Lauren Nicks’ shirt said it all. Morning volleyball practice had just ended on a recent Thursday and the Arlington High outside hitter was sporting a short-sleeved T-shirt with the slogan “Colt Dynasty” on the front.
As a senior who has just begun her fourth season on varsity, Nicks has already played a role in maintaining and continuing to build that dynasty. It’s a dynasty that began long before Nicks was even born. And now, it’s part of her job to help prepare her younger teammates to keep the success going this fall and in future seasons.
Arlington opened the 2014 regular season Tuesday at Flower Mound Marcus. “I think we’re talented enough to keep the dynasty going,” said Nicks, a Dallas Baptist University recruit. “Every game you’ve just got to play your best.”
Nicks has seen the program in each of her first three seasons under coach Kim Spencer, a former Arlington star who took over as the Lady Colts’ coach in the 2011 season. For the defending district champions to continue to perform at a high level, Nicks and her four fellow seniors will have to make sure a group of one freshman and four sophomores develops veteranlike confidence.
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“My first year on varsity I was nervous,” Nicks said. “But then I caught on because the older players were really helpful.”
Like Nicks, Emma Smith’s in her fourth year on varsity. Although being a senior requires a special dose of leadership, Smith is no stranger to taking the lead. After all, leadership’s always expected of the setter.
“They always say the setter is the quarterback of the team,” Smith said. “I kind of have to run the offense yet still play defense. So I feel like I’ve always had to be a leader and step up no matter how old I am.”
Something that aids Smith’s confidence is being able to set up Arlington’s talented front line to make plays. Jacqueline Vernor, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, has graduated. But there’s still plenty of returning front-line talent to go along with some gifted newcomers. Junior middle blocker/right-side hitter Abby Nason and senior outside hitter/right-side hitter Baylee Bates bring the experience, and freshman Katie Clerk brings the youthful talent.
“This group is a younger group. It’s a newer group,” Smith said. “Although we lost some height, we gained some new height. … We have girls with a lot of potential who work really hard. Everyone kind of wants to prove something this year.”
Nicks, though, said front-line talent takes a back seat to the Lady Colts’ defense and passing. “We’re focusing on a lot of ball control,” Nicks said. “That’s the key to winning a lot of games.”
But quality ball control cannot happen without communication. And senior libero Lauren Beard, who plans to walk on at the University of Texas at Austin, is helping make this young team into effective talkers.
“We’re actually really good friends with the younger players,” Beard said. “We need to work on talking. That’s our biggest struggle right now: getting everyone to feel like their input matters, calling the ball and making sure everybody knows what’s going on.”
It can be tempting as a veteran player to think you have to be everyone on the court and making every play happen, Beard said. But everyone on the court has to be trusted to chip in to the effort when the play comes their way.
“Trusting everyone is very important,” Beard said. “I feel like on some teams the older players want to run everyone over and feel like they have to do everything themselves, but you have to trust the person next to you to be able to make a play.”
Spencer is trusting her veterans and newcomers alike to realize that the key to creating and extending a legacy of winning is hard work. “I think that’s what Colt volleyball has always been about: kids who work hard,” Spencer said. “They don’t take anything for granted.”