By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 9, 2016) — Stephenville head coach Fran Metzger can’t remember exactly how many consecutive seasons her Honeybee volleyball team has opened against Burleson, but she knows it’s a lot.
The season-opening rivalry goes back to at least 2008, and while Burleson, coached by former Tarleton State women’s basketball player D’Anna (Dingler) Newton, has won the majority of those, Metzger says it’s always a good first match for her team.
“It’s a tough one to start with, but it’s good for us because it’s another opportunity to not only to work on things we know we need to fix after our scrimmages but also to see other things that we have to correct early in the season,” she said. “We haven’t beaten them in a few years, and when we have it’s always been tight.”
Burleson is a playoff regular at the 5A level, and once again is first in line in what is a brutally tough early season schedule facing the Honeybees. They are idle Friday before their home opener against 5A Abilene Cooper next Tuesday at Gandy Gym. Then comes the Granbury (5A) tournament, a trip to 5A White Settlement Brewer and then the 5A/6A Leander Volleypalooza August 25-27. That’s followed by a trip to Disney World for tournament play Sept. 1-3.
The Bees won face a single 4A foe outside of tournament play until they host West on Sept. 6, and that’s the final tuneup before the start of district play on Sept. 9 at Waxahachie Life.
“It all goes so fast in volleyball, and it seems like it gets faster every year,” says Metzger, who has coached all 501 wins in the 21-year history of Stephenville volleyball and has more than 600 victories in her career that also includes a stint as head coach in Granbury. “That’s why we have to play good teams early in the year, so we can be ready when district starts.”
Metzger and staff saw a number of things in scrimmage play over the weekend that they focused on beginning to correct in practice Monday. Things such as running through against the tip and not getting caught standing on the 10-foot line, young hitters getting up in time to block and not staying down and so much more.
“It’s just because of inexperience and the speed of the game. A lot of these girls are new to the varsity and the game is so much faster, it just takes time to adjust to that speed,” she said. “But these are things that can be fixed, and we have a lot of potential all around the court. We have a hard working group of girls, and I believe we will fix these things and succeed.”
Metzger says her senior middles, Nicona Stilwell and Emily Brandon have proven to be leaders in the preseason.
“They both get up and play aggressive and strong and that’s what the younger girls need to see. That’s the example we want them to follow,” Metzger said. “And on the back row, Hailey (Martin, a junior) is digging like crazy at libero. She’s quick and athletic, so she can get to a lot of balls.”
The same could be said for defensive specialists Kylee Ponder, a senior, and Kristen Pettit a junior.
“I think service receive and digging in general could become a real strength for us,” said the only head coach Stephenville has ever known. “But we still have a lot to work on.”
And there’s no doubt she will see more that needs work after facing Burleson.
“They’ve been very strong the last several years, and with their program being so established, you know they will be fundamentally strong again this year,” she said. “We know we have a tough match ahead of us, but that’s why we always schedule them, because they make us better in the long run.”