By the time the 2015 volleyball season closed in November, the Lady Jaguars had accumulated 24-12 overall and 6-4 district records, but fallen to Springtown High School during the bi-district round of the playoffs.
Despite the early exit from, the Midlothian Heritage High School community is ablaze in anticipation of the August first serve and summer growth of second-year varsity volleyball players like Krista Tipton and Tori Needles.
The coaches and players are too.
"With the 8-4A alignment, this [district 8] is a very competitive situation to be in," said Sarah Hallum, the head volleyball coach of MHHS. "We are excited for the challenge to compete at the highest level and earn another playoff berth. We believe that if we follow the model of mental toughness, great work ethic and focusing on being better coaches, athletes and teams every day, then we will be prepared for the district and post-district play."
The Lady Jaguars will kick off their season against Cleburne High School at 6 p.m. Aug. 9 at MHHS Gymnasium.
"We have great options this year in our offensive and defensive schemes," she continued. "With the great talent that we have returning from last year, we will be able to run a high power offense and an aggressive defense. The experience we have in Tori Needels (setter), Katie Chambers (libero), Julia Valdez (middle hitter) and Katie Greer (right hitter) makes us a well-balanced team with height and athleticism."
Unlike the other teams in their district, which have to reshuffle their decks and reach into their junior varsity and freshman reserves to avoid the sting of graduation attrition, the Lady Jaguars will return between nine and 12 of last season's playoff team.
Height, youth and athleticism, which are necessary for success at any classification, are strengths around the net for the 4A Lady Jaguars. Tipton (6-3), Julia Goerig (6-0), Valdez (5-9), Grayce Davis (5-7) and Mary Greer (5-7) are either sophomores or juniors going into their second season with Hallum.
MHHS posted 14 shutout games last season, including a pair of 2-0 victories against Dallas area Carter and Wilmer-Hutchins high schools. Stephenville and Godley High Schools, which were either one game or two games away from the state championship, wait in the shadows and join Alvarado, Venus, Glen Rose and Life Waxahachie high schools in arguably one of the toughest volleyball 4A districts in the state.
"As a team, I think we have matured both mentally and physically," Needles said about the team's offseason growth. "I feel that our younger girls have gotten stronger and more fit so that we can move more swiftly on the court. Coming into the next season, we are all hungry to prove ourselves and win. Volleyball never stops. We train harder each week, whether it's weight training and conditioning, other sports during the winter and spring or club volleyball in the summer."
Tipton said he hopes the summer tournaments together and the extra time each girl has put into fine-tuning their game translates to wins one the season begins, noting their plan to take the season step-by-step.
"This offseason I feel like is different from last because we know each other better as a team. We are building off last year’s success. I have been working on my vertical to become a better attacker and blocker," she added. "We didn't lose any teammates due to graduation and our team only got stronger and better. There's pressure on us to win a district title, but I don't see the pressure as bad pressure. It'll help us do better and go further into the playoffs and play to the best of our abilities."
Marcus is the sports editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI. Contact the sports desk at 469-517-1456 and on Twitter by using #MirrorSportsNB in tweets!