The Brownwood Lady Lions continued their winning ways in head coach Jackie Lang’s first season, qualifying for a seventh straight appearance in the volleyball state playoffs. But as Lang and the Lady Lions begin their second season together, expectations have surpassed simply making it to the postseason.
“This group of girls has a great opportunity to turn heads,” Lang said. “I believe we’ll be an underdog again, which is the perfect chance to do great things. The friendships on this varsity squad are special and hopefully that will lead to a successful season.”
Having one full season and a second offseason in Lang’s system under their belts has proven beneficial to the Lady Lions during preseason workouts, as Brownwood is sticking with the same offensive and defensive philosophies from last year.
“I know the girls, they know me and we were able to get some great work done in the spring to prepare for this season,” Lang said. “A lot of the little things are already done and I can focus more on the girls and our goals for the season.”
Brownwood is coming off a 14-25 campaign and third-place finish in District 5-3A action, but returns a solid nucleus that includes seniors Sarah Underwood, Melissa Rmeili, Emily Moore, Kelsey Gober and Mahogany Green, along with juniors Katie Pevehouse and Brooklyn Stewart.
Underwood and Rmeili will again share time as setters, but Rmeili will be expected to do more on the offensive end, while Underwood could have a more expanded role on defense.
“Sarah is a great player and she will probably play all the way around, primarily setting, but will also make a huge impact on our defense,” Lang said. “Sarah is a dynamic player and a great leader on the court.
“Melissa has set for the last two seasons, but will be expected to contribute more to our offense as an attacker. She is consistent and hardworking.”
Gober, who is still recovering from foot surgery, and Green will serve as outside hitters for the Lady Lions.
“Kelsey is expected to be released from foot surgery in mid-August,” Lang said. “She has worked on every skill possible with limited mobility and should make an immediate impact on our offensive system.
“Mahogany will see an increase in playing time this year as she has really come alive on the outside. She has a fast arm swing and will be a powerful hitter.”
Moore, who also suffered a leg injury this past spring, will be the primary defensive specialist for the Lady Lions.
“Emily will continue to provide excellent defense,” Lang said. “She suffered a knee injury last spring, but has worked hard to rehab and will see a lot of playing time defensively.”
Pevehouse and Stewart are expected to handle the middle blocker chores.
“Katie will see quite a bit of time in the middle and has improved significantly,” Lang said. “She is moving quicker and seeing the court better.
“Brooklyn worked extremely hard this summer and has greatly improved her speed and vertical. She is expected to be a dominant force in the middle both offensively and defensively.”
Varsity newcomers expected to provide contributions this season include junior outside hitter Brooke Montemayor, junior middle blocker/outside hitter Makayla Hight, junior defensive specialist Cassandra Mendez and junior outside hitter Mabree Moore.
“I expect all of these girls to see some court time this season,” Lang said. “They lack experience, but not determination.”
Heading into Tuesday’s season-opening matches at Abilene Cooper — where the Lady Lions will face the Lady Cougars at 5 p.m. followed by Abilene High at 6:30 p.m. — Lang feels the teamwork demonstrated thus far is the greatest strength.
“Our biggest strength is our teamwork,” Lang said. “This group of girls is extremely unselfish. They want the best players on the court each outing, even if that isn’t them. We are also blessed to have eight returners. These players provide experience and confidence on and off the court.”
In regards to what concerns Lang has at this point, she cited consistency.
“I foresee our biggest weakness being consistency,” Lang said. “There is a chance our starters will change match by match based on who’s performing the best.”
Following Tuesday’s first two matches of the season, the Lady Lions’ schedule features three tournament appearances — Abilene Bev Ball Classic (Aug. 12-13), Gatesville (Aug. 18-20) and Breckenridge (Aug. 25-27) — along with games against Bangs (Aug. 16), Lampasas (Aug. 23), San Angelo Central (Aug. 30), Kennedale (Sept. 2), Liberty Hill (Sept. 6), Stephenville (Sept. 9), Mineral Wells (Sept. 13), Llano (Sept. 16) and Gatesville (Sept. 20).
“I would like to see improvement every time out on the court,” Lang said of Brownwood’s early season goals. “While our record is important, improvement will be a more important indicator of our success.”
The eight-game District 5-3A schedule begins with a Sept. 23 date at Snyder as the Lady Lions attempt to leapfrog 2010 runner-up Big Spring and defending district and Region I-3A champion Abilene Wylie in the 2011 league standings.
“To be honest, I think it’s up in the air,” Lang said of the 5-3A volleyball race. “Everyone lost a great deal of offense and defense. Wylie will be in the running, as they always reload with young talent, but I think the other schools will be similar to us, depending on some strong returners as well as a few new players.”
As for what it will take for the Lady Lions to have the type of success Lang envisions for them, she stated, “the girls will have to be consistent, both defensively and offensively.”
2011 Lady Lions Varsity Volleyball Schedule
All 6:30 p.m. start times unless noted
A9 at Abilene Cooper (5 p.m.)
A9 Abilene High (at Cooper)
A12-13 at Abilene Bev Ball Classic
A16 at Bangs
A18-20 at Gatesville tournament
A25-27 at Breckenridge tournament
A30 at San Angelo Central
S6 Liberty Hill
S9 at Stephenville
S13 at Mineral Wells
S20 at Gatesville
S23 at Snyder*
S27 Abilene Wylie*
S30 at Sweetwater*
O7 at Big Spring*
O11 at Abilene Wylie*
O25 Big Spring*
* District 5-3A Game