By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 2, 2016) –Six-hundred match winner Fran Metzger had no problem identifying her team’s biggest strength entering the 2016 volleyball campaign.
“The chemistry right now is the main thing, and it looks like it’s going to be great,” said Metzger. “The young girls and the older kids are really blending well together.”
That’s good, because there is plenty to replace from last season’s district champ, area champ and Region I-4A semifinalist. Gone are the likes of Northwestern State (La.) middle Kourtney Seaton and junior college outside hitters Kaleigh Conger and Kerstin Frederickson, in addition to strong outside Mikayla Hobbs and setter Chelsea Gillespie.
But it’s not like there aren’t returning stalwarts to lead the way. Nicona Stilwell is back in the middle with Emily Brandon playing right side and versatile Taylor Garber playing all the way around in Metzger’s 6-2 scheme that is also bolstered by the return of defensive specialists Kylee Ponder and Hailey Martin.
“I have some seniors who will add a lot to the team this year, and some sophomores who are looking really good,” the coach said.
Kristen Pettit is another senior on the roster and Bailey McBee is a sophomore. The new outside hitters – Jayci Morton and Ashton Garner – are sophomores, and one second-year varsity player, also a sophomore, already has varsity experience in Chloe Goodman. Add to that setters Hannah Huckabaee and Sierra Martinez, and you have what figures to be Stephenville’s opening-day roster when the Honeybees visit Burleson at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“We’ll find out what we have real fast in Birdville, because it’s a good scrimmage and we’ll see good teams,” said Metzger, always one to schedule tough. “We will already know a lot more than we do now because of our scrimmages on Friday.”
Indeed. The Bees are welcoming Abilene Cooper, Fort Worth Paschall and Krum for Friday scrimmages beginning at 9 a.m. All SHS teams will be in action, with matches in both Gandy Gym and the SHS Auxiliary Gym. The Saturday slate at Birdville includes scrimmages against Cleburne, Birdville then Timber Creek.
While there is only a week to prepare for the first games in volleyball, it’s not as if the Bees haven’t ensured themselves a head start. The won six matches, tied two and lost two in a tournament in Abilene and also competed in the Angelo State team camp and tournament, both in July.
“The girls did well, but they also saw some things they ned to work on,” said Metzger. “We have to work on making sure we get the tip up, and we just need to be more consistent all the way around.”
She said the best thing the first two days of practice have been the preparedness, allowing coaches to jump right into volleyball-specific training.
“The majority of the girls came in and were already in great shape, you can tell they worked hard over the summer,” said Metzger. “Most of them had no trouble running their mile in under eight minutes, and when we get that out of the way and are in shape ready to go, it allows us to focus more on volleyball than conditioning.”
There are almost 70 participants in SHS volleyball this season, almost half of those being freshmen. Metzger reported having 63 on the hardwood Monday morning, but noted Tuesday that others had signed up and joined in.