With the Arlington Martin volleyball team closing in on a possible district title, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the Lady Warriors are deep and talented at almost every position. But as Abby Thigpen can attest, middle blocker was an exception, at least at first.
Thigpen, a freshman, and Kylie Loftis, a sophomore, are holding their own at the middle blocker position for the Lady Warriors, who were 31-5 and 10-0 in district play heading into their Oct. 17 finale against North Crowley, a team they downed 3-1 on Sept. 22.
Stepping into a position of need meant Thigpen needed to play like a veteran from the start. But early on, Thigpen wasn’t quite ready to be the elite performer they needed her to be.
“At first we were hard on her, because we were just expecting more,” senior outside hitter Emilie Ickes said. “But we have to realize she’s a freshman and she’s trying her best, and she’s honestly grown really well since the beginning. She’s gotten her blocks right and her hits right.”
Thigpen had to gain her veteran teammates’ trust, and that turned out to be a gradual process.
“At the beginning, it was a little shaky because I didn’t know them well and they definitely didn’t know me,” Thigpen said. “So at the beginning it was definitely shaky, but then we started to work well together. And by the time district got here, everyone was playing well together.”
The reason she’s been able to grow is they’re pretty tough on her, but she’s done a good job of handling herself.
Martin coach Tracy Perez-Petersen on freshman MB Abby Thigpen
Thigpen earned respect by quickly improving on the court. And that improvement required her to be realistic about facets of her game that needed work.
“When I first came, I thought my hitting was strong, but then I realized I’m playing with people 17, 18 years old and realized, ‘Oh, maybe not,’” Thigpen said. “Honestly, by the time the season started, I worked to get strong. But when I started, nothing was that strong because I’d been playing people my age — 14, 15 years old.”
Martin’s intense practices make all of the Lady Warriors stronger players. The middle blockers face a particularly daunting drill that requires them to perform lots of hits and blocks over a long period of time.
“We do really hard drills on the middles,” Ickes said. “They’ll just hit and hit and hit and hit for like 15 minutes straight. We just try our best to get them disciplined on blocking every day.”
Martin players don’t always enjoy those high-octane practices, but coach Tracy Perez-Petersen reminds her players that it’s all about making the in-game scenarios easier.
“You have to put them in situations in the gym,” Perez-Petersen said. “They hate it, but once they see the results, they understand.”
In recent district games, Martin has overcome deficits with the calmness of a team that’s well-prepared for those big moments. And their freshman middle blocker is one of those players who has shown herself to be up to the challenge.
“What I love about Abby is she’s really coachable,” Perez-Petersen said.
And Thigpen was tough enough to shoulder the burden of early expectations.
“They expected her to step on the floor and play like them,” Perez-Petersen said. “They haven’t given her a lot of room to grow. The reason she’s been able to grow is they’re pretty tough on her, but she’s done a good job of handling herself.”