By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (August 14, 2016) — Once you find the rout to the top of a mountain, you know what it takes to get there again.
So it should be no surprise Tarleton State head coach Mary Schindler has her reigning Lone Star Conference champion TexAnn volleyball team scheduled to begin practice right where they did a season ago – in the weight room.
Practice begins at 9:30 a.m. Monday when the TexAnns will hit weights for approximately an hour inside the recently renovated Tarleton Athletic Performance Center. About 10:30 a.m. they will move into Wisdom Volleyball Gym, returning to their home court where rowdy crowds helped power them to their first conference championship a season ago.
The focus of the TexAnns is to build on that success, even with the loss of a strong senior class crucial to their success.
It helps to have a two-time All-American back in junior outside hitter and all-around phenom Hailey Roberts, the 2015 player of the year in both the LSC and the South Central Region. Tarleton was one set from hosting a regional championship, falling in five to regional host Angelo State in the finals of the LSC tournament after holding off ASU by a game in the regular season championship race.
But it’s one step at a time, says Schindler, who calls waiting for the opening day of fall camp her most anxious time of year.
“This gives me more anxiety than anything, just being so ready to get going and it not being here yet,” she said last week. “I’m so ready to have everyone here, and so excited to get back to work striving for perfection. Will we ever be perfect? No, of course not, but that’s what we have to strive for every day in practice and with every point and every ball in every game.”
Roberts, who already owns a slew of school records and has amassed 1,444 points, 1,237 kills and 132 aces in two seasons, is coming off an injury, having had surgery in February to repair a torn labrum. She was unable to participate in spring ball with her teammates.
“I’m real excited, especially coming off surgery and not playing with the team in the spring,” said Roberts. “I’ve been rehabbing since the surgery and haven’t been able to do much. I just got back to lifting (weights) a couple weeks ago.”
New assistant coach Katie Hoekman, who started work at Tarleton in January, is excited for her first season with Schindler and the TexAnns.
“It’s fun getting into a new program and getting a fresh start, just getting to know the girls and them getting to know me,” Hoekman said. “I am just so excited. (Schindler) and I have waited forever for this, it seems, and we’re just glad all the girls are finally here and we get to practice (Monday).”
Adrianna Knutson, a sophomore defensive specialist likely to land in the libero role vacated by Ayssa Garcia, echoed those sentiments during a photography and media event at Wisdom Volleyball Gym Sunday evening.
“I am very excited. Summer was good, but a little long for me,” she said. “I’m so ready to be back with the team and to get back into our routine.”
Knutson says winning a conference championship has raised the bar of success for the TexAnns.
“It’s a new standard to live up to,” she said. “It’s about remembering that feeling and doing everything it takes to get back there.”
Like Knutson, Roberts and others, junior setter Chandler Gow is a big reason the TexAnns recorded a school-recorded 27 wins last season.
“We have so many new transfers and freshmen, and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get even better with new talent,” said Gow. “We know we have to work just as hard and some of us have to step up and take on leadership roles for us to get back there.”
With several new players in two. Including Division I transfer Autumn Taylor, who came to Tarleton from Lamar.
“I’ve thought about it every day, every second of every day,” said Taylor of beginning her senior season at Tarleton. “I’m excited to be here and compete against some different athletes and find my role on the team.”
The journey begins Monday morning in the weight room.
Exactly where it did a year ago, when Tarleton went on to have the best season in school history.