Despite losing key players to graduation, Arlington High confident that volleyball success will continue in 2013

Posted Monday, Jul. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Consistency is the norm for Arlington High volleyball.

The Lady Colts have made the playoffs 25 consecutive seasons and are coming off back-to-back district titles. But to accomplish a third straight district championship, Arlington will have to replace some heavy hitters from last year’s squad who have graduated.

Gone are outside hitters Ashley Mariani, who is headed to the University of Tennessee, and Kaitlyn Granger, who will be at Stephen F. Austin in the fall.

“They were kind of our big guns,” Lady Colts coach Kim Tipton-Spencer said.

While some might question whether Arlington will pack enough punch to challenge for that third consecutive title, the Lady Colts are confident that the tradition will be just fine in 2013.

“I feel like we have kids that are ready to step up,” Tipton-Spencer said. “I think the combination of both our middles coming back and their experience, I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. I think everybody thinks, ‘Oh, we lost Granger and Mariani,’ but I still feel like we’ll be just as good.”

Arlington does have a solid foundation with which to begin this season. Returning are junior setter Emma Smith, already a two-year letterman, and senior middle blockers Jacqueline Vernor and Emily Harvey.

“I think what I’m really excited about is that we didn’t lose our ball control and defense,” Tipton-Spencer said. “I think that will help us run a really good offense. We have our setter coming back, so she’s added another year of experience. She’s been setting since she was a freshman. This is year three, so I’m expecting a lot from her.”

Replacing a pair of outside hitters will likely mean a few twists to the offense, but Tipton-Spencer feels like that could actually work to the Lady Colts’ advantage.

“We’re definitely going to have to change things up because we don’t have the same type of hitters,” she said. “Ashley Mariani at 6-3, you’re going to set her a different ball than you will a kid who is 6-foot. So, I really think our offense will be able to speed up a lot and hopefully we’ll catch a lot of teams off-guard.”

The offense will often run through the hands of Smith, and she agrees that although the Lady Colts will have a different attacking approach this season, it shouldn’t take long for the offense to get in gear.

“I think there will be a small transition because we’re returning half the team and we’ll have to fill up the other half,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’ll take long. We have high expectations to do well from the start of the season because a lot of us have played together our entire high school career. Most of the seniors have been on varsity for a long time. There’s a trust we have, the ones that have played together the longest. That definitely helps.”

Like Smith, Tipton-Spencer feels the varsity experience of players returning to this year’s squad will play a big part toward its success.

“I’m really looking forward to the leadership of Jacqueline Vernor and Emily Harvey,” the coach said.

Vernor played varsity as a freshman and brings three years of experience. She also led the team in hitting percentage the last two years.

“She just doesn’t make mistakes,” Tipton-Spencer said. “She’s going to find a way to throw the other team off. If the set isn’t there, she finds a way to do something with the ball. I think that really rubs off on the other kids, seeing her not make a whole lot of mistakes. Ultimately, the team with the least amount of mistakes will win a ball game. That’s going to be our key this next year is fewer mistakes.”

The Lady Colts should get an early idea of how well the transition is going, considering they play a tough non-district schedule from the get-go.

“I feel like our preseason is strong,” Tipton-Spencer said. “We don’t play an easy preseason at all. I feel like that kind of shows us where we need to be.”

While it may be challenging, Smith and her teammates appreciate the competition.

“Personally, I prefer the competition, and I think we’ve all said the same thing,” Smith said. “It’s better to go out and face the tougher teams early because it really helps you grow quicker as a team. I think the competition we face early in the season helps us and will help us tremendously.”

The Lady Colts will use the preseason to gear up for a district race that could be wide open this year.

“A lot of the teams are bringing back a lot of experience, so I think it’s going to be a fun district to watch,” Tipton-Spencer said.

Regardless of what personnel changes the Lady Colts have to deal with, the expectations will always be there, and that’s not lost on this year’s team.

“We do have a rich tradition of winning at Arlington, and that’s my expectation,” Tipton-Spencer said. “Making playoffs is always a goal. We have the big picture is mind, but we’ve got to accomplish the little things before we get there. I definitely have high expectations. I’m really excited about this team. I think they’re really good friends, and that goes a long way as far as chemistry. I think we have a great team chemistry.”

Smith and her teammates are aware of the legacy that has been left to them, and she feels like pressure just comes with the territory when playing at Arlington High.

“There is quite a bit of pressure because obviously we want to go back and win district again and make the playoffs for the 26th straight year,” Smith said. “I don’t think it will affect us much. It’s kind of our thing, just to play volleyball. We all love it and it’s an enjoyable thing. But there’s definitely pressure to go back and win the district title for the third year in a row.

“Arlington High is a big tradition school,” she added. “We have a lot of tradition behind what we do for games and how we get pumped for games. Not only that, we all play like sisters. With that, we have a special trust on the court, which makes it easier for us to go out and do the things we need to do.”

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