By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (July 29, 2017) — When a coach reaches the experience level of Fran Metzger, there are very few surprises.
Metzger is entering her 40th year teaching and 36th coaching volleyball. She’s the only head coach in the history of Stephenville volleyball, which begins its 23rd preseason camp on Tuesday, the first day allowed by the UIL.
After coaching close to 1,000 matches over the past four decades, Metzger is rarely surprised by any scenario, be it in a match, practice, in dealing with her players, or in understanding her club’s strengths, weaknesses, experience and lack thereof entering a new season.
So what about the 2017 Honeybees?
“I feel like we will have a lot of depth, I think our defense will be stronger than it has been the past several seasons and I know we’ll be scrappy,” said Metzger in a phone interview Saturday, as she enjoyed time with her daughter and son-in-law over her summer’s last free weekend before returning once again to the grind she knows better than just about anyone in the business. “We won’t be as tall, but there isn’t a lot we can do to change that.”
That’s because Emily Brandon, 6-foot-2, and Big Country Fellowship of Christian Athletes All-Star MVP Nicona Stilwell, 6-0, both graduated. Also gone is versatile star Taylor Garber, who played setter and outside hitter and was the top all-around-the-court player for the 2016 Honeybee team that was second behind Glen Rose in District 8-4A and reached the area-round of the Region I-4A playoffs before dropping a tightly-contested four-set match to state power Abilene Wylie. The other loss was defensive specialist Kylee Ponder, who signed to run track for her father, coach Pat Ponder, at Tarleton State.
Hailey Martin spearheads the defense, which Metzger is especially excited about entering the new season.
“We have four or five defensive players, potentially six,” said Metzger, with that number depending on final roster decisions to be made over the opening week of practice and scrimmages. “Hailey is back and so is Kristen Pettit and Maren Isham and they are all good defensive players.”
Some of the versatile returning outside hitters – Jayci Morton and Chloe Goodman – as well as varsity newcomer Savannah Ivey are all being trained to also play the middle blocker spot, clearly the position hit hardest by graduation. Metzger also expects help there from Salette Rios, the junior varsity middle as a freshman last fall.
Metzger believes the setter position, despite the loss of Garber, remains deep and strong. Hannah Huckabee is the top returning setter, while Sierrah Marrtinez also lettered on the varsity last season and newcomer Gabie Lucero should also make an impact.
Metzger will begin the season by having her coaching staff line up the Honeybees on the track at SHS for the one mile run that has begun every season of volleyball at the school. And, yes, players are still required to run it until they finish in under eight minutes.
“That will tell me real quick who is in shape and who isn’t. We’ll know who was serious over the summer about getting ready for the season, and we have to be,” Metzger said. We can’t get them in shape with only a few days before we have scrimmages.”
Scrimmages at Stephenville Friday begin at 9 a.m. and include Fort Worth Paschall and Abilene Cooper. Traditionally, the Bees have followed that with a trip to Birdville for Saturday scrimmages, but that has been replaced with a southward drive to Gatesville, where other participants are Temple and Killeen Shoemaker.
The regular season opener has not changed in years. It’s Burleson’s turn to visit Stephenville on Tuesday, August 8, with first serve expected about 6:30 p.m. following a 5:30 JV match.