Mary Steed feels this year’s squad boasts as much potential as any she has coached in Brownwood.
“Although I have relatively inexperienced players, the quality of the athletic ability of these young ladies is very high, as high as I have ever had for a group,” Steed said. “We just need a little time to grow with our experiences.”
The Lady Lions open the season Friday at the 16-team Abilene Bev Ball Classic. Brownwood will play three pool matches at the Abilene High gym to position itself for Saturday’s bracket play. The Lady Lions will face Mansfield Timberview at 1 p.m., Richardson at 2 p.m. and Sweetwater at 5 p.m.
Thursday’s action will serve as the new debut for several new varsity members. Among the Lady Lions likely to suit up are left side hitters Flynn Harrell and Shalisa Hall, middle blockers Moochie Galloway and Chloe Guy, right side hitters LaCresha Williams, Stephanie Jordy and Jalisa Hall, setter Raelee Taylor and defensive specialist Ashley Combs.
“This team is very strong offensively,” Steed said. “Our left front hitters are as strong and athletic and powerful as any group that I’ve coached. Our middle hitters, although new and inexperienced, are also very powerful with exceptional jumping ability, power and athleticism. Our right sides bring height for blocking, setting ability and powerful hitting. And our setting and defense are in strong hands.”
In regards to the areas Steed wants to see a change for the better, she stated, “Our inconsistency in overall play, our lack of team service receive experience and our inconsistency in serving effectiveness are areas that definitely need work and improvement.”
Steed is counting on her varsity returnees — Cotton, Kennedy and Williams — to have an even greater as leadership role than veteran players of years past, due simply to the amount of youth on this year’s team.
“All these girls are such hard workers, good role models and quality players in both athleticism and volleyball intelligence that there is no doubt they will accept the challenge of leading this team,” Steed said. “Being multi-sport athletes and successful in not only volleyball but track, basketball, softball and soccer, they have more than enough experience to carry this team in the direction we need to go.”
Though the roster is almost completely revamped, Steed has not altered her typical preseason preparations.
“Our training has accelerated by the fact that each athlete naturally pushes herself and her teammates in her pursuit of excellence,” Steed said. “More of our drill work has to incorporate team situations and game situations because of our limited playing experience as a group. As we start the season, the girls are both talented and intelligent enough to learn quickly what it will take to become successful in the long run.”
Following their weekend trip to Abilene, the Lady Lions will take part in the Justin Northwest and Fredericksburg tournaments, along with facing Lampasas, Abilene Cooper, Abilene High, San Angelo Central, San Angelo Lake View and Bangs prior to the Sept. 18 District 16-4A opener against Waco High.
“I personally would like for these girls to be so trained and ready that they will put together their personal best performances each time they step on the court,” Steed said. “I would like for them to experience the effortless feel of the perfect point, the perfect play and the perfect game that comes with a well-prepared team. Victories can be won with mediocre performances and I would rather concentrate on the quality of our work and play than the score. Winning will come if our focus is on the right work.”
Though the playoffs may be months away, the determination is definitely there as the Lady Lions eye a fourth straight playoff berth. How well the Lady Lions mature and come together as a unit between now and the Oct. 19 season finale will ultimately decide their fate.
“I don’t believe there is any doubt that the girls have their expectations set on making the playoffs and that all those previous appearances have set in motion the belief and confidence that they can achieve this,” Steed said. “But deep down, I believe they are wanting to get past the one banner that has ‘Regional Quarterfinalists’ on it. I may be naive, but this team is truly going to have the skill level to achieve this.”