By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Oct. 27, 2020
It’s hard to miss the similarities between the Stephenville (24-4, 7-1) and Mineral Wells (9-13, 3-7) volleyball programs as the two schools prepare for their bi-district match Thursday.
Coach Shay Douglas heads up the Honeybee while Erin Rincon is in her first year as head coach of the Lady Rams. While the two may have vastly different records, both schools also have head coaches who once starred for the programs they now guide.
Douglas is in her third year and has instant success in leading the Honeybees into the playoffs. Rincon has also been successful straight off the bat, and when considering Mineral Wells didn’t win a district game last season the Lady Rams have made a massive turnaround.
“I asked the girls at the start of the season what they thought our goals should be,” Rincon said. “One of the girls said ‘win a district game,’ and while some may have laughed, it was a real goal and getting into the playoffs.”
Mineral Wells squeaked into the postseason with a fourth-place finish, and the Lady Rams reward is running into a state-ranked #16 Stephenville that is running 100-percent healthy for the first time in several weeks.
“We are healthy, and we need to be as we head into the playoffs, and right off the bat, we run into a team like Mineral Wells,” Douglas said.
Does Douglas sound worried, or is she running some gamesmanship?
In Douglas’ coaching mind, she is always looking for the unexpected, but what can she expect against Mineral Wells?
“I expect them to be a tactical team who won’t come at us with as much with power as they will be trying to work and place the ball where we are not,” Douglas said.
In other words, Mineral Wells is capable of throwing Stephenville a baseball-style curve complete with off-speed attacks and maybe even a Charlie Huff “spitball” thrown in to mix things up.
“Mineral Wells will be an excellent opportunity for us to rise up and show we can deal with a variety of offensive attacks, and we can be successful against something different,” Douglas said.
Rincon minces no words and knows her program has an uphill battle.
“Stephenville’s speed is undeniable. The girls are so quick and attack your defense from so many different angles,” Rincon said. “We have our work cut out for us against the Honeybees.”
Like Douglas, Rincon has shown she is not afraid to experiment and fine-tune her lineup, which has produced success this year. Brooklyn Ellis, who played mainly middle hitter last season, has grown into an all-over-the-court player, while Meagan Waldrum’s 13 kills in the win against Burkburnett was a season-high.
Rincon is building toward the future with a starting freshman setter Brittany Delk, who earned a field promotion to the varsity when she stepped in following an injury and earned her stripes.
With Mineral Wells capable of offering “something different,” it’s a great test for Stephenville defense, which Douglas feels is the Bees’ best improvement this season
“We work hard, and we hustle after balls because our defense has become a source of pride for us,” Douglas said. “We create our offense off what our defense gives us, and we make the transition well.”
The Bees have lots of tricks up their sleeves, and Douglas has proven that she’s not afraid to get into high-risk, high-reward situations with the Honeybees over and over. That’s easy to do when you have molded your team to be mentally tough.
“We have gotten past worrying about our mistakes and instead focus on the next shot,” Douglas said
So the Bees are only as good as their next shot?
“Exactly!” Douglas said. “We don’t get down, and we don’t give up.”
Stephenville’s “starting seven” rotates a bit depending on whether or not Douglas elects to turn up the speed of her offense or offer her opponents a height-filled barrier of swarming Bees.
Outside hitters Emma Giddings and Landri Withers can crush the ball. Alee McClendon and Jaydi Griffin are hard to get a ball around at the net as blockers and are equally as powerful when looking for kills.
Jaylee Matthews was the cog out of place in the Bees’ machine when she went down with an injury, but she has returned to offer Stephenville multiple attack choices. Setter Kennedy Coffee knows how to work with Stephenville’s hitters, and she and libero Cali Carter should be in line for postseason honors.
For sure, players know what Douglas is thinking during a match as she crouches and then jumps off up and paces as she cheers, yells, and gets every last ounce out of the Honeybees.
All the while up over her left shoulder is a younger Douglas staring down off the wall from the state championship photo in 2003, which makes one wonder if the coach ever pinches herself to make sure it’s all real.
“I do sometimes think about that and have a little moment of realization of where I am and what I am doing,” Douglas said.
One thing hasn’t changed from 2003, and that’s the hunger Douglas has to be a champion, and doing it at the helm of her alma-mater will be admittedly satisfying.
“I have a goal to win a state championship here just like Coach Rincon does in Mineral Wells,” Douglas said.
Stephenville’s varsity roster for the playoffs includes Cali Carter, Leddy Rae Guinn, Alee McClendon, Kennedy Coffee, Landri Withers, Emma Elliott, Reese Weyers, Bailey Kammerer, Jaylee Matthews, Jaydi Griffin, Macie Sheets, Caris Howell, Emma Giddings, Genesis Mendez, Alexis Whaley, Audrey Brandon, Perla Cristobal, and Tessa Drew.
Thursday’s match gets underway at 6:30 p.m. at Gandy Gym.