By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 1, 2016) — Stephenville enters the state playoffs Tuesday evening, and that means its four seniors are playing not just for wins and losses, but to keep alive their high school careers.
“All of our seniors have worked so hard and become great leaders for our team. They’re a great group of girls with great chemistry,” said Stephenville head coach Fran Metzger. “It’s rewarding to see them succeed because they are all such good kids.”
Middle blocker Nicona Stilwell is the most experienced, having been moved up to the varsity as a freshman. Three years later, she leads the team in kills and blocks.
“Kills are fun, but I like blocking. I like to stuff it back in their face,” said Stilwell as she and the Honeybees were practicing for the start of the playoffs. They face Fort Worth Castleberry at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Aledo High School in a Region I-4A bi-district match. The winner likely faces Abilene Wylie in the area round.
“It’s different for me this year, because I’ve always heard ‘play for the seniors, play for the seniors,’ and now it’s us who has our last chance,” Stilwell said. “We’ve always heard we are supposed to leave everything on the court, but it’s real this time. Now, it’s us playing for possibly the last time, so hopefully it really does all get left on the court.”
Taylor Garber is the team’s primary setter and also plays outside hitter and all around for the Honeybees.
“When I’m setting I get to be like the quarterback on the court, but I still think a kill is more awing for me. But I don’t care, I’ll do whatever the team needs, especially now that we’re in the playoffs,” said Garber, a southpaw, whose left-handed kill shots have caught many opponents by surprise. “Usually after the first couple hits everyone is like, ‘she’s a lefty, she’s a lefty,’ and I always smile.”
Garber is enjoying the makeup of the Honeybee team.
“This season has been really fun,” Garber said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates. They’re my best friends, too.”
Kylee Ponder, a defensive specialist, has different on-court responsibilities than her primarily offensive-minded classmates, but her thoughts on her senior playoff campaign are the same.
“I’m real excited to take on the playoffs with these girls,” Ponder said. “Last year was different because we were looking up to the seniors and now we’re looking up to each other and trying to set the example for the younger girls looking up to us. I wouldn’t change my team for anything, they’re great.
“The playoffs change the focus because it’s not just about winning this (match) for district, it’s winning to keep playing and I want to keep playing with these girls,” Ponder added. “It’s go big or go home.”
Emily Brandon knows the intensity meter will spike in the post season.
“It’s definitely a lot more intense so we need to all have our heads in the game at all times, we can’t have any letdowns,” Brandon said. “I know we will need to bring our ‘A’ game and start off strong every time.”
Beginning Tuesday, when Brandon and her fellow seniors look to extend their careers, and their cherished final season with their best friends.
“It’s been a great senior year so far. All my teammates have been great to me,” Brandon said. “I’ve loved getting to know them and being with them through the years. Now we need to keep winning and keep it going.”