BANGS — For the second year in a row, the Bangs Lady Dragons have already locked up a playoff berth before the start of the regular season. This year, however, simply qualifying for the postseason will not satisfy those within the program.

The Lady Dragons finished third in the three-team District 7-2A race last year, and with the top three teams from each district advancing to the playoffs, Bangs moved on to the bi-district round where its season was ended by Maypearl.

“Last year we didn’t do too well in district,” said returnee Taylor Beck. “This year I’d like to win every game and get a bye so we don’t have to play such a tough team the first game.”

The 2006 season started without a player on the roster having ever suited up for a varsity game. This season, however, second-year head coach Adrian Welch is welcoming back the majority of last year’s squad.

“Last year I had a strong and athletic group, but our main problem is they didn’t have a lot of experience,” Welch said. “I didn’t have any returning varsity players. There were five sophomores, two juniors, one senior and a freshman.

“This year we’ve got experience and we’ve got some new girls. The ones that didn’t have a lot of experience at the beginning of last year have now taken up a leadership role and are helping some of the younger ones. That helps me out, too, because I’m not having to reiterate things.”

With a season’s worth of matches under their belts, and a better understanding of Welch’s system, the returning Lady Dragons expect to drastically improve on last year’s 6-15 overall mark and 0-6 district record.

“We’ve gotten a lot better since Coach Welch came here,” said returnee Jacklyn McKee. “She’s building a program. Last year we were shaky and this year we’ve improved so much. Last year we ran until I almost died, and this year we haven’t run as much because we’re getting better and improving. I’m sad I’m graduating this year because next year we should really have an awesome team.”

Added Beck, “Last year we were frustrated. We had a new coach and things were so much harder,” Beck said. “This year we’re all-around a better team. We just need to work hard and try and win some games and get our confidence up.”

Bangs opens its season Tuesday when it hosts Veribest at 6 p.m. The Lady Dragons will play over a month’s worth of matches before facing Grape Creek and Colorado City three times each in district competition.

Among Bangs’ non-district foes are Eastland, Miles, Albany, Ranger, Glen Rose, Gatesville and Brownwood. The Lady Dragons will also host their own tournament Sept. 13-15, and participate in the Albany and Gatesville tournaments.

During the pre-district portion of the schedule, Welch wants to see the Lady Dragons continue the improvement they’ve shown since the conclusion of last season and not worry so much about what district holds in store for them.

“Right now we’re not worried about the playoffs,” Welch said. “We’re going to take our time and really focus on the basics, then we’re going to set goals for each game and worry about things one game at a time.”

The area of greatest improvement for the Lady Dragons has been in the passing department, which is the backbone of any successful volleyball team.

“Passing is the most fundamental thing in volleyball,” McKee said. “If you can’t pass, you can’t set and you can’t hit. Our passing has definitely improved a lot, so we’re having better sets and hits. I also worked all summer on my hitting, and as a team our hitting has gotten a lot stronger.”

Along with a solid grasp of the fundamentals, Welch wants to see the Lady Dragons increase their level of intensity on the court as well.

“I want to see major aggressiveness,” Welch said. “I also want to see a lot of teamwork and there’s a couple of girls I would like to see really step up and lead the other girls.”

Among the players Welch is counting on to help lead the team are sophomore newcomer Julia Fincher, who transferred to Bangs from Waco and has some club ball experience. Other players expected to elevate their performances this season are Beck, LeCrecia Apple and Sarah Bartek.

“Julia’s an outside hitter who’s going to be really fun to watch,” Welch said. “Apple is my libero and will do anything to get the ball. Taylor is back at setter and Sarah is another outside hitter that’s really strong.”

With plenty of opportunities to mesh together as a unit between now the Sept. 25 district opener at Colorado City, Welch and company expect to be poised to make a run at the 7-2A title this season.

“Definitely winning district is the big accomplishment we want,” McKee said. “We want to prove ourselves and show everybody that we earned our spot. We go in knowing that we have a playoff spot, but we’re playing like we’re fighting for it.”