Saginaw middle blocker Kynedi Nalls admits her team has a collective chip on its shoulder this season.
With nine returning starters and a drop from Class 5A to 4A, her team is long on experience and long overdue.
"We've struggled for so long," Nalls said. "We just finally realize we built a team here. We're tired of losing, and it's our time to shine."
The Rough Riders are talented too. Nalls has verbally committed to Indiana State, and three others make up the bulk of their offense.
At 15-9 overall and 4-0 in District 6-4A, Saginaw coach Gina Calkins said she has high expectations, but not everything has fallen into place yet.
"I don't know what it is about having a large group of seniors like this," she said. "But they come to practice every day ready to work."
And that means a consistent philosophy as well. Saginaw is passing the ball much tighter this year and has improved its ability in the jump set and speed-up games.
That means opposition defenses are out of position regularly, and five regulars are averaging 63 attacks per game.
That's a serious number of different looks on offense.
It's not a surprise that Nalls leads all hitters with almost nine per match. She's followed by Brittney Jackson and Olivia Antonmarchi, who average six kills each per match.
"Really improving our speed has opened up so much for us," Nalls said. "Our hits now are so quick it's hard to read that and for them to adjust on defense."
Calkins said having this much depth is important.
"Now, we've got players that we can mix and match with different lineups and get the very best look on the floor for us," she said. "Our setter was out for seven games, and I felt like we really didn't miss a beat."
Picking up the slack
Grapevine outside hitter Ashley Rice was averaging three kills a night, but she's bumped up that total to six per match in the 10 contests since standout Morgan Haynes was sidelined with a knee injury.
Key games ahead
Arlington vs. Arlington Bowie, 6:30 p.m. Friday: This is a battle of 1-1 teams in District 3-5A, and the loser has an uphill climb for a playoff spot.
Keller vs. Keller Timber Creek, 6:30 p.m. Friday: A natural rivalry game, Keller is stout this season, and Timber Creek has outside hitter Lauren Mills, an SMU commit.
Weatherford vs. Arlington Lamar, 6:30 p.m. Friday: Both teams are 2-0 in District 3-5A, and Lamar has fought off the injury bug. The winner will solidify first place.
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