By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (September 8, 2016) — Stephenville has become a victim of its own success on the volleyball hardwood.
After a perfect run through district play and a second regional tournament appearance in four years last fall, the Honeybees, their fans and certainly their coaches expect to achieve similar success again.
But it’s a kind of pressure Taylor Garber certainly doesn’t mind taking head on as Stephenville prepares to visit Waxahachie Life for an 8-4A opener at 6 p.m. Friday.
“It’s good to face those expectations because it means you are part of a program that has had success and knows what it takes to get it done in the big games,” said Garber, a senior setter who also plays all around for the Honeybees. “We just kind of get used to the high expectations and always work hard to meet them.”
Head coach Fran Metzger, who has more than 600 career wins including a 4A state title in 2003 with the Honeybees, says she can see her team rounding into form for district play.
“We’re blocking well and I’m proud of that. (West) really struggled hitting through our block. We’re also serving well, and those are things I wanted to see us do before district,” said Metzger. “We’re still having a little trouble with service receive and picking up tips, so we’ll be working on that between (Tuesday) and Friday.”
Every year, Metzger sets a brutal early schedule with tournament action that pits Stephenville against predominantly 5A and 6A competition. The only 4A school Stephenville played before Tuesday’s win was Giddings, coached by 2004 Stephenville graduate Shay Gracy Douglas, and that came by chance in the middle of a number of matches against out-of-state opponents at Disney World in Orlando.
“I feel like it’s helped us a lot because the kids are used to facing strong blocking and teams who pick up everything and serve tough on you,” Metzger said. “They just don’t make mistakes and that makes you learn to play without mistakes.”
Garber agrees with the Honeybee coach.
“Playing teams from bigger schools helps us prepare for the districts teams and it makes it so much better because we’re already used to facing tough opponents,” Garber said.
The senior leader said a number of players have turned her head since the preseason, including a couple of varsity newcomers she expounded on.
“I think Maren Isham is really doing a good job and has stepped up as a new varsity player, and Jayci (Morton) is so good at hitting, she’s really strong as just a sophomore,” Garber said. “We have a good mix of players who are back and new players.”
Some of the senior leaders playing alongside Garber include middles Nicona Stilwell and Emily Brandon and defensive specialist Kylee Ponder. There’s also junior Hailey Martin at libero.
Garber said its important for those seniors to calm their less experienced teammates in the district race ahead.
“I think our biggest job as leaders will definitely be keeping the nerves down for the younger girls on the team who have never been on varsity in district before,” Garber said. “We have to help them to stay loose and confident and not get nervous in big matches.”
Matches against district favorite Glen Rose will certainly be important in shaping the district title picture, and Metzger as of Tuesday Metzger said there are still others in the district she knows little about. That includes Friday’s opponent, Waxahachie Life.
“I think Glen Rose will be our biggest competition, and I don’t know much about Heritage or Life,” she said. “I’m trying to find some film of them before Friday.”
Whatever that film shows, Garber says Stephenville will be prepared.
“We’ll be working hard the nests couple days to get ready or district,” she said following Tuesday’s win. “We know we have to be ready to play our best in every district match.”
Especially for a team chasing such lofty aspirations.
“We want to go undefeated in districts again, like last year,” said Garber. “That’s the goal.”