If the Mansfield volleyball team is to earn consecutive district championships, it will have to do it with almost an entire crop of new faces. The Lady Tigers went 12-2 en route to a District 7-5A title last year, and though realignment now has them in District 8-6A, the opponents will look largely the same. What won’t look the same is the group of girls wearing black and gold.
“We’ve got a lot of vacancies and we’re going to be very, very young this year,” head coach Judith McGill said.
Mansfield graduated nine seniors from last year’s squad, among them a quartet of starters including setter Chandler Gow, libero Morgan Rupp and outside hitters Morgan Mutti and Emily Hollingsworth.
A pair of starters do return, including senior Allison Kuster, who will likely fill the libero role or play outside, and sophomore Imani Stewart, who gained significant experience as a freshman last season.
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“Other than that, we’re starting over,” McGill commented.
The Lady Tigers may be young and relatively inexperienced, but McGill says they aren’t lacking for talent and promise. She knows her new prospects have the skills, but getting all those skills in the right place will be the key.
“Playing-wise I don’t really have a lot of questions; we’ve got some really good talent,” she said. “My only big question mark is probably where they’re going to play. We’ve got several kids that could play all three spots on the front row. So [I have to decide] how to mix that up. We’re going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
One luxury of the volleyball schedule is the ability to get a lot of games in prior to district. With UIL changes to the number of tournaments teams can play, many tournaments now stretch over three days.
“You can get eight or nine games in a tournament,” McGill said. “So the preseason is going to be invaluable as far as court time for these kids.”
And though the goal is always to win, there are actually more important things for Mansfield to accomplish in its non-district campaign.
“I want to win as many games as we can, but as long as we get that experience under our belt, and building some chemistry and learning to play with each other,” McGill said. “As long as we hit district rolling, I’ll be happy with that.”
As mentioned, District 8-6A won’t look vastly different from last season. The only change is the loss of Timberview, which dropped down to the new 5A classification.
“Everyone thinks of this as a basketball district, but the volleyball is very competitive also,” McGill said. “You’ve got to play every night to win.”
With camp starting this week and scrimmages starting as early as Friday, McGill is hoping her players come to the gym focused and ready.
“I prefer them to take some of that time away from volleyball and not come into camp burned out,” she said. “I prefer they rest all summer, actually.”
“Hopefully we can start off and get some wins under our belt and get some confidence,” she added. “And chemistry is going to be huge.”
Returning senior Kuster doesn’t anticipate chemistry to be an issue. She says the few returning players started warming up to the underclassmen as soon as last season was over, and have recently started working to get a head start on synching up.
“We’ve had a few open gyms this past week and we’ve just been having fun working together,” Kuster said. “It’s been really smooth. Coming back after that long break over the summer when we didn’t see each other, we just had fun with it and we’re super excited and pumped.”
There’s no substitute for enthusiasm, and Kuster says the Lady Tigers definitely have it.
“The younger players are ready to go,” she said. “We’re all working together and are really excited for the season. For most of them it’s their first chance to step out on the court at the varsity level, and so they’re super excited.”